Latin Rite Altar on Mount Calvary (Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem)

One of the great privileges of my life has been to lead each year a Traditional Catholic (FSSP) pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I helped organize two last year and one this year. The highlight is always Mass in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest shrine in Christendom.

Bishop Sheen celebrates Low Mass atop the altar, ca. 1960
Photos: OC-Travel

Detailed photos of the Catholic altar on Mt. Calvary are rare.  The altar is located. inside the Latin nave which includes the tenth and eleventh stations, separated by only a few yards where Christ was stripped of His garments and nailed to the cross.  I include a few pics here that illustrate the altar and the aura - the distinctive atmosphere - that surround this living liturgical space.  I am still trying to identify the enamel arms on the candle sticks if anyone cares to look into it.  


The altar, one of my favorites in the Holy Land, is a made of silvered bronze and dates from 1588.  It was the gift of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinand I de' Medici (1549 - 1609), the work of the Dominican artist Domenico Portigiani at the Dominican Convent of San Marco in Florence (carved on the altar are the words Dominicus Portisianus Conventus Sancti Marci De Florentia).  The altar was originally intended for the stone of the Anointing, in the same church, on the main level.  


 The four panels represent scenes from the passion of Christ - very much in the style of the artist.


The altar is located on Golgotha in what is called the "Latin nave" or the "Chapel of the Crucifixion."  This is the chapel where Christ was nailed to the cross (located immediately next to the Greek Orthodox chapel where Christ died on the cross).  The chapel is under the care of the Franciscans of the Custos.  To celebrate Low Mass here is an immense distinction.  Many thanks to Fr. Kenneth Fryar, FSSP who celebrated for us last year.  On the right wall of the chapel is a window protected by a grill that opens to the chapel of the Franks, dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows and St. John (tradition holds this as the place where Mary withdrew during the preparations for the crucifixion).    


Many do not know that the Latin chapel was restored in 1937 by the great architect of the Holy Land, Antonio Barluzzi.  The mosaics in the ceiling date from the same time and are the work of P. D'Achiardi who has preserved a medieval figure of Christ while the lateral mosaics that illustrate the crucifixion, the holy women at the foot of the cross and the sacrifice of Isaac, symbol of Christ, all by L. Trifoglio.  Meanwhile, the mosaic on the vaulted ceiling dates from the 12th century.  


As mentioned previously, the altar was originally intended to be for the stone of the anointing, where Christ was anointed after having been taken down from the cross, located at the bottom of Mt. Calvary and inside the main entrance to the church.  

In November 2019 I will be leading another FSSP pilgrimage here and hope to photograph the side panels in detail.

Source: The Way of the Cross: A Historical Sketch by Albert Storme.  

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