The tragedy of Calvary: or the minute details of Christ's life from Palm Sunday morning till the resurrection and ascension taken prophecy, history, revelations and ancient writings by Meagher, Jas. L. (James Luke), 1848-1920
In Christ's day Calvary was a little hill covered with stones and rocks projecting from the scanty soil among which a few straggling patches of grass grew. The whole hill was only about one hundred and fifty feet in diameter at the base, and fifteen to twenty feet high, all hills in Judea being called mountains. The eastern side was steep, but the western part sloped to the valley separating it from Joseph's garden. The summit was nearly level, with a wall running around it, inclosing a space about seventy-five feet in diameter. Through this wall were five entrances opening into five small sheepfolds, where shepherds shut up their flocks at night. At the eastern foot of the hill was a morass thirty feet deep filled with water.
On the north was a little cave, closed with a door, where the shepherds went for shelter, and where they imprisoned Christ while preparing the cross. The sides of this hill, as well as that in Joseph's garden, were terraced to retain the thin soil. 1
About a hundred feet to the west of Calvary, across a little valley, was the garden of Joseph of Arimathea, one of the wealthy men of Jerusalem. It was inclosed with a wall, and extended to the north and west, filled with fruit trees. In the southeast corner, next to Calvary, was a large rock projecting from the soil, in which he had excavated a tomb for himself.
The peculiar rock of Judea is very soft, can be cut almost like chalk, and becomes hard on exposure. You will find many rock-cut tombs like it all over Judea, especially around Jerusalem.
Deep into the face of the living rock, Joseph cut out a room about eight feet square, and the same in height. Then farther into the west wall he cut a door four feet high, and about three feet wide, going farther into the rock. When he had cut in about two feet, he enlarged the space so as to make a little room eight feet east and west, seven feet wide and eight feet high. He did not disturb the rock above, for the natural rock formed the roof over both chambers. Then in the wall to the right, as you enter the inner chamber, he cut an alcove in the wall about three feet deep in towards the north, extending the whole distance of the room from east to west. He cut away the rock from the roof down to about three feet from the floor, thus leaving a shelf of rock three feet by eight feet in the right or north of wall of the inner chamber. On this the body of the Lord was laid. A marble slab now rest on this loculus, or place where the body lay, and on it the writer said Mass, in Easter week, 1903.
The door between the two little chambers was closed by a bronze grill, forming two doors opening outwards. These were common in tombs of wealthy Hebrews, and they were seldom opened, after the body had been anointed for the last time, according to the custom of the Jews. The outer door of the outer chamber was closed by a large round stone, like a great grindstone. The tombs of the kings, etc., show how the door was closed. A groove was cut in the side of the living rock, at right angles to the door on the left, leaving a projection above and below. In these projections a groove was cut as wide as the stone which closed the door. This stone was made like a great millstone, with no hole in it, and rolled in these grooves back and forth as you would roll a large disk in front of a door to close it. This stone now forms the altar-stone of the little church built on the site of Caiphas' house. In his garden, to the west of the Lord's tomb, Joseph later built a tomb for himself, which is now shown within the walls of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Between Calvary and the tomb in the valley, the white rock cropped out, making a flat surface, and on this they prepared the body of the Lord for burial. It is now covered with a costly flag of variegated marble, and is seen just opposite the door as you go in. You turn to the right and mount steep steps, and you are on the site of Calvary, and can see the hole where the cross stood, under the altar, covered with a gold plaque. To the south the ground rises rapidly for about the distance of four hundred feet, where was the north wall of the city, running east and west till it joined the wall inclosing the Temple area.
After Titus had destroyed the city, the Christians who had worshiped in the Cenacle, where Christ celebrated the Last Supper, and who when the war broke out had fled to Pella, returned to the ruined town. They certainly knew the place where their Lord had suffered, for many of them had seen him die. They used to come to Calvary to venerate the place. The walls of Sion had been ail leveled, and they began to build the city to the north. When peace came and the city grew, many Jews returned; later, under Ber-Cocheba, they rebelled, and Hadrian again captured Jerusalem and leveled every building. He ordered Tyrannus Rufus, then governor of Judea, to draw the plow over the area where the Temple had stood, to show that without the express order of the Roman senate, the spot should never again be built on. The emperor also forbade the Jews to return under pain of death, and he established a Roman colony there, and Jerusalem he called Elia Capitolina.
On the site of Calvary he built a temple to Venus, over Christ's tomb he erected a statue to Adonis, on the site of the Temple he raised statues of gods, and these rendered it easy for St. Helena, in the year 310, to fix the sites of the holy places.
A visitor is struck with various emotions in visiting the places made sacred by the footsteps of Christ. Christians of every denomination come there. The members of the Oriental and Latin rites are moved with love and veneration for the sacred places, but the non-Catholic visitors from the British Isles and America examine the sacred spots about the same way they would- look on a recently found curiosity, or place mentioned by Homer or Tacitus. They seem to have no faith, no devotion. They want to destroy the Holy Places and then the Book; then Jesus Christ will be blotted out of history. This is not their motive, but this is the effect of the doubt they like to throw on holy things and places.
1 See J. James Tissot, Life of Christ, Vol. IV., Calvary, 8