Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority believe they have solved an age-old mystery at Christianity’s most sacred church.
Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, located where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, features multitudes of engraved crosses on its walls.
Researchers never quite knew how they got there, though it was thought that perhaps pilgrims had etched them into the stone, as one might carve one’s name onto a tree, a statement of “I came, I saw.”
“This unique phenomenon always baffled us,” Amit Re’em, head of the IAA’s Jerusalem District, told Reuters. “Is it graffiti of the pilgrims, or rather, something else?”
Renovation work at the church allowed archaeologists to finally examine the carvings up close, using 3D imaging and digital means to compare and date them.
They came to realize that the thousands of religious symbols had all been made by only a handful of people, and developed a new theory.
“We saw that all of [the crosses] have the same depth and even the marking of the mason,” he said. “Maybe two or three hand artists made these crosses,” Re’em said. “So it’s not graffiti, it’s something more organized.”
He offered that it had been customary for pilgrims to pay masons to make the carvings.
“Let’s say that you are an Armenian pilgrim, so you pay something to the priest, you pay something to this special artist and he carved for you, for the benefit of your soul and your relatives’ souls, a special cross in the most sacred place for Christianity on earth,” Re’em said.