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Chapel of Joseph of Arimateaitled

In the Rotunda section of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, across from the Coptic Chapel which stands on the backside of the Edicule where the empty tomb is housed, the Chapel of Joseph of Arimathea can be found. The chapel is credited to the Syrians though the disagreement with the Armenians over the true ownership has been a source of struggle.


The Chapel of Joseph of Arimathea, also called the Chapel of St. Joseph of Arimathea and St. Nicodemus, and the Syrian Chapel, is an underwhelming chapel that has fallen into disrepair. The entrance to the chapel is between two of the columns of the Rotunda. The rock and stone walls are bare and showing the battle against time. Against the far stone wall stands an altar that is aged and unimpressive. Above the altar hang three lamps and a single lightbulb. On the right wall is an old door. Off to the right of the altar when facing it is the entrance to the Jewish tombs that have been discovered. Tradition says that both Joseph or Arimathea and Nicodemus were buried in those tombs. When the Syrians hold a service in the chapel the walls are adorned and the aged chapel takes on a whole new look.


The Syrian Orthodox Church is made up of Syriac-speaking Christians that are spread throughout the Middle East. Their services use the Syriac language which is a language that is closely related to Aramaic, the ancient language spoken by Jesus. As early as the sixth century, proof exists that a Syrian bishop was already present in Jerusalem, alongside the Byzantine Patriarch. The official seat of the Syrian Bishop resides at the Church of St. Mark which sits between the Hebrew and Armenian quarters. Ancient tradition has the location as being the house of John Mark’s mother, Mary.

The Syrian Orthodox Church, also called the Syriac Orthodox Church, traces its history back to the first Christian church planted outside of Jerusalem, the church at Antioch. Through the years, the church has been the victim of incredible persecution and displacement because of the geopolitical difficulties in the various places it has been headquartered. Currently, the head of the Syrian Orthodox Church is settled in Damascus, Syria. Because of the extreme difficulties through the years, the fact that the church has survived has been labeled a miracle by historians.

The current Syrian Orthodox Church is active and a crucial player in ecumenical discussions as it has been on the World Council of Churches since 1960. Currently, the church has about 5 million members and is known for its missionary endeavors, especially in Guatemala and Brazil. The majority of the members have their origins in India and are connected to the church through conversion rather than through ethnicity. Most ethnic members of the Syrian Orthodox Church are from present day Turkey, Syria, or Iraq.

The practice of the Syrian Orthodox Church calls to a devotion to prayer and service. The clergy within the church and some devout laity follow a regimen of praying ritualistically seven times a day.

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