(Smithsonian) – For decades it was known only as the “graffiti stone.” Leaning against a wall in a shadowy corner of Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulcher, the big blank rock the size of a dining-room table invited scribbling by passing pilgrims and tourists.
But two Israeli researchers who recently examined the other side of the stone say the neglected artifact appears to be part of the high altar fashioned in the early 12th century by medieval Crusaders for the holiest church in Christendom, and upon which Mass was celebrated for more than 500 years. The stone’s intricate design, they add, is based on what was the latest Roman style and suggests a direct link to the papacy itself. The revelation highlights the complicated religious politics that still trouble Jerusalem.
The Crusaders were heeding the call of Pope Urban II, who in 1095 urged Western Christians to assist the Byzantine Empire in recovering territory long ruled by Muslims, including Jerusalem. When the European invaders arrived four years later, they put tens of thousands of the city’s inhabitants, Muslims and Jews alike, to the sword and rushed to the Holy Sepulcher, the shrine to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The victorious knights immediately ejected the Greek Orthodox clergy, whom they suspected of both heresy and complicity with Islamic rulers (the eastern and western churches had split in 1054). They then seized control of the city’s other sites sacred to Jews and Muslims as well as Christians, forbidding those of other faiths from entering Jerusalem.
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