A beautifully tended English-style country garden makes this an island of tranquillity in the hurly-burly of East Jerusalem. What Christian pilgrims come for, however, is an empty ancient tomb, and a moving opportunity to ponder the Gospel account of the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a favorite site for the many Protestant visitors who respond less or not at all to the ornamentation and ritual of the Holy Sepulcher.
In 1883, British general Charles Gordon spent several months in Jerusalem. From his window looking out over the Old City walls, he was struck by the skull-like features of a cliff face north of the Damascus Gate. He was convinced that this, rather than the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, was "the place of the skull" (Mark 15) where Jesus was crucified. An ancient rock-cut tomb had already been uncovered there, and subsequent excavations exposed cisterns and a wine press, features typical of an ancient garden.
According to the New Testament, Jesus was buried
in the fresh tomb of the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea, in a garden close to the execution site, and archaeologists identified the tomb as an upper-class Jewish burial place of the Second Temple period. Recent research has shown that this tomb might be from the Old Testament period, making it too old to have been that of Jesus. The gentle guardians of the Garden Tomb do not insist on the identification of the site as that of Calvary and the tomb of Christ, but are keen to provide a contemplative setting for the pilgrim, in a place that just might have been historically significant.