What is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre?:
Also referred to as the Church of the Resurrection by Greek Orthodox Christians, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is treated by many as the holiest site in all of Christendom. Control of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is divided six ways: Franciscans, Greeks, Armenians, Egyptians, Ethiopians and Syrians. Except for the international Franciscan order, then, control of the site is primarily a matter of ethnicity and tribal divisions.
Where is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre?:
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built over a spot where many believe Calvary was located in ancient times. Although this site is now within the city walls, archaeological excavations of the ancient fortifications indicate that it might have been outside the walls at one point. Traditions identifying this as the site of Jesus execution can only be traced back to the 4th century, however, making them unreliable.
Why is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre important?:
The importance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the Christians cannot be underestimated. As early as 800 CE, Ambassadors of Caliph Harunu r-Rashid had given keys to the Holy Sepulchre to the Frankish king, thus acknowledging some Frankish control over the interests of Christians in Jerusalem.
After its destruction in 1009, a rumor developed in Europe that a "Prince of Babylon" had ordered the destruction of the Holy Sepulchre at the instigation of the Jews. Attacks on Jewish communities in cities like Rouen, Orelans, and Mainz ensued and this rumor helped lay the basis for massacres of Jewish communities by Crusaders marching to the Holy Land. In 1099, after the Crusaders had captured Jerusalem and slaughtered many of its inhabitants, Crusade leaders went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to pray and praise God for helping them be victorious.
Crusade leader Godfrey De Bouillon was offered the title King of Jerusalem, but he turned it down and took instead the title Advocatus Sancti Seplchri (Advocate of the Holy Sepulchre), the first Latin ruler of Jerusalem. The Crusaders proceeded to rebuild the church according to their own architectural and theological preferences; what we can see today is basically the result of their changes.
After Saladin recaptured Jerusalem in 1187 there was some discussion about destroying the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to take away Christian pilgrims' reason for returning to Jerusalem. In the end, Saladin insisted that no shrines were to be touched and the holy sites of Christians were to be respected. Frederick II crowned himself king of Jerusalem here in 1229.