The Persian invasion and the Arab conquest

Map of the Holy Sepulcre, Arculf 680 AD

All the lavish beauty and richness of the post-Constantinian era vanished in 614 AD when on the 20th of May the city of Jerusalem was conquered by the Persian hordes led by general Romizanes known as Scharbaraz (royal pig!). "Cosroe -narrates the patriarch Eutichium in the Annals- sent his general Scharbaraz...he destroyed the churches of Constantine, that on Calvary and that of the Sepulchre, he burned the Church of Calvary and the Sepulchre and destroyed most of the city". This was a tremendous blow with all the Christian churches ransacked, all relics robbed and 33877 persons killed and buried in a cave at Mamilla (according to the account given by Thomas the grave-digger and his wife). The damage incurred during the Persian period was soon repaired through the zeal of the monk Modest, who could perform the restoration thanks to the generous help which poured in from the Christians of Tiberias, Damascus, Tyre and Alexandria. During this restoration the spur of Calvary was covered up by a church.

This Persian invasion stirred the whole empire and by 622 AD, emperor Heraclius had already recaptured the whole territory and forced the Persians to return the war trophies amongst which the relic of the Cross, which was returned to the church of the Holy Sepulchre on the 20th of March 630 AD.

The arrival of the Arab conquerors in 638 AD did not alter the sanctity of this shrine. This is how the Patriarch of Alexandria, Eutychius (X cent.), describes the events of the Arab conquest:
"Omar ibn al-Khattab and his generals left Syria towards Jerusalem and laid siege to the city. Sofronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, went to Omar ibn al-Khattab who granted his protection to the inhabitants and the city through a letter handed over to the Patriarch himself. Omar ibn al-Khattab granted the safeguard of the Christian sites ordering not to destroy them or to use them as living quarters".

In this account by Eutychius it is said that Omar ibn al-Khattab paid a visit to the church of the Resurrection and sat in its courtyard but at the time of prayer he left the church and prayed outside, fearing that future generations might use his prayer inside the church as a pretext for converting it into a mosque. Eutichius further say that Omar ibn al-Khattab wrote also a decree which he handed to the Patriarch, in which he prohibited that Muslims gather in prayer at the site.

At the beginning of the IX century a violent earthquake damaged the dome of the Anastasis. The damages were repaired in 810 by the Patriarch Thomas. The church was set on fire in 841 and in 935 the Christians overcame the Moslem persistent attempts to build a mosque adjacent to the church. The church was again set on fire by the Muslims in 938 and the fire engulfed the basilica, the cloister-garden and also the Anastasis. Once again, the church was set on fire in 966 as revenge for the war lost in Syria by the Moslem army. But all these mishaps affected only wooden structures which could be repaired through great sacrifice by the already impoverished Christian community.

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