Constructed in 326, during the reign of the Emperor Constantine, this building in Jerusalem was meant to protect the tomb of Christ. The structure was originally made up of a group of
churches but Constantine gave orders for it to be made into an architectural monument. The original cave and much of the structure were carved away and broken down by Muslim ruler al-Hakim in 1009 as part of a plan to destroy the Christian sanctuary and Christianity itself. The structure was rebuilt between 1030 and 1048 by order of Byzantine Emperor Monomachus. On 27 November 1095 Pope Urban II called for a crusade to protect the Holy Sepulcher. An army of Crusaders occupied Jerusalem on 15 July and seven days later Godfrey de Bouillon took the title Defender of the Holy Sepulcher.
In 1149 Crusaders combined the remaining structures into a Romanesque church with a two-story façade, giving the structure its current architectural form. The building's interior includes a rotunda, which is modeled after the Pantheon, and an Orthodox cathedral. The former houses a shrine covering the tomb of Christ. Several Christian denominations have chapels within the shrine and regularly guard their areas. Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Orthodox groups share the control of the shrine, although Ethiopian, Egyptian Coptic, and Syrian churches also are present. The Muslim Nuseibeh and Joudeh families were given the sole key to the church by the Arab conqueror Saladin in the twelfth century, ensuring that no one sect could take control of the shrine. In June 1999 the leaders of all of the denominations agreed to install a new door in the church in order to provide a safe and orderly exit for the millions of pilgrims who were expected to visit the following year.
SEE ALSO Christianity.