What a fascinating story by John Burger and posted in Aleteia!  You will wonder if you saw this and did not know what it was if you’ve been to the basilica or perhaps you are in the Holy Land now and hope to see this…..


Stone long used for tourist graffiti now thought to be Crusader artifact.
Greek workers and Israeli researchers may have discovered an ancient altar in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And it has been “hiding in plain sight” for centuries.

“Leaning against a wall in a shadowy corner of Jerusalem’s [Church of the] Holy Sepulchre, the big blank rock the size of a dining-room table invited scribbling by passing pilgrims and tourists,” said Smithsonian magazine, noting that the piece was known to tourists as the “graffiti stone.”

The altar may have continued to go unnoticed were it know for work in recent years in shoring up the Edicule, also spelled Aedicule, the church-within-a-church protecting the site of Jesus Christ’s burial.

A Greek team of engineers and architects recently restored the Aedicule, which had long been in danger of collapse. In the course of the effort, the construction crew used a crane to lift a two-ton block, referred to as the “graffiti stone” after visitors’ penchant for leaving their mark on it, into a steel cradle, turning it around in the process but relegating it to another dark corner.

Amit Re’em of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, who was monitoring the renovation, noticed intricate circles carved into the limestone “with traces of marble and the rich red stone called porphyry. This was no tourist graffiti. Re’em, who specializes in medieval archaeology, dashed of to a Jerusalem library to look for evidence of other stones with similar decorations.

Along with historian Ilya Berkovich at Munich’s Ludwig Maximillian University, Re’em “tracked the geometric pattern on the stone’s design to a style popular in Rome in the 12th century,” the magazine reported. “The use of four circles surrounding a central circle, all richly inlaid, was the trademark design of the Cosmati family, Roman artisans who worked for the pope.”

The stone’s design “symbolized the power, both temporal and spiritual, that the Papacy achieved during the 12th century,” writes art historian and New York architect Paloma Pajares-Ayuela in the definitive book on the style. That suggested the stone was carved and inlaid when the Crusaders rebuilt the church.

“I think that this exquisite piece of art could be evidence for the papal artistic patronage in the church,” Re’em says. “It is proof that Crusader art was highly developed” and reflects the direct influence of Rome on the distant Jerusalem shrine. Papal craftsmen may have been directly involved in the work, he suggested.

Re’em believes the altar was used for Mass until a fire in the church in 1808. Then it was buried under a new floor. Greek archaeologists in 1969 began excavating in the nave and under the main altar east of the Edicule. Results of that work were never made public, but a Catholic priest realized that the Greek team found Crusader-era remains at that time. “Some were covered up, but others, including the rectangular panel examined by Re’em, were removed so that the researchers could access material from the earlier Byzantine era,” the magazine said.

If the stone does turn out to be something that was set up by the Crusaders, it will remind the various communities that call the church home of the sometimes sad history of division that has marked Christianity’s holiest site.

The Crusaders were trying to reclaim lands that had been taken over by Muslim invaders, but they also regarded the local Greek clergy as heretics (the Great Schism had occurred only decades early), and ejected the Orthodox priests from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Smithsonian reminded readers that Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Armenians, Copts, and Syrians “jealously guard their respective territories within the Holy Sepulchre,” in an 1853 decree issued under the then-Ottoman rulers, known as the Status Quo, “with Ethopians relegated to the roof.”

“Scuffles among clergy of the different sects is not uncommon, and occasional bloodshed is recorded,” the magazine noted. Ironically, perhaps, two Muslim families “hold the keys to the great Crusader doors to ensure everyone access.”

This year, however, now that the Edicule has been formally reopened, it is hoped that the restoration project, undertaken by Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and others, may help the Churches go beyond the status quo of the past millennium.

Ancient altar in Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre found hiding in plain sight


As you know, the Holy Father and some ranking members of the Roman Curia have been on retreat in Ariccia, just south of Rome, since late Sunday afternoon. Below is a video offered by vaticannews. Following that are some brief summaries of the meditations offered by this year’s retreat master, Portuguese Father Jose Tolentino de Mendonça, vice-rector of the Portuguese Catholic University in Lisbon and a consultant of the Pontifical Council for Culture since 2011.


“Let the one who thirsts come” framed the reflection of Fr. José Tolentino Mendonça for the spiritual exercises of the Roman Curia on Monday.

By Sr. Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp

Pope Francis and members of the Vatican Curia travelled on Sunday afternoon to the “Casa del Divin Maestro,” a retreat center in Ariccia, located in the Alban hills just outside Rome. They are taking part in the weeklong curial spiritual exercises. For his meditation on Monday, Portuguese Fr. José Tolentino Mendonça chose the phrase that the Apostle John puts on the lips of Jesus in the final chapter of the Book of Revelation.

Jesus offers unconditional love

Fr. Tolentino says Jesus comes to us in his own incompleteness, in his own emptiness. He stands before us and repeats the phrase, “Let the one who thirsts come!” Jesus offers the water of life, that is, unconditional love, even though he knows that we are still “incomplete and under construction.” Fr. Tolentino then suggests that since this is Jesus’ final invitation, we need to recognize that we are the ones who are thirsty, and more importantly, “just how much we thirst.”

Thirst is a teacher

As any dehydrated person can attest, water is the cure, Fr. Tolentino continued. Quoting American poet Emily Dickinson’s, “water is taught by thirst,” Fr. Tolentino asks the question, “do we allow our thirst to be a school of authentic awareness—ours and God’s?” Our thirst goes undetected because it “is painful and is discovered little by little.” Fr. Tolentino concluded, saying that in the end, Jesus invites us to dialogue with him about “the most profound dimensions of existence, so that we can meet that thirst present in every human person: thirst for relationship, acceptance and love.”


Fr. José Tolentino Mendonça continues exploring the theme of thirst with Pope Francis and members of the Roman Curia during their Spiritual Exercises.

By Sr. Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp

“I became aware that I was thirsty,” and “Thirst does not make me ill” are the titles of the reflections given by Fr. Tolentino on Monday evening and Tuesday morning.

Recognize how we thirst

On Monday afternoon, Fr. Tolentino focused on becoming aware of the thirst within.

“Connecting with one’s own thirst is not easy work, but if we do not do it, the spiritual life loses its grip on reality,” Fr. Tolentino says. Recognizing our thirst is how we anchor our spiritual lives in the concrete reality of who we are. After this introduction, Fr. Tolentino then explored how it is possible to evaluate the “state of our thirst,” and how “to interpret that thirst,” before turning to the theme of “the thirst for God” through a reflection on Psalm 42: “As a deer longs for running waters.” Yearning for water happens when water is absent. We yearn for God precisely because we feel his absence. Fr. Tolentino explains that, “the absence of God becomes a kind of temple because it sets in motion desire, nostalgia, sighing, seeking. And thirst then becomes a type of uninterrupted prayer.”

Thirst versus apathy

The theme he picked up on Tuesday morning is that the thirst discovered within is not a manifestation of illness. “The opposite of thirst which appears at times in our lives is apathy. It is this thirst for nothing which more or less assails us imperceptibly that makes us ill,” Fr. Tolentino explains. He then turned his attention to the topic of burnout and suggests that the prophet Jonah can teach us “the treatment” for our desires. By fleeing from God, Jonah manifests “the contradiction of our desire,” he says. Sadness is another symptom of apathy that Fr. Tolentino says can be cured by learning from Jesus. “Come to me, all of you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me” (Mt 11:28-29).