The Persian invasion and the Arab conquest

Emperor Heraclius submitting king Khosrau II

The conquest of Jerusalem by the Persians in 614 was accompanied by three days of pillage and destruction. Patriarch Zachariah himself was made prisoner and the relic of the True Cross was stolen, only to be recovered and brought back to Jerusalem by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius in 630.

The complex of the Holy Sepulchre, in which the Christians of Jerusalem had sought refuge during the siege, was set on fire and many of the faithful died there. Modestus, Abbot of the monastery of St. Theodosius, dedicated himself to seeking funds for reconstructing the Jerusalem churches that had been destroyed by the Persian hordes. He declared that everything would be restored by 625 and this suggests that the damages suffered by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre were also repaired.

In 638, Patriarch Sophronius of Jerusalem peacefully surrendered the city to Caliph Omar: the Byzantine defeat at the hands of Muslims coming out of the Arabian peninsula changed the course of Palestinian history for the next four centuries.

It is due to the Caliph’s visit to the Holy Sepulchre, and his praying outside of the Martyrium in the eastern atrium, that the Christian right to the principal access to the sanctuary was lost, which instead became a place for Muslim individual prayer.

Pilgrimages to the Holy City continued uninterrupted and the accounts of travelers provide a description of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the changes observed during this period, including the shift of the entrance to the southern side, the construction of a church on the site of Calvary and the church of St. Mary, as well as the veneration of new relics placed on display for religious devotion, including the cup of the Last Supper, the sponge and the spear.

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