Fr. Jerzy Banak talks with Fr. Prof. Stanisław Narcyz Klimas OFM about the most important place of our faith
FR. JERZY BANAK: - Father Professor, we have a nearly 500-page book plus nearly 70 pages of bibliography in front of us. It has been the first detailed thorough elaboration in the world literature on the history of Lord’s Sepulcher - the holiest place for all Christians. Also it is being translated into Italian and Spanish from the Polish original. Why did Father get interested in this issue?
FR. PROF. STANISŁAW N. KLIMAS OFM: - In fact everything began from my First Holy Mass on the panel of the Lord’s Sepulcher. I experienced it so much that whenever I enter the chapel, I recall my first Holy Mass. I was so impressed by this place that I forgot even about – awaited by everybody – final blessing. Participants of the Holy Mass reminded me of that, whereas, emotionally moved, I gave my first blessing….with my left hand. By nature I am left-handed but I always remember to give blessing with my right hand. Then, being emotionally moved and delighted by where I am, I completely forgot about it. As for the history of Lord’s Sepulcher, I have been working on it – with various breaks – for nearly 30 years. It was the issue of my MA thesis at the Roman faculty Antonianum, that is, the Franciscan University, and then – the subject of my PhD dissertation which was partly published in Italian, at the Papal Gregorian University. Another impulse was appointing me the chief archivist of the Custody of the Holy Land. During arranging and cataloguing archive resources of a few centuries, I noticed a lot of unknown documents. Cataloguing them took me a dozen years. Uncovering testimonies unknown to explorers so far and connected with the history of Lord’s Sepulcher made me feel somehow forced to undertake the issue anew which resulted in this book. So, the book is about everything which documents known to us say about Lord’s Sepulcher, till the invasion of the Islamists and destruction of the basilica in 1009.
What is conclusion from the long Benedictine work of Father?
I can definitely say that pilgrims arriving in Jerusalem are standing in the most important place of our faith, in the place where Christ was laid down in an engraved tomb – after His passion and death (it is impossible to engrave the sepulcher in rock so quickly!), from where he resurrected. On the basis of tens unknown and unexamined documents, today we can be sure that we are standing in the same place as the first Christians, that is, by the authentic Holy Sepulcher.
It is incredible that long studies done by Father confirmed the research of the Holy Sepulcher by prof. Antonia Moropoulou and her big research team – it consisted of over 40 people representing various science areas.
Yes, it is, I also managed to present briefly these fascinating works in the end of the book. These research simply confirm the past and new historic documents uncovered by me. It is a great gift from God that the long work on this issue, in the archive and library, was confirmed by the latest techniques and research devices used by the modern archeology and science areas related to it.
So, today we are sure that in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher and a small chapel situated in it, called Aedicula, we are standing at the authentic Sepulcher of Christ…
Exactly, yes. This place, which has been the purpose of pilgrimages of Christians since the beginning, is an authentic sepulcher of our Redeemer. In my work I prove that the continuity of tradition concerning this holy place has never been disrupted. This tradition, based on sources written by me, is confirmed by the latest research of the international team of specialists organized by the Athen Polytechnics. If somebody doubted in the authenticity of this place despite getting to know the documentation in my book and the mentioned research, it would mean that he is irrationally prejudiced to obvious arguments or is a man of a bad will.
Should the current opening Lord’s Sepulcher be perceived as the first one in history, which was found by St. Helena?
We know nothing about it. However, when in 1009 Al-Hakim (literally: Furious, Outrageous) was destroying the basilica furiously, Lord’s Sepulcher did not collapse, as the caliph ordered wrongly – as it turns out – to destroy the church from the roof. Falling single stones saved the tomb, protected it from collapsing. Also the fire – set deliberately in 1808 – did not destroy the holy place. However, after that, the Ottoman authorities deprived the Catholics of their right – after 600 years – to care of the basilica built by the Crusaders. Also all signs (frescoes, mosaics, writings) were removed, proving Catholic Latin past and identity of the church.
The last opening of Lord’s Sepulcher – and maybe it was the only one in history – took place in 1555. The custodian of the Holy Land at that time Bonifacy from Ragusa, decided to renovate the tomb chapel becoming more and more ruined. It was when a panel was taken off which covered God’s Sepulcher and was replaced by a new one which we are touching today when entering this holiest place.
According to tradition, when in 1555 the destroyed panel was taken off, a nice sweet scent flowed up into the air. An eye-witness said that inside the tomb a piece ov wood was found, wrapped in a fabric which got nihilated in contact with the air. The fragment of the holy wood remained in a good condition. What is more, on the inside panel also clots of blood mixed with sand were found. They were picked up as relics but got lost because of historical turmoil. The relics of the holy cross were placed in a rich reliquary which has been used during great ceremonies till today.
In the light of the words of Father one could expect a kind of ecumenical closeness and hope that all Christians will gather together at the real sepulcher of Redeemer….
I understand that Priest is thinking about the so-called tomb in a garden (Garden Tomb). Yes, gen. Karol Gordon, a conqueror of Chartum in 1883 thought that he had uncovered Christ’s tomb. However, archeologists proved that this tomb, like others nearby, had come from the 4th – 5th century A.D. That theory of Gordon, overthrown by archeology recently, has no influence on pilgrimages of protestants. They are still making pilgrimages with stubbornness to the tomb of Christ devalued by science. There is no church there, only an ordinary tomb chamber engraved in a rock which is in numbers in Jerusalem and outside it. We invite our protestant brothers not to remain in irrational stubbornness but join all Christian denominations which gather together in one place – at the real tomb of Redeemer. The continuous early-Christian tradition and in later centuries places it in one and the same place.
During research of the team of prof. Moropoulou there happened a strange event…
Yes, a lot of witnesses of that incredible phenomenon, which made researchers astonished. During the research on the rock, scanners were used, as well as georadar and ultrasonic tomography. During pushing aside a panel covering the inside of the holy place, that is, the tomb in which Redeemer’s Body was laid down, there was an unusual phenomenon. Three various kinds of an electronic device stopped functioning at the same time, as if prevented by a non-earthly power, and later they began to work to astonishment of researchers….The event was understood as absolutely inexplicable. Nothing similar had ever happened during researches. It caused a great impression among scientists employed in the expedition, which was proven by them with great humility and emotions, and certainty about unknown invisible power or radiation.
What would Father like to tell Readers of ‘Niedziela’?
I encourage Readers of ‘Niedziela’ to dream about visiting Jerusalem and the Holy Land, to make a pilgrimage as the purpose of their life. One should save small money to realize this intention. May everyone do everything to follow Christ, Mary, Apostles and prophets!
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 21/2019 (26 V 2019)