Historic Image Gallery

Copyright 1999, 2011, 2015 by James E. Lancaster, Ph.D.

Note: Images from the author's collection may not be reproduced without permission.

From as early as the 15th century, the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was a favorite subject for illustraters, and later photographers, in Jerusalem. 

Figure 1. This woodcut appeared in a chronicle of a pilgrimage to
Jerusalem in the 15th Century by Bernhard von Breidenbach, a canon of Mainz, Germany. It was published in 1486.  

The image shown in Figure 1 is from the German Wikipedia web page Bernhard von Breidenbach. Additional information on Bernhard von Breidenbach (in English) can be found on the web page Goetzfried Antique Maps and on the blog

Figure 2. This copper engraved print, set in a page of text and titled "The Temple of the Sepulchre," was by an anonymous engraver and was based on a drawing by George Sandys. It was published in 1621 in Sandys' Relation of a Journey begun An Dom. 1610, Second Edition. (Author's collection)

Figure 2 is somewhat unique in that it does not show the second floor windows above the entrance doors.  Later drawings and photos, starting in the early 19th Century, show the windows and almost all also a small ladder resting on the ledge below the upper right hand window. Figures 3-11 are examples of those drawings and photographs.

Figure 3. This 1834 illustration is the earliest I have found in which the ladder appears. It is resting on the ledge below the right hand window above the entrance. Drawn by C. Stanfield, engraved by E. Finden, published by J. Murray, London, 1834. Steel engraved  print with recent hand colour. (Author's collection)

Figure 4. Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Engraved by E. Challis after a drawing by W. H. Bartlett, published in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, about 1850. Steel engraved print. This is the only 19th century print I have found that does not show the ladder in the right hand window above the entrance door ... but see below. (Author's collection)

Figure 5. A close-up of the windows in Figure 3 shows a difference in the drawing of the stone building blocks below the two windows. Perhaps the engraver, thinking the ladder gave the drawing a cluttered look, removed it during the engraving process.

Figure 6. Entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre showing pilgrims buying rosaries and other relics in the forecourt. Published in Picturesque Palestine, about 1870. Wood engraved print with recent hand colour. (Author's collection)

Figure 7. The photo on the left was taken about 1875 by Felix Bonfils, a noted 19th century Holy Land photographer. The closer view on the right focuses on the entrance and the window with the ladder. (Authors collection)

Figure 8. The photo on the left appeared in the Jerusalem section of John L. Stoddard's Lectures, Vol. II, published in 1897. The same photo has appeared elsewhere with a date of 1868. The main part of the entrance in the Stoddard photo is shown enlarged on the right. (Author's collection)

The photos shown below in Figures 9-11 were purchased from, an internet source for old photos. In each pair of photos, the original photo is on the left with an enlargement of the entrance on the right showing the ladder.

Figure 9. This photo, dated 1870s, is very similar to Figure 7. However, a close examination shows subtle differences, e.g., the shadows, the figure at the door, and a different arrangement of pots on the balcony next to the ladder. (Author's collection)
Figure 10. This photo, dated 1870-1910, was taken from the same location as the previous two photos. In this instance the entrance door was open slightly. (Author's collection)

Figure 11. Each year, a sacred event called the Descent of the Holy Fire occurs in the Edicule inside the rotunda of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In this photo, dated mid-20th century (but possibly from an earlier period), a man carrying the holy fire is borne aloft by a crowd of Russian pilgrims (far left side of left photo) as they depart from the church after observing the ceremony. (Authors collection)

In most of the above drawings and photos, covering nearly a century, the ladder is always present. It obviously has a special meaning.

Historic Image Gallery Created: 1999
Last update: 2/28/15
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The Church and the Ladder: Frozen in Time

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Archaeology: Exploring the Holy Land