As most of you know by now, the film maker who brought us Titanic has now brought us Christ’s coffin, and it ain’t empty.
I had to laugh when I saw this. For centuries, it had been a uniquely Christian tradition (I believe started by St. Helena) to “discover” items or artifacts relevant to Christ’s life. The fact that skeptics now want a part of this action is surely an instance of truth being stranger than fiction.
I’m reminded of what Mark Twain wrote about St. Helena’s “discoveries” in The Innocents Abroad.
In this altar they used to keep one of the most curious relics that human eyes ever looked upon… It was nothing less than the copper plate Pilate put upon the Saviour’s cross, and upon which he wrote, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” I think St. Helena, the mother of Constantine, found this wonderful memento when she was here in the third century. She traveled all over Palestine, and was always fortunate. Whenever the good old enthusiast found a thing mentioned in her Bible, Old or New, she would go and search for that thing, and never stop until she found it. If it was Adam, she would find Adam; if it was the Ark, she would find the Ark; if it was Goliath, or Joshua, she would find them. She found the inscription here that I was speaking of, I think. She found it in this very spot, close to where the martyred Roman soldier stood. That copper plate is in one of the churches in Rome, now. Any one can see it there. The inscription is very distinct.
While reading this AP article on the topic, I laughed out loud once more when I read how some Christian leader was asserting the historical validity of one the numerous, bogus quasi-landmarks in the Holy Land: “‘The historical, religious and archaeological evidence show that the place where Christ was buried is the Church of the Resurrection,’ said Attallah Hana, a Greek Orthodox clergyman in Jerusalem.”
For those who don’t know, the Church of the Resurrection (AKA, Church of the Holy Sepulcher) purportedly contains both the site where Jesus died and the site where he was buried. To quote Twain once more:
When one stands where the Saviour was crucified, he finds it all he can do to keep it strictly before his mind that Christ was not crucified in a Catholic Church.
The chapter of The Innocents Abroad that I’ve sited twice above (chapter 53) is, by coincidence, devoted almost entirely to mocking this very church, the Church of the Resurrection. I’ll end my post by quoting the ending that Twain gives to this chapter:
And so I close my chapter on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — the most sacred locality on earth to millions and millions of men, and women, and children, the noble and the humble, bond and free. In its history from the first, and in its tremendous associations, it is the most illustrious edifice in Christendom. With all its clap-trap side-shows and unseemly impostures of every kind, it is still grand, reverend, venerable — for a god died there; for fifteen hundred years its shrines have been wet with the tears of pilgrims from the earth’s remotest confines; for more than two hundred, the most gallant knights that ever wielded sword wasted their lives away in a struggle to seize it and hold it sacred from infidel pollution. Even in our own day a war, that cost millions of treasure and rivers of blood, was fought because two rival nations claimed the sole right to put a new dome upon it. History is full of this old Church of the Holy Sepulchre — full of blood that was shed because of the respect and the veneration in which men held the last resting-place of the meek and lowly, the mild and gentle, Prince of Peace!
“History is full of this old Church of the Holy Sepulchre….” I love that line.