"This unique phenomenon always baffled us - is it graffiti of the pilgrims or rather something else?’’
Thousands of unique crosses etched on the walls of Christianity’s most sacred church have long baffled researchers.
But three-dimensional imaging has shed light on the mysterious markings, carried out during renovations at Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
What was always assumed to be graffiti appears be something "more organzed’’ according to Amit Re’em - Jerusalem’s regional archaeologist at Israel’s Antiquities Authority.
"What we saw with the optical machinery that we map a the crosses inside them and we saw that all of them have the same depth and even the marking of the mason. So if you look at these thousands of crosses, I can say very carefully because we are only in the beginning of the research that maybe two or three hand artists made these crosses. it's not a pilgrim. Only three hands of artists. So it's not a graffiti, it's something more organized of the church."
The new theory is that medieval masons may have been paid by pilgrims visiting the site to carve into the walls…
revered in Christian tradition as the place of Jesus's crucifixion and burial.
"Let's say that you are an Armenian pilgrim who visited the chapel of Helena, in the Holy Sepulchre, so you pay something to the priest, you pay something to this special artist and he carved for you, for the benefit of your soul and your relatives' souls, he carved for you a special cross in the most sacred place for Christianity on earth and that's it. This is, from our point of view, the explanation of these unique phenomenon."
The chapel is normally bustling with worshippers and clergy, making it usually difficult to study the markings - which are provisionally dated to the 15th century.
But for most part of the last year has been void of visitors, giving archaeologists a unique opportunity for research.
Father Samuel Aghoyan is the church's Armenian superior.
While he hailed the research shedding light on pilgrims of the past, he looked forward to welcoming their contemporaries back again.
"Now there are no pilgrims here, still their spirit is here, we know, I believe in that. But their absence is something else that cannot be replaced by anything else. We need their presence, I pray to God that the difficulties that we
have today will disappear and they will come back to their holy places."