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Rare boat carving in Holy Sepulchre
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Reflections of God's Holy Land

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Boat Carving Forges Precious Bond

By Miriam Feinberg Vamosh
Reflections of God's Holy Land For those seeking a bond with other Christians from the first century to this day, bridging the unfamiliarity of their celebration of the faith, this might be the best place to begin.

Down a long staircase, whose walls are covered with tiny crosses etched over hundreds of years by thousands of pilgrims, deep below the church, is a First Temple-era stone quarry. The quarry left a huge cavern, where tradition says the cross of Jesus was miraculously found by Queen Helene,
whose son, the first Christian emperor Constantine, built the church in the early fourth century. At these foundations of the structure, with which Constantine replaced the pagan shrine Hadrian thought could obviate Christianity, the first of the faithful ever to have worshipped here may have left behind a trace of their existence — an engraving.

It was discovered in 1971 in the Armenian Chapel of St. Vartan behind the great cavern. On one smooth stone, now preserved under glass and visible only to those who can persuade the Armenians to unlock the door, is the carving of a ship, about 26 inches long and 12 inches high.

Beneath it, two Latin words can be seen: Domine Ivimus, believed to be a version of Psalm 122:1, meaning “Lord we shall go.” The ship, scholars say, is a Roman merchant vessel in harbor (Caesarea?), with its mainmast apparently broken.

The ship’s design and the inscription date it to the first or second century AD. It may have been incised on the Hadrianic wall, before the church of the Holy Sepulchre was built, by a Christian pilgrim who nearly perished on a sea journey to Jerusalem and was thus giving thanks for safe haven.

We will never know for sure. But in this mystery is certainly a gift with the power to forge a rare and precious bond between today’s Christians and those of the distant past.

Printed by permission of Thomas Nelson.  For additional information on Thomas Nelson, visit


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