I’ve put together a photo essay of the Holy Triduum – events, places, and relics of the final days of Christ’s life on Earth from the Last Supper to the Empty Tomb.
I take people to these holy sites all the time. You should join me.
There are some music samples below. These are from my dad’s latest release, The Holy Land Project. You can stream for free on Apple Music and Spotify. You can also order a physical CD here to support his work.
The Last Supper
In Jerusalem it is possible to visit the Upper Room. This is not the Upper Room, but rather an Upper Room near where the actual Upper Room was located. Still, it’s a powerful place to meditate on the Last Supper and Pentecost.
Rome has two significant relics of the table used at the Last Supper. One is in the Cathedral, Saint John Lateran. It’s framed high above the tabernacle and is behind a gold relief of the Last Supper. You can make out what looks like a gray colored square behind the head of Christ and the Apostles, that’s actually wood from the table of the Last Supper.
Across the street from Saint John Lateran is the Scala Santa. The chapel at the top of the Holy Stairs is called the Sancta Sanctorum, or the Holiest of the Holies. This was the private chapel of the popes, and it held many relics. It is possible to visit the chapel, which is gorgeous, but only one relic is visible, that of the wood from the table of the Last Supper.
The Garden of Gethsemane
This is a close-up of the rock where Jesus sweat blood while in the Garden of Gethsemane. The rock is located inside the Basilica of the Agony, also known as the Church of All Nations, in Jerusalem.
The House of Caiaphas
A church is built over the dungeon where Christ was held overnight after He was arrested. Read Psalm 88 and imagine Christ lowered into this pit. It’s dark, cold, and damp. On the floor is garbage kicked in from the street above, the place is crawling with bugs. He’s here alone.
On the wall, it’s possible to see a very faint image of a person praying with outstretched arms. See the drawing to the left, and compare to the photo on the right.
The Praetorium of Pontius Pilate
Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate. He would have climbed these stairs several times on the day He was crucified, including after the scourging.
The mother of Emperor Constantine, Queen Saint Helena, brought these 28 marble steps to Rome in the 4th century. She had the steps placed in the Papal Palace and they led to the Pope’s private chapel.
In 1723, the Scala Santa was covered in wood and opened to the public. It is now possible for the faithful to climb the steps on our knees.
The Basilica of Santa Prassede has been the keeper of the Sacred Column, or Scourging Pillar, since the 13th century crusades. As you can see from the painting below (from the same church), the column is not tall. The Romans knew how to torture. A prisoner, in this case, Christ, would have to sit or bend over during the scourging. This ensured He could not use the column as protection from the beating.
After the scourging, Christ had to again climb up the stairs to Pilate’s Palace. Tradition says He fell onto the eleventh step, His knee dented the marble and His blood stained the step.
The Crown of Thorns
The branches from this type of tree, Spina-Christi, were used to create the Crown of Thorns.
Notre Dame in Paris has the biggest part of the Crown of Thorns, but Rome has seven of the thorns. Two are on display at the Basilica of Santa Croce.
The Way of the Cross
I’ve included an image of the cross beam for the Good Thief. Christ would have carried something similar, a large beam of wood tied to His back.
I go over this in detail on my pilgrimages, but here is a short answer to the question: “How did the wood of the True Cross, the Good Thief’s Cross, the Crown of Thorns, and the wooden INRI survive?”
After Christ died, the instruments of the Passion were buried near the tomb. To keep the Christians away, the Emperor Hadrian built a temple over this spot. A few hundred years later, Queen Helena came to Jerusalem searching for the empty tomb and the True Cross. The local Christians took her to the temple. She had the temple destroyed and found everything preserved below. The temple did two things, it marked the location of where Christ died and was buried and it protected everything underneath from the elements. So imagine the wood and the thorns packed into the earth and covered with a giant marble building. For over 200 years the wood was not exposed to rain or sun.
Many relics of the True Cross exist, but the Basilica of Santa Croce in Rome has the four biggest pieces. This basilica has many relics of the Passion because this church is built over where Queen Helena built her palace when she returned from Jerusalem.
Tradition says that while Christ was carrying the cross, a woman approached Him and wiped the blood and sweat from His face. A true (vera) image (icon) of His face remained on the cloth and became known as Veronica’s Veil. So the woman’s name was not Veronica, but rather the cloth was the Veronica (vera icon = true image).
There is a lot of debate about Veronica’s Veil, but many historians (and Pope Benedict) agree that the Holy Veil was smuggled out of Rome to the small town of Manoppello in 1527 during the Sack of Rome.
Until today, Saint Peter’s Basilica displays what could also be Veronica’s Veil. But the public is not allowed near it. It’s brought out for just 60 seconds a year during Lent. It’s a beautiful tradition, even if it is only a copy. The Veil comes out with the bells… (apologies for the shaky video).
Below is a piece of the Titulus or INRI that was nailed above the Cross. You can see the writing in three languages, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Notice how the Latin is written in reverse script, or “as the ox ploughs,” a common way of writing back then.
The first line is Hebrew, which is written right to left, so when the writer got to the end, rather than pick up the chisel and go all the way back to the right, he would simply drop to the next line and write all the way to the right, when he got to the end again, the chisel would be on the right, so he dropped down and the Latin was written in reverse, right to left.
In the Latin you’ll see, in reverse, I (Jesus) Nazarenus (the Nazarene) the rest of the Titulus is not here.
When you climb the steps to Calvary Hill, you’ll see the spot where the cross stood.
The Death of Christ
Directly below the site of the Crucifixion, it is possible to see a crack in the earth. Here the earth shook and the rocks were split.
The Stone of Unction, or the Stone of Anointing, is at the foot of Golgotha. This is where the body of Christ was prepared for burial.
In Spain it is possible to see the cloth that covered the face of Christ as His body was being prepared for burial. It’s known as the Sudarium. The well-known Shroud of Turin, would then have covered the entire body, including the head.
From the Gospel of John: “Simon Peter, following him, also came up, went into the tomb, saw the linen cloth (the Shroud) lying on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head (the Sudarium); this was not with the linen cloth but rolled up in a place by itself.”
The Shroud of Turin is rarely on display. The image below is from the last time, in 2015.
I’ve included this first image so you can see what a first century tomb looked like. This one is inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It’s in the Syriac Orthodox Chapel, just behind Christ’s tomb.
Below is the Holy Edicule. Inside are two rooms, or caves, the antechamber, which is known as the Chapel of the Angel, and then the Holy Sepulcher, or the tomb.
This is the antechamber.
This final image is from inside the tomb. As you can see, it’s empty.