Inside the Main Entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and past the bench where the Muslim keeper of the keys sat for so long is the Stone of Anointing, which is also called the Stone of Unction. This stone marks the place where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial after He was taken down from the cross.
The Stone of Anointing is a flat stone slab that contains a reddish hue throughout its texture. The stone sits about a half meter (foot and a half) off the floor and is surrounded by a stone encasement with decorative orbs sitting atop each corner. The top of the stone is exposed and visitors can touch or kneel at the stone and reflect on the dead body of Jesus laying on the stone and being prepared for His burial. Above the Stone of Anointing hangs eight lamps that span the total length of the stone. Tall candlesticks stand on each end of the stone.
After Jesus died on the cross on Calvary, Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, went to Pilate to request permission to take charge of Jesus’ body. According to the Gospel of John, Nicodemus, the Pharisee who went to Jesus in the cover of night to ask Jesus questions, went with Joseph of Arimathea. They received permission to take possession of the body of Jesus so that they could prepare Him for burial. Because it was late in the day on the Day of Preparation and because none of the work of tending to a dead body could be done on the Sabbath, Joseph and Nicodemus quickly wrapped Jesus’ body in strips of linen and anointed the body with myrrh and aloe, spices used in the burial process. The men carried Jesus’ body to Joseph’s own tomb and placed Him there. The Stone of Anointing marks the place where Jesus’ body was prepared by the two men for the rushed burial. The plan was for them and others to return after the Sabbath and finish the preparation. (Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-53; John 19:38-42.)
The history of the Stone of Anointing was placed in its current position after the fire of 1808 destroyed much of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The rebuilding over the next couple of years brought the limestone slab to the place where it now rests. The Stone of Anointing is officially owned by the Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Orthodox Churches.
The Stone of Anointing marks an important part of the narrative of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. The fact that Jesus’ body needed to be prepared for burial shows that Jesus did in fact physically die. Some have maintained that Jesus merely fainted, or swooned, and never stopped breathing and His heart never stopped beating. Of course, if Jesus merely fainted, His body would have no need for the preparation process for burial. He would have needed medical attention. But, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus prepared His body for burial because Jesus, in fact, died on the cross.