The Hertford Lecture

Professor Martin Biddle provided the annual Hertford Lecture on Thursday, 21st October at the Examination Schools, Oxford, and it was very well attended.

As many will know, Professor Biddle and his wife and co-researcher, Birthe Kj°lbye-Biddle made a celebrated record of the tomb of Christ in 1986, before urgent restoration was to take place in the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Professor and Mrs Biddle are also noted for their exceptional work at Winchester over a whole decade, (culminating in 1971), and for work done since that time, both in Repton and at St. Albans Abbey. This fine team’s book, The Tomb of Christ, [hardback, paperback - Ed.] was published earlier this year.

Assisted by his partner, Professor Biddle gave us a thorough and exciting account of the history of the Holy Sepulchre, the rock-cut tomb which had been found close to the known site of Golgotha and hailed since the first half of the 4th century as the authentic burial place of the Redeemer. This was sited outside the city walls, but later to be enclosed within the limits of the old city and fought over by Christian soldiers and priests for many centuries.

We were led step by step from the earliest uncovering and recognition of the site, and of Calvary, by the Emperor Constantine, his officials and family, to the late-classical elaboration of the tomb. This took the form of an immediate enclosure called the Edicule, or ‘little house’, and an enveloping, domed structure and apsed entrance hall which opened from one of the greatest Christian basilicas ever conceived.

Our historian recounted in fluent detail the story of its destruction and of the reinvestment of the whole area in Mediaeval times with the permission of Saladin and his less tolerant successors. Much of our later knowledge has been extracted from the accounts of pilgrims from all over the world, but Professor Biddle restricted his story to the writings of English-speaking pilgrims.

A series of slides included photographs, plans, 17th century engravings and 19th cent. Paintings illustrating the various accretions, and a fascinating, partly damaged stone model found in Narbonne. It all added up to a painstaking piece of archaeological and scholarly detective work upon which Professor Biddle and all his associates are to be congratulated. The subject of the lecture may not have been quite what we are used to, and probably would not have been fitted into a Tyndale Society conference, but it was, none the less, a valuable hour of information, and for which I, for one was grateful.

David Green

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