What is a Sepulcher?

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Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre encompasses the tomb in which the body of Jesus was buried after his crucifixion, according to religious belief. Photo © Steve Allen/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Definition:
The noun form of sepulcher (pronounced sep-ul-ker) or sepulchre (British spelling) comprises a small niche or room that holds the remains of a deceased human being. Typically, a sepulcher is built from stone or rock, but ancient peoples also used existing cavities or caves to house their dead, or hew such cavities in the rock itself.

Perhaps the most famous sepulcher in the world is that located beneath Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Built around A.D. 326, this holy site encompasses the place where Jesus was crucified (Mount Calvary) and the tomb in which his body lay, according to religious belief.

Though less common these days, the term sepulcher can also be used as a verb, i.e., to bury something. A classic example of this usage is found in William Shakespeare's play The Two Gentlemen of Verona: "Go to thy lady's grave and call hers [her love] thence, Or, at the least, in hers sepulchre thine."

Word Origin:
In use since at least the year 1200, the modern English word sepulcher ultimately derives from the Latin word "sepulcrum," meaning a "grave, tomb or a place where a corpse is buried." That Latin term derives from a root word, "sepelire" that meant "to bury or embalm" and, earlier, "to perform rituals on a corpse."

Synonyms:
A sepulcher is often referred to as a tomb, a crypt, a mausoleum, burial chamber or a vault.

Related Information:
What is a Burial Cairn?
Why Do Mourners Places Stones on Jewish Graves?
What is a Samadhi?

Sources:
"History of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre." http://churchoftheholysepulchre.net. Retrieved April 25, 2015. http://churchoftheholysepulchre.net/history-of-the-church-of-the-holy-sepulchre

"sepulchre (n.)." Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved April 26, 2015. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=sepulcher

The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Act IV, Scene II) by William Shakespeare. www.shakespeare-online.com. Retrieved April 26, 2015. http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/two_4_2.html

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