On my trip to Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the tour guide told us that inside the church, there is a place where the Cross was located, and right beneath the Cross, there buried the Adam's ( yes, Adam our great-grand-grand-grand-grand-grand ancestor) Skull. When Jesus died, his blood filled the skull, and so on, and so on.

I can't find this reference in the Bible, so I assume that it must come from somewhere, probably from Catholic tradition? But I can't be sure.

Where does the story of "the Cross on top of Adam's Skull" come from?

  • This is a common theme in Christian artwork. For instance, this image. Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 15:01
  • I don’t think that it is Adam’s actual skull that is buried there. Instead, it has to do with what Adam represents, which is the ‘Old Man’. Thus, it is our “old self” that gets done away with through the crucifixion of our “flesh”. The first Adam vs the last Adam, in other words. (1 Cor 15:45) Commented Sep 8, 2019 at 4:07

3 Answers 3


According to Emmanouela Grypeou and Helen Spurling (The Book of Genesis in Late Antiquity, Brill 2013, p71ff), the earliest Christian reference to this idea is Origen (c. 184-253), who traces it to Jewish tradition:

Concerning the place of the skull, it came to me that Hebrews hand down [the tradition that] the body of Adam has been buried there; in order that 'as in Adam all die' both Adam would be raised and 'in Christ all will be made alive'. (Commentary on Matthew, 27.32, original in Greek; later Latin translation here does not mention any Jewish tradition)

Essentially the same story is recounted by:

  • A text of c.325-350 attributed, probably falsely, to Athanasius of Alexandria (c.297-373)
  • John Chrysostom (c.347-407) in a homily on John's gospel, 19:16, says "Some say that Adam died there, and there lies; and that Jesus in this place where death had reigned, there also set up the trophy."
  • A fifth or sixth century commentary on Isaiah, attributed, again probably falsely, to Basil the Great (329-379)
  • Epiphanius of Salamis (c.310-403) in his Panarion 46.5, against the Tatianists, says Adam "was buried there, on the site of Golgotha. This is probably the way the place, which means 'Place of a Skull', got its name, since the contour of the site bears no resemblance to a skull."
  • Basil of Seleucia (d. 458) in his Sermon 38 (Patrologia Graeca 85.409)
  • Jerome (347-420) in his commentaries on Matthew 27:33 and Ephesians 5:14, both written in 398; though he finds the story doubtful.

Even at this stage of Christian history, there was some doubt about the archaeological truth of the story, despite its tempting doctrinal resonance (Christ as the second Adam). The location of the crucifixion was not known with any certainty; still less, the burial place of Adam, which Jerome instead located in Hebron. If Adam's skull is buried under Golgotha, and if the Holy Sepulchre is indeed built on top of Golgotha, then the skull is somewhere under the church.

Regardless, it is still a very old story, as the examples above show.


It's roots lie in the legend of Seth and the oil of mercy, which is included in the Life of Adam and Eve.

It was elaborated in the Legend of the Rood which featured in many Medieval Mystery Plays. and was part of the Golden Legend.

According to the legend in its widest distribution, the story is interwoven with that of the Queen of Sheba, as depicted in Piero della Francesca's series, who prophesies that the beam of wood will bear the saviour of the world.


I remember the legend this way, Seth, took one of the fruits of the Tree that got his parents in such trouble,and planted nearby Eden. The fruit grew to be a large tree until it was cut down to be used as Jesus' cross. Quite frankly, we know with God all things are possible. Thereby its not so horrible to think that it really happened just that way. For those who insist on facts I say where is your Faith?


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