The burial cave at the Garden Tomb, on the western escarpment of the hill, was hewn out of limestone from the Turonian geological periodm At the Garden Tomb cave, the escarpment is about 18 feet high.
The Garden Tomb cave consists of two rooms, an entrance chamber and an inner chamber. The two rooms are beside one another. After going into the entrance chamber (on the north), the visitor sees the inner chamber on the right (south).
The rectangular opening into the entrance chamber is about 4 ½ feet high and about 21 in feet wide. Originally the opening was probably smaller than it is today. The threshold of the opening is about 1 in feet above the ground outside the cave, so that the visitor must step up to go inside.
The entrance chamber itself is roughly rectangular, nearly ten feet long, nearly seven feet wide, and six feet high.
In the east wall of the entrance chamber, opposite the doorway, a horizontal line about three feet above the floor appears in the wall. The dressing of the rock face above this line is different from the dressing below it. Originally, below the line a rock-hewn burial bench probably extended from the wall. This burial bench was later removed, most likely in the Byzantine period.
At some later date grooves were cut vertically into the north and south walls, apparently to hold vertical slabs of stone that extended across the east side of the entrance chamber about 2 ½ feet from the east wall. The vertical stone slab or slabs held in these grooves created a sarcophagus-like burial trough along the east wall where the original rock-cut burial bench had been removed.
An entryway in the southern wall of the entrance chamber leads to the inner chamber. This entryway measures over 6 ½ feet height and is only 2 feet wide. Most of the wall separating the two chambers is missing. Part of the remaining wall west of the entrance to the inner chamber has been somewhat decreased in thickness.
More important, a large section of the western wall of the inner chamber is missing. It has been replaced by a wall of stone building blocks in which a window allows light from the garden area to penetrate the inner chamber. Without this built wall, the inner chamber would be open to the outside.
The floor of the inner chamber is about 8 ½ inches lower than the entrance chamber, so there is a step down from the entrance chamber.
With a ceiling that measures 7 feet at its highest point, the inner chamber is nearly 8 feet long and 11 feet wide.
Along each of the walls of the inner chamber, except the entry wall, are trough-shaped burial places, resembling sarcophagi, carved from the rock. The outer wall of the troughs is, for the most part, missing. The top edge of the troughs is nearly 3 feet above the floor of the inner chamber. Long grooves, flat on the bottom, were cut into the side walls to support horizontal stone slabs that once covered the burial troughs. This might indicate that these grooves for the slabs that covered the burial troughs were not of the tomb’s original phase. If the slabs had been part of the original design, they would probably have been supported by ledges rather than grooves. On each of the side walls, specially carved vertical grooves were cut. Apparently slabs once fit into these vertical grooves to form the burial space.
The trough-shaped, sarcophagus-like burial place opposite the entrance to the inner chamber is shorter than the burial places on the two side walls. Its length is 4 ¾ feet, compared to nearly 7 ½ feet for each of the two side sarcophagi. It has been suggested that this short burial place was intended for a child.
The correct explanation is as follows: Originally, in the Iron Age, three rock-cut burial benches, not troughs, lined the three walls of the inner chamber. In the Byzantine period, when the troughs were cut into the burial benches, one side bench was cut first, then the other. Thus both ends of the burial bench opposite the entrance to the inner chamber were cut off, leaving about 4 ½ feet of this burial bench into which to cut a burial trough.
On the eastern and southern walls of the inner chamber are Christian symbols—Greek crosses painted in dark red on the rock walls. Above the horizontal crossbar of the crosses are the Greek letters