, JERUSALEM, Apr 12 – Christian pilgrims from across the globe filled every nook of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Sunday to celebrate Easter on the spot many believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected.
On Easter Sunday the cavernous interior of the Church, considered by most Christians as their faith’s holiest site, is filled with the glow of thousands of candles as the believers crowd into its labyrinth of chapels and crypts.
The smell of incense and the hum of prayers fill the air as the pilgrims glimpse some of Christianity’s most revered sites — the spot where Jesus was crucified by the Romans, the slab of stone where his body was laid afterward and embraced by his mother, the tomb where he was buried and resurrected.
The church is uneasily shared by six Christian denominations — Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Egyptian Copts, Syrian Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox.
On Sunday, the Western Christians were celebrating Easter, a week ahead of the date on which Orthodox churches will hold their ceremonies.
The day began with the two Muslim families who have held the keys to the church for centuries opening the doors to the throng of pilgrims, who quickly fill the interior, lighting it up with their candles and the constant flash of cameras.
Many stop just after the entrance, kneeling in front of and kissing the stone slab on which Jesus is believed to have been laid out and washed after his crucifixion and before his burial.
A procession circles the grotto on the site where Jesus is believed to have been buried, before it marches outside into a limestone plaza bathed in bright sunshine.
The ceremony is overseen by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Roman Catholic leader in the Holy Land. Sunday’s ceremony was the first led by new patriarch Fuad Twal, who took over the post last year.
After the service, the procession files through the narrow streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, holy to all three of the world’s largest monotheistic faiths.
As the Western Christians celebrated Easter, thousands of Jewish faithful were preparing to gather wrapped in white prayer shawls at the Western Wall for the Birkat Hacohanim, a priestly blessing said during the Passover feast that this year is coinciding with the Christian festivities.
The Muslim faithful meanwhile were getting ready for midday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound, Islam’s third-holiest site, and other mosques dotted throughout the Old City.
Jerusalem draws thousands of pilgrims for Easter each year.
On Friday psalms and incense filled the air as the faithful wept and prayed along the Via Dolorosa, or Way of Suffering, the traditional route Jesus took to his crucifixion.