Devotion in Jerusalem

East Jerusalem:

Welcome to Jerusalem, the world’s most divine and photogenic city. Considered holy in three major religions, it holds more mystical and sacred sites than any other place. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, for instance. It stars in this episode of Photogenic Palestine; Devotion through the lens of photographer Afif Amireh.
Afif Amireh

About the story

This is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the location where, according to tradition, Christ was crucified, died, was buried and resurrected on the Third Day. It is an awe-inspiring place for believers and non-believers alike. The atmosphere is not exactly one of serenity. It is different from what Christian churchgoers are used to in their own places of worship. There are reasons for this. First of all, there is the constant presence of pilgrims and tourists. But the fact that no less than six different Christian denominations make use of the church also plays a role. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is cherished by Catholics, Greek Orthodox and by Armenian Orthodox – the three most influential churches -, as well as by Coptic Orthodox, Syriacs and Ethiopian Orthodox. They jointly own the church and may all call a certain sector in the building their own. All of them have their time slots for celebrations and rituals. It is all laid out in narrowly defined, though unwritten, agreements. Note: Protestant churches are missing. By the time they came into development, all the positions in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre had already been taken.

For the history of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we must go back to the fourth century. Then Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, the first Roman Emperor to be converted to Christianity, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. There, on the site where early Christians believed Christ was buried, she encountered a ‘pagan’ temple dedicated to the goddess of Venus. On Helena’s request Constantine had the temple destroyed, after which Helena found three crosses under the rubble. She had no doubts: these had to be the crosses to which Christ and the two murderers had been nailed. When a sick man touched one of the crosses and was subsequently healed, it was clear which of the three was the True Cross.

Mr. Joudeh takes out the key, which he usually carries with him during the day. It is a hefty object, weighing 250 grams. ‘It dates from 1149, so 39 years before the arrival of Salah ad-Din. Originally, by the way, there were two keys. One of them was broken 500 years ago, but this one is fortunately still intact.On the Saturday before Easter, together with the Greek Orthodox and the Armenian patriarchs, I enter the tomb to check that there is no fire there. Then both patriarchs remain in the tomb and I will seal the space.’ he tells. ‘The two patriarchs kneel down and pray. And then, without anyone being able to see, the miracle takes place. A bluish Sacred Fire rises from the tomb. The Greek Orthodox patriarch receives it through a candle. Then he opens the door, breaks my seal and comes out with the Holy Fire. The patriarch shares the fire with the Armenians and the Copts, who also pass it on. Then it is taken to other places, such as Bethlehem, Ramallah and Gaza and also to the Orthodox churches in other countries all over the world. For it is the Orthodox churches in particular that believe in this miracle.’

About the photographer

Filmmaker and photographer Afif H. Amireh studied journalism in Egypt and Jerusalem and worked for several news outlets as a producer before pursuing his passion for filmmaking and videography. Recognizing the power of still imagery, Afif bought his first camera in 2010, marking the start of his journey as a photojournalist and storyteller. Afif's talent and dedication have taken him around the world, capturing the essence of diverse cultures and communities. Throughout his career, he has collaborated with numerous international news outlets and media platforms, becoming a widely recognized and highly acclaimed master of his craft.