For the first time since 1349, when the Black Death pandemic ravaged the world, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is closed for Good Friday and Easter.
All they that passed by the way have clapped their hands at thee: they have hissed, and wagged their heads at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying: Is this the city of perfect beauty, the joy of all the earth?
- Lamentations 2:15 (sung at Tenebrae for Good Friday)
A Rare and Sorrowful Event
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which encloses the tomb where Christ was buried, is closed to the public on Good Friday and Easter this year due to concerns over the COVID-19 (“Coronavirus”) pandemic. This temple, which was originally constructed at the behest of St. Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine the Great, has not been closed on the holiest days of the Church’s liturgical year since 1349. However, on March 25, Israeli health officials ordered the holy site closed, along with other sites of religious worship throughout the country.
Thousands of Christian pilgrims visit the Holy Sepulchre during the close of Holy Week and Easter. While the scourge of schism has led to different Christian confessions occupying the church over the centuries, a status quo reached in 1757 when the Ottoman Empire controlled Jerusalem assigns the Roman Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, and Greek Orthodox churches as the Holy Sepulchre’s primary custodians. The Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syriac Orthodox churches also have a presence at the site.
While Roman Catholics celebrate Easter this weekend, those Christian confessions that follow the Julian Calendar, including the Greek Orthodox, honor the Lord’s Resurrection on Sunday, April 19. It is doubtful, however, that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre will be reopened by then.