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Patterson, James Laird: Journal of a tour in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Greece. London, Dolman, 1852. Reprinted by Elibron Classics.




At the Holy Sepulchre



Jerusalem, Palestine, 1850


At two o’clock the clergy issued from the choir, and a sort of procession with banners was formed: these were carried by common men, who rushed forward wherever an opportunity offered; the rest struggled as they could through the crowd, without order or devotion; last came the “Bishop of the Fire”, an old man with a fine beard, supported by two deacons. After twice circling the Holy Sepulchre like a crew of bacchanals, the bishop was stripped of his vestments, and with difficulty pushed and carried into the Sepulchre, and the doors closed. Now came a few moments of phrenzied tumult, and then with a shout that rent the air, the fire was welcomed as it was thrust out from the two holes made for this purpose, on either side of the door of the Sepulchre, in tin pierced globes with handles. The men who received these, hastened to light large flambeaux, and to scramble out of the church and off to Bethlehem and Marsaba, and other Greek convents. Meanwhile, the fire was rapidly passed from hand to hand, the pilgrims lighting small thick candles, or rather bundles of candles, which they held to their faces, hands, arms, etc. Presently the bishop came forth from the Sepulchre and rushed forward, swayed hither and thither by the tumult, with a torch in each hand, towards the choir. He made gestures as if under a divine impulse, which put a most hideous crown to this blasphemous mockery. At this point the scene became too frightful to be endured any longer, and I retired from the window. I was told that the ceremonies of shaving some boys’ heads, and a dance of women, followed; but these I did not see.

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