Police on Saturday worked to limit the number of pilgrims marking the holy fire ceremony at the holiest site of Christianity, a day after a deadly hug killed 45 people during the Lag B’Omer festivities in northern Israel.
Heavy police presence and temporary barriers were seen at the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s Old City just before Orthodox Easter.
During the night Thursday-Friday, at least 45 ultra-Orthodox pilgrims were crushed to death and more than 150 people were injured, including many critically, in a rush at a mass rally to celebrate the Lag B’Omer holiday on Mount Meron.
Get The Times of Israel Daily Edition by Email and Never Miss Our Top Stories Free Sign Up
In Jerusalem on Saturday, police gossiped with pilgrims making their way to the church as they tried to control the huge crowds.
After the relaxed photos from the morning, the pressure also reached the Church of the Holy Sepulcher: great density and urgency in the Old City of Jerusalem on the way to the Shabbat HaOr ceremony @ SuleimanMas1pic.twitter.com/frBAIXKjqB
– Here is the news (@kann_news) May 1, 2021
There was no immediate statement from police.
It was unclear how many attendees were present at the Holy Fire ceremony this year. In previous years, over 10,000 pilgrims participated in receiving the flame, representing Jesus’ resurrection, which is transmitted from light to light and will be carried back to Orthodox churches around the world.
Last year, during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, special arrangements were made to allow the ceremony to take place in a very limited way. Now that the pandemic is ebbing away and Israel has largely been reopened, the ritual was held with minimal restrictions.
The ceremony in the church – built on the site where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected – is the holiest event for Orthodox Christianity.
During the annual ceremony, which dates back at least 1,200 years, the Eastern Orthodox clergy enter the Edicule, the small chamber that marks the traditional site of Jesus’ tomb.
Then they show up to reveal candles that are said to be miraculously lit with “holy fire” as a message to the believers from heaven. The details of the source of the flame are a closely guarded secret.
Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter Sunday.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the rest of the Old City are located in East Jerusalem, captured by Israel from its Jordanian occupiers during the Six-Day War in 1967 and later annexed by Israel.
AFP contributed to this report.