Holy Places and DisplacementsImmersions

in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The line wound around the base of Jesus’ tomb.  “This line is moving really slowly,” I remarked to one of my classmates.

“This line is not moving,” said the elderly woman ahead of us.  She had an Eastern European accent.  “It’s just getting fat.”

Ahead of us, three women began singing hymns in Romanian.  Their voices lifted and were amplified by the high, arched ceilings.  The people in line fell silent, listening.  The women sang until they reached the door to the tomb.  Before they entered, the elderly woman–who had been in line just behind them–lifted her arms and called something to them, perhaps a thank you.

She turned around and held out her iPhone to me.  “Will you help me take a picture?” she asked.

“Of course,” I said.

I took one horizontal and one vertical, but before I could hand her phone back to her, she said, “Wait, no glasses!” and had me take a few more where she didn’t have her glasses on.

A priest stuck his head out of the tomb, frowning.  “No flash,” he said.

We entered the tomb.  It had two small, dark rooms: the one closer to the front held a piece of stone about the size of an iPad, encased in glass.  We had been told by our guide that it was a piece of the stone that had sealed Jesus’ tomb.  A man, exiting the room in the back (the tomb itself, with the stone slab that had supposedly held Jesus’ body), pressed his forehead to the glass and kissed it several times.

“What is that?” the elderly woman asked.  She tugged the sleeve of the man in line ahead of her.  “What is that?” she asked, pointing.  The man, who appeared to not know English, just gave her a blank stare and shrugged her off.

The man who had been kissing the stone came forward.  He took her by the shoulders and leaned in close.  His whisper was loud enough for the whole room to hear: “It’s where the angel sat.”

The woman gasped and began to weep.  She touched the stone, kissed it, and kept her hand upon it up until she reached the tomb itself, where she threw herself down on the stone and wept all the more.  She stayed there, weeping with her arms outstretched, while visitors moved around her, until a priest came and removed her.