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VIEW FROM THE GALLERY.
wandered to the preaching of the hermit, when he roused the warriors of Europe to arms, and led that rabble horde of sixty thousand, of all ages and all sexes, across the plains of Hungary and Bulgaria, who, abandoning their homes, and throwing aside the peaceful instruments of husbandry, ran forward, seized with that unaccountable fanaticism which the eloquence of Peter infused into their half-civilized minds. I thought too of the orders of saintly warriors and chivalrous churchmen, the Hospitallers and Templars, that were instituted in this land, for the purpose of guarding this sacred spot, which became not only the object of the pilgrim's veneration, but the very nursing mother of chivalry.
The view from the gallery of the building is most exciting, and on looking down upon the moving mass of human beings beneath, my mind was forcibly carried back to the scene which the court of Solomon's temple must have presented when the different tribes and nations who, from various parts of the world, came up to worship in Jerusalem, were assembled within its sacred walls. I scarcely knew on what object to rest my eye, so strange and varied was the appearance and costume of the crowd assembled beneath. The diversity of language, the flaunting of the silken banners that slowly moved to and fro from the top of the sepulchral dome, the gaudy paintings of the Greeks, the waving of censers, and the perfume of incense—the crowds of devoted pilgrims, some in attitudes of deep emotion, round each sacred spot ; the turbaned Greek; the high-capt Persian ; the shaggy coat of the Muscovite, or the Siberian ; the long beard and dark, downcast visage of the despised Copt; the rich dresses of the different ecclesiastics ; the mitred abbot, the venerable patriarch, and the cord-girt friar, shall never fade from my memory.
But when to these I add the scenes that took place upon some of the succeeding days that are considered more important and sacred, when the devotees joined in full chorus, though, to speak correctly, it was any thing but chorus or harmony, the effect was indescribable. Then, when the organ of the Latins was in full play, and the measured chant of their hymns rose from the vaults beneath ; with the loud nasal twanging of the Greeks ; the drums and timbrels of the Armenians ; the low, plaintive murmuring of the Copts; the groans of the devout pilgrims, that issued forth from Calvary; the glimmering of the thousand lamps and tapers ; the long lines of the different processions; and the “bustling busy
hum” that at intervals came from the court without, as some of the pilgrims quaffed their sherbet, or cheapened beads and rosaries, formed a scene that beggars all description. But even at those moments when the din and clamour of this scene, which resembled the confusion of tongues at Babel, was loudest, there was one that, like a death-bell, ever rung in my ears—a sound which, eighteen centuries before, every spot in that vicinity must have heard ; a sound at which the very rocks were rent, and the earth did quake; which burst asunder the narrow confines of the tomb, and called into life the mouldering ashes of the saint ; a sound the most appalling that ever fell on human ear; a sound at which all nature, animate and inanimate, was moved to send forth one universal groan of anguish; that sound was the “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani.” If I closed my eyes amidst this scene, it was but to picture in my mind the bleeding sacrifice—the weeping motherthe supporting disciple—the intreating fellow-sufferer on the cross —the gaunt form of the Roman soldier—the wagging head of the reviling Jew—and the riven rocks : opening sepulchresthe rent veil of the temple, and mid-day darkness, appeared, in all their reality, to my imagination.
As the forms, the ceremonies, and processions, that take place in this church, have been described by many other travellers, I shall not occupy time in repeating what I suppose my readers generally know. There is, however, one scene connected with the grand climacteric of credulity and superstition, and which is now the principal magnet that attracts the Greek and Armenian pilgrims to Jerusalem, that I cannot omit mentioning. On Easter eve all the Christian inhabitants of Jerusalem, and many of the Mohammadans also, assemble in the church of the Holy Sepulchre, to witness the ceremony of what is termed the Holy Fire. On Good Friday, after the usual masses and processions have been concluded, the Greek patriarch and the Armenian bishop enter the pavilion of the sepulchre, the outer door of which is immediately closed upon them. The dignitaries remain locked in all night, waiting for the miraculous fire, which they assert is sent down to them from heaven. At length, on Saturday night, the wished-for light is seen, and a flame appears at the oval aperture in the outer chamber, or cenotaph, which I before described. In order to increase the delusion practised upon the devotees, in former times a dove was let loose from the cupola of the tomb, at
the moment the sacred fire appeared, to represent the Holy Ghost! This latter part of the farce, if so mild a term can be applied to so impious a mockery, has been discontinued for some years past. Each of the pilgrims carries with him a torch, and, as soon as the flame is perceived, a rush is made to light the torches at the sacred fire ; and, as no person is allowed to ignite his flambeau at that of his neighbour, the greatest uproar and confusion prevails. It seems that those that are soonest lighted possess the greatest virtue, and on that account large sums are sometimes paid for the privilege of the first ignition. The torches are then extinguished, , carried home by the pilgrims, and preserved for burning round their bodies after death. ·
An eye-witness has thus described it to me. “ Numbers of the pilgrims pass Friday night in the church of the Holy Sepulchre ; a clear course is kept about the sepulchre, round which bodies of Greeks and Armenians walk in procession, and frequently meeting, a contest ensues as to which party shall give way to the other ; words and often blows follow, so that blood is generally spilled in this contest, which is only ended by the Egyptian (now Turkish) guard interfering and separating the combatants. About twelve o'clock on Saturday night the Greek patriarch and Armenian bishop again appear heading processions of their own denominations with banners flying, incense waving, and chanting services in honour of the occasion. After several rounds of the sepulchre, these two (the patriarch and bishop) stop at the door, which, from the time they came out in the morning, had remained sealed, and commence a stripping process by no means reverent; every article of dress is taken off except drawers, to prove to the people that they take no composition or means for producing the fire in with them, the seal of the sepulchre is then broken by the guard and they enter, the doors closing immediately after them. One may now see the dense crowd thronging to the outlets for the fire, but of late, paths are kept on each side to the doors by dint of incessant flogging with koorbags ; and men are stationed at the fire holes with lanterns, which they light at the fire as soon as it appears, and then rush with it through the various avenues kept clear for them to the side doors, the galleries, and the different passages, thus affording it to those who could not at first get near enough. Besides this, bunches of candles may be
DEATH OF THREE HUNDRED PILGRIMS.
seen, dangling by ropes from the ceilings and galleries over the heads of the crowd beneath, to catch if possible some of the holy flame which is believed to be incapable of igniting any object except the candles themselves, even though held quite close to it.”
One Easter-eve, about nine years ago, this mockery was visited with a signal instance of the wrath of the Almighty, and was attended with the most melancholy results. On that occasion the crowd was more than usually great, for upwards of six thousand persons had assembled in the building, and, according to custom, the outer doors were closed. While the people were anxiously waiting for the miraculous fire, the heat and the pressure became intense, and the air, from the closeness of the place and the multitude who were breathing it, became impure. Just at the moment that the fire made its appearance, several persons fainted, others sank down from weakness and extreme exhaustion, a cry of distress rose from those in the centre of the building, and a general panic immediately spread throughout the whole multitude. A rush was then made towards the door, but, as it turned inward, it was impossible to get it opened, owing to the extreme pressure of the crowd against it. In the tumult that prevailed, none thought of escaping by the galleries, or the other small side entrances, and the scene that followed, as described to me by several eye-witnesses, was fearful, and in its consequences truly appalling.
In the space of a few minutes-certainly not more than a quarter of an hour-numbers perished, either from suffocation, or from being thrown down and trampled to death by the crowd. The governor of the city, who was present as a spectator in the Frank gallery, with a humanity creditable to his character, ran down and endeavoured to restore order, and get the gates broken open; but he too was borne down by the pressure, and only for the vigorous exertions made by his attendants to rescue him, he would have perished with the other unhappy victims at this shrine of superstition. Ibrahim Basha was also in the church, and was with great difficulty saved. At length the guard forced back some of the crowd with their bayonets, and opened the doors. Many who were carried into the open air recovered; but, from all that I could collect from the most authentic sources, not less than three hundred persons. perished on that night.
Terrific as was this scene of death, one not less heart-rending
A MIDNIGHT SCENE IN JERUSALEM.
ensued, as described to me by my friend, Mr. Nicolayson, the Jewish missionary, and other witnesses.* The great majority of those who perished in the building were Greeks of Asia Minor and Armenian Persians, whose noble, athletic forms every person must admire. The dead bodies were immediately removed from the court of the church by their respective friends, relatives, or countrymen, and conveyed to the convent yards, the public karavansaries, and even to the bazaars and open streets in different parts of the city. They were then washed, “laid out," and waked, surrounded by those very torches for which they had in so remarkable a manner lost their lives, for notwithstanding the accident, the ceremony still proceeded in the church. The mourning groups that knelt around the corpses of their friends and kindred, so lately radiant with life and health, and on which the cold stiffness of death had scarcely yet appeared, presented an impressive and afflicting picture. A wail of sorrow, long and loud, rose at times upon the midnight air throughout the city, and reminded those within its reach of the lamentation that was heard in Bethlehem, when its children were butchered by the Roman soldiers to gratify the vengeance, and to satisfy the fears of the guilty Herod; or, when the angel of destruction passed over the land, and smote the first-born of Egypt.
Those concerned in the jugglery of this miraculous fire endeavoured, by all possible means, to cloke the matter, and to prevent the exact number killed from being made public; but the impression made on the minds of the people was so great, and so direct and awful appeared this rebuke of the Most High, that on the next day the very same Armenian bishop who had assisted at the ceremony, preached openly against its continuance, and strongly urged the people not to require the performance of what they had been taught to believe was miraculous. The Greeks persuaded him afterwards, however, to resume the farce, which is still performed, being in fact the fly-wheel of the machine
* A feniale servant of this gentleman had gone to witness the proceedings, and before she returned the family were aroused by a piteous cry throughout the city ;—Mr. Nicolayson set out to search for her, and so had an opportunity of seeing the scene which followed that which took place in the church. The servant, however, escaped.