Church of the Holy Sepulchre to re-open Sunday following extended closure

The church was forced to close its doors to the public in late March due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (photo credit: PIXABAY)
Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
(photo credit: PIXABAY)
Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre will reopen on Sunday, following an extended closure enforced by the coronavirus lockdown, the church leaders have announced.
The church, revered by Christians worldwide as the site of Jesus' crucifixion and burial, was closed in late March for an initial period of one week following discussions between Israel Police and the church leaders, although they admitted at the time that the closure may be extended.
Two months on, the church is set to open its doors once again to Christian pilgrims and curious travelers alike, albeit with stipulations.
In a statement jointly released by Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fr Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land, and Archbishop Nourhan Manougian, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, the church leaders announced that initially only 50 people will be admitted at a time, all must keep two meters apart, the Basilica will be accessible only to those with no symptoms of infection and wearing face coverings, and any acts of devotion involving physical contact are forbidden.
"From this Holy Place, in this Easter time, we continue our prayers, asking for the end of this pandemic," the leaders said.
The closure is the first time in over 650 years that the church was off-limits to the public. The last time it was forced to close its doors for an extended time was in 1349, during an outbreak of the Black Death in Jerusalem, although since then it has shut for short periods due to wars or disputes. In 2018 it was shut for three days in protest against a proposal to increase taxes on churches, according to the Catholic News Agency.
The church has been a site of pilgrimage for Christians for nearly two millennia, after the Roman Emperor Constantine I demolished a temple dedicated to the goddess Venus to make way for the church. During the course of the demolition a tomb was discovered, thought to be that that Jesus was buried in, and was later covered to preserve it from the elements. The building was destroyed and rebuilt multiple times over the following centuries, but the structure that stands today is essentially that built by the first Crusaders following the capture of Jerusalem at the end of the 11th century.
Custody of the church is today shared by the Roman Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church, and Armenian Apostolic Church, with other denominations also holding services at the site.