Easter Sunday, Jerusalem 1941

Times were tense in early 1941 as Jerusalem waited on the sidelines of a world at war. Perhaps that’s why the Matson Photo Service chose to document Easter services at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

On Easter Sunday in 1941 a photographer from the Matson Photo Service came to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to photograph the services there. The photographer was very likely G. Eric Matson who, together with his wife Edith, had recently taken over the American Colony Photo Department and introduced innovative techniques, such as hand-tinting, double stereoscopic (3D) images, infrared night photography and aerial photography.

That same day, Pope Pius XII noted in his Easter message in Vatican City that although he greeted “[all] beloved sons and daughters of Rome and of the entire world,… in the joyful spirit of the resurrection and peace in Christ… unfortunately, there has been no resurrection, no restoration, of peace among nations.”

These were tense times in a Middle East that watched and waited on the sidelines of the most widespread war in history. Easter Sunday of 1941 fell on the 13th April; at that time the Mandatory Palestine and the Yishuv (the Jewish settlement) were under threat of invasion, conquest and — in the case of Jews and other undesirables — annihilation from Nazi forces that, following the conquest of France in 1940, could potentially invade from the north.

Perhaps for this reason, the Matsons felt it necessary to document Easter services of the various churches housed at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox,  Roman Catholic and others.

The Easter Sunday procession begins in the parlor of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch with distinguished guests, gathered before the procession the Sepulchre.


Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


Looking down from dome on to processions going round the Rotunda and Aedicule.


The Roman Catholic (Latin) service.


The Ethiopian Orthodox ceremony on roof of St. Helena Chapel.


Nabi Musa festival banners presented by Keith Roach OBE, the British Colonial administrator and governor of Jerusalem.

The threat of Nazi invasion was quelled temporarily in the summer of 1941 when the British forces successfully fought Vichy forces for control of Syria and Lebanon. In November, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, met with Adolf Hitler in Berlin — the consequences of that meeting still reverberate today. And on December 7th, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the US into the war.

The Matsons later donated their work to the US Library of Congress and the G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection stands as a rich source of historical images of Palestine (present day Israel and the West Bank) from 1898 to 1946.

About Rachel Neiman

A veteran media professional who has lived in Israel since 1984, Rachel has been part of the ISRAEL21c organization since 2008. Prior to that, she served as managing editor of Globes Online, the English-language edition of Israel’s leading business daily, and before that, at The Jerusalem Post, as a business reporter, feature writer, and consumer columnist. Rachel began writing about Israeli technology companies at LINK Israel’s Business and Technology Magazine and is a professional Hebrew to English translator. In her spare time, she is an active member of the Havurat Tel Aviv congregation, and the Holyland Hash House Harriers, part of an international running and drinking disorganization.