Rachel Neiman
April 20, 2014, Updated April 17, 2022

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.

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