Photographers' Blog

Pilgrims in the Holy Land

Jerusalem

By Ronen Zvulun

Walking through the narrow alleys of Jerusalem’s Old City and visiting its myriad holy sites at this time of year is an even more vibrant and colorful experience than usual.

Born and raised in Jerusalem, I know these streets by heart. But around the time of Holy Week and Easter they take on a different tone, as people from all over the world converge on the walled city to visit its many points of pilgrimage.

As the crowds pour through the streets, often moving in compact groups of regimented tour parties, I find myself observing the individuals. In this project, I wanted my photographs to reveal the separate people who can so easily get lost amongst the hordes that arrive in the run-up to Easter.

I chose to photograph them in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the most famous church in Jerusalem, if not the world, which is built on the site where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

I wanted to show the uniqueness of each worshipper and I persuaded several individuals to leave their tour groups and stand, for a moment, in a quiet corner of the normally teeming Church.

Half a century of crucifixions for both penitent and photographer

I can’t help but be amazed by the contrasting observance of the Lenten season, particularly Holy Week, in my country, the Philippines. To many, Holy Week means going back to their home towns for vacation for a relaxing time and to renew ties with families and friends. To others, like the people from Pampanga in the northern Philippines, it is the time for the annual religious ritual that could be viewed as bizarre in the eyes of some observers.

Pampanga has become a popular destination for local and foreign tourists, as well as journalists, during Maundy Thursday and Good Friday as thousands of penitents self-flagellate and dozens enact Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Last Thursday, I followed the shirtless men as they walked the streets while whipping their backs with bamboo sticks. Blood splattered not only on my clothes but also on my camera lens as I got closer to the penitents to take a snap shot of their wounded and bloodied backs. Sometimes I even tasted the blood as droplets landed on my face.

It was 1985 when penitent Ruben Enaje first had himself nailed onto the cross. He said it was a vow he made after miraculously surviving a fall from the third floor of a building he was painting. Seeing him again last Friday for the 26th year of his crucifixion, it was obvious he has aged but the expression of pain on his face – as three-inch stainless steel nails are hammered on his hands and feet – is the same.