Tensions run high over control of Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre

Muslim families have long held the door key because of the church’s shared custody

Wednesday 30 January 2019 20:31
Christian devotees from Orthodox denominations celebrate the Holy Fire ceremony
Christian devotees from Orthodox denominations celebrate the Holy Fire ceremony

It is 3am and Artak Tadevosyan is wafting incense through the corridors of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where Christians believe Jesus Christ was crucified and buried.

“Walking in the Lord’s footsteps, really, you have feelings that cannot be explained,” says the 26-year-old Armenian Orthodox cleric. “We don’t see it as stone, all these are holy places for us.”

The Holy Sepulchre lies in Jerusalem’s Old City. A church was first built there in the fourth century under Constantine the Great, the Roman emperor who converted to Christianity.

Today the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches share custody of the building, and tensions sometimes run high over who controls what.

Other denominations also hold services there, in languages including Latin, Arabic, Aramaic, Amharic and Ge’ez.

At night the building falls silent. Muslim families have long held the door key, because of the tensions between the Christian clergy.

In the Greek Orthodox patriarchate nearby, His Beatitude Theophilos III, the patriarch of Jerusalem, says he feels deep reverence for the church.

“For the Christian world the Holy Sepulchre is the heart of Jerusalem and the world,” he says during preparations for the Orthodox Christmas.

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“Why? Because this particular place, which is the rock of the crucifixion and the rock of the tomb, or the burial site of Jesus Christ, has been watered, and therefore blessed, by the blood of the righteous one.”

Reporting by Stephen Farrell​, Reuters

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