Sunday, November 9, 2008

Pow! Boom! Wham!

UPDATE: A 4-minute video that shows the mayhem best is here on YouTube. A must-see!

Tempers flared and fists flew for nearly an hour in the Holy Sepulchre this morning. Greek Orthodox versus Armenians. Israeli army and riot police were called in to break up the fight between the warring monks and priests. One from each side was arrested.

The full story and background can be found in Ha'aretz. A shorter version in the Jerusalem Post. Many readers' comments coming in, both funny and caustic. Both sites just now put up amazing videos of the brawl.

Some pictures will help you understand what is written in the newspapers.

Under the rotunda is the edicule, a small "house" protecting the tomb of Jesus.

A priest stands guard at the entrance. No one passes until he says so. Only two or three people fit into the little chamber inside.

So sometimes the faithful must wait in line for hours to enter.

After what seems like half a minute the priest shoos you out.
A simple marble shelf covers the remains of the stone tomb.

Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics (here called the Latin Church), Armenians, Syrian Orthodox, Copts, and Ethiopians--all these Christians have separate chapels within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The troubles always start when it comes to the common areas, like the entrance courtyard, the Stone of Unction, the Rotunda, and the Edicule.

The Yad Ben-Zvi guidebook says
"The agreements reached by the various religious communities over ownership of different parts of the Church ... are called the Status Quo. These also include the timing of religious ceremonies within the commonly-owned areas .... These accords are very complex and reflect the tumultuous history of Jerusalem and the fortunes of each of the ... communities."
Because of the rivalries the key to the church has been entrusted for many generations to a Muslim family. "The Ceremony of the Key is a holdover from the expulsion of the Crusaders from Jerusalem, when Muslim rulers limited access to the church. Prior to 1831 and the rule of Ibrahim Pasha, Christian pilgrims could only enter on payment of a stiff fee and were locked in for the night. The owners of the key were the Joudeh family, while the Nusseibeh family, also Muslims, were actually in charge of opening the door."
(from guidebook by Sarah Kochav)

The Ha'aretz article gives examples of problems caused by the status quo:
"The Israeli government has long wanted to build a fire exit in the church, which regularly fills with thousands of pilgrims and has only one main door, but the plan is on hold because the sects cannot agree where the exit will be built. In another example, a ladder placed on a ledge over the entrance sometime in the 19th century has remained there ever since because of a dispute over who has the authority to take it down. More recently, a spat between Ethiopian and Coptic Christians is delaying badly needed renovations to a rooftop monastery that engineers say could collapse."

Indeed I was trapped in the press of the crowd on Palm Sunday and it took me much time and patience and will power to reach the one and only door. The doors are high but not wide.

As mentioned in the paper, this is the Ethiopian compound on the roof of the church. The monks live in these tiny monastic cells in great poverty.

And here is the famous ladder which no one dare remove since the 19th century.

Location, location, location, status quo, status quo, status quo.
Welcome to the Middle East!


Katney said...

Wonderful explanations of the whole situation. Liz
mentioned this in her blog a little earlier. I remember visiting the Holy Sepulchre in 1965 and the same sorts of things were going on, though no physical fights.

Catherine said...

Oh! Thank you Dina for the precisions and to be so reactive searching for informations. Informations, that what misses to people for better understand each other.
The place is so 'precious' and means so much to so many different religious movements. But there're all Christian, no? If they act that way one versus others, how can they live in peace with other religions. Men are so .....human!

kaybee said...

"Jesus wept."

kjpweb said...

Fantastic images from our reporter in Jerusalem! ;)
How silly we humans are...
Cheers, Klaus

JC said...

I was completely creeped out when visiting that site. I couldn't get out of there fast enough. Tooo dark and joyless. The priest swinging the incense thing looking like he would like to slap the _____ out of someone. I much preferred the Garden Tomb. Very peaceful and calming place. I wouldn't make a very good Catholic. I didn't know there were so many different kinds of Catholics. Thanks for the info. I've got to go check out some videos.

Hilda said...


I'm at a loss for words…

Petrea said...

Hmmm. It's hard for me to comment on this honestly without hurting feelings. I'll say this, though, Dina, your photos are fascinating, as always! I assume we're not talking about where Jesus IS buried, but about where he WAS buried before he rolled away the stone...

Steve Buser said...

Not just a great series of photos here, but a great post explaining the layout and operation of the Church of Holy Sepulcher. I had no idea about all these traditions and historical jostlings.

USelaine said...

Wow! Wow, wow, wow. Evict them all, and bring in the Quakers to do the job. A little brotherly love is what we need here.

Pietro said...

Dina, your blog is so nice and interesting and this post is really significant.
Thanks for your kind comment.
Have a great week ahead!

Webradio said...

Thank You Dina (and Catherine) for those informations...
I think like Catherine : "Men are so human !" What a nonsense !

But, Your photos explains Your text very well...

See You later.

Petrea said...

It is nonsense, Webradio. Since time immemorial, men have fought and died over the stupidest things. And I had better zip my lip.

Laurie said...

Dina, this is fascinating -- and sad and bewildering and quite a representative microchasm of the bigger picture.

Kay said...

This is such an incredible post, Dina. You're teaching us so much about the past, present and where it could lead us.

the donG said...

i am learning a lot from this post. i've heard the latest news but news didnt really go into details.

i see that this fight has rooted way way back to those days.

when can this be resolved? we dont know.

Reader Wil said...

How childish to start a fight! What was it about? Thank you for the informative post!

babooshka said...

I was actually flabbergasted by the scenes I saw on the news.

Eki Akhwan said...

That's a very unfortunate incidence, Dina.

Anyway, as always, I enjoy the excellent tour you give of the Holly City. I learn so much about one of my must visit cities from your stories and photos.

Sara said...

Yes this even made it on the evening news here in California! There is not much "turning the other cheek" among the various groups that claim ownership to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Nor has there ever been, from all accounts I've ever heard. Not a very good example to the world, sadly.

I enjoyed your photos and commentary however. Thank you!

ichandrae said...

beautiful Dina.
Yes hilarious. but really not surprising if you consider religious wars this is but not even a feather from the beast.

Thanks for this golden coverage from inside the church it seems beautiful, the church that is.

I am so satisfied that I have different levels of beleif, metaphorically I am a strong roman catholic but I can easily reject harmful aspects of the church because I am also an atheist.

When the church gets too wrapped up in its ceremonies it becomes straight jacketed.

Jerusalem must be a beautiful place to worship.
Also that is so amazing about that ladder it exists in our minds also as the steps that resist understanding and compromise.Wow since the 19th century.

J.C. said...

Excellent reading for me here! I didn't know there are so many sects of Christianity. Very enlightening!

It's astounding that becoz of religions, people may fight over such petty issie as removing a ladder!! If only one would be more forgiving and loving, I think such issue would not arise. Then there would be no fight or war! How beautiful the world would be for all! Alas, it's not happening as we could see from this posting!