CNEWA

‘Unity Is More Important than a Turf War’

The New York Times today posted this look at a developing story in Jerusalem.

The New York Times today posted this look at a developing story in Jerusalem: growing concerns about a possible collapse of the structure surrounding the tomb of Jesus:

It was a typical day at the shrine around what many believe is the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem’s Old City. A Greek Orthodox choir sang inside a room facing the baroque structure. But the voices were drowned out when chanting Armenian priests and monks circling the shrine raised theirs.

“Sometimes they punch each other,” Farah Atallah, a church guard wearing a fez, observed with a shrug.

Mr. Atallah is a seasoned witness to the rivalries among the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic communities that jealously share — and sometimes spar over — what they consider Christianity’s holiest site, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Amid the rivalry, the unsteady 206-year-old structure, held together by a 69-year-old iron cage that honors the keystone of Christianity, the tomb from which Christians believe Jesus was resurrected, is an uncomfortable, often embarrassing symbol of Christian divisions, which have periodically erupted into tensions. In 2008, monks and priests brawled near the shrine, throwing punches and pulling one another’s hair.

But in recent weeks, scaffolding has gone up a few feet from the shrine in the gloomy shadows of the Arches of the Virgin, the first step in a rare agreement by the various Christian communities to save the dilapidated shrine, also called the Aedicule, from falling down.

The 22 March agreement calls for a $3.4 million renovation to begin next month, after Orthodox Easter celebrations. Each religious group will contribute one-third of the costs, and a Greek bank contributed 50,000 euros, or $57,000, for the scaffolding, in return for having its name emblazoned across the machinery.

The idea is to peel away hundreds of years of the shrine’s history, clean it and put it back together. Simple enough, but delayed for decades because of the complicated, centuries-old rules and minute traditions — called the status quo — that define the way Jerusalem’s holy sites are governed, in which the very act of repairing something can imply ownership.

“One of the serious issues in the church is that the status quo takes place over every other consideration, and it’s not a good thing,” said Athanasius Macora, a Franciscan friar. “Unity is more important than a turf war.”

Read on for more.

For additional information on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and its history, check out Christianity’s Holiest Shrine from the Fall 1987 edition of our magazine. And read A Church Transformed to learn about CNEWA’s involvement in the restoration of the building’s dome.

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