Site of Christ’s crucifixion transformed into an unholy battleground

Published November 1, 2004


An age old dispute between Christian denominations that share the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — the site of Jesus’ crucifixion — erupted into a brawl on Sept. 27 over the opening of a door during a Greek Orthodox procession.

The incident drew attention to the rivalry between the various denominations who rigorously guard their sections of the church under a “status quo” law passed in 1757.

The incident began during a Greek Orthodox ceremony to commemorate the fourth-century pilgrimage to Jerusalem of Helena, mother of the Roman emperor Constantine. It erupted as a Greek Orthodox procession approached the door to a Roman Catholic chapel, traditionally revered as the hill of crucifixion and the tomb of Christ’s burial.

“The Catholic priest tried to stop them from going in,” Aviad Sar-Shalom, an Israeli tour guide, recounted. “The Greek Orthodox monks beat the Catholic monk. He was badly beaten and then they lifted him up like a sack of potatoes and threw him out of the church.”

Four Greek Orthodox priests were detained by police and five people were wounded during the fracas, including several policemen who tried to separate the warring sides.

Relations between the Christian groups that share the church have been so tense that the keys to the holy site’s main entrance have been entrusted to two Muslim families, who are seen as neutral parties.


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