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The Holy Sepulchre in danger amid ownership disputes

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.russiatoday.com/features/news/31517 October 7, 2008, 22:20 The Holy Sepulchre in danger amid ownership disputes The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 15, 2008
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      October 7, 2008, 22:20
      The Holy Sepulchre in danger amid ownership disputes
      The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is threatened by
      a shabby monastery situated on its roof that
      might collapse any moment, while two religious
      groups of Eastern Christians strife to control the near-collapsed building.

      Should the tiny Deir al-Sultan – consisting of
      two chapels (one above the other), four service
      rooms and 26 small dormitories, where the monks
      live – fall down, it will inevitably lead to
      injuries among monks and tourists and damage the
      Church of the Holy Sepulchre – one of the most
      sacred temples in Christian tradition.

      Crucifixion site

      According to Christian sources, the Church of the
      Holy Sepulchre was built about 325 A.D. on the
      exact spot, where Jesus was crucified. The
      Church’s territory also includes his burial tomb,
      from where he later rose from the dead.

      Built by Emperor Constantine I it almost
      immediately became a major pilgrimage
      destination, but had to endure cycles of
      destruction and rebuilding several times after
      Jerusalem came under Muslim control.

      The Church of the Holy Sepulchre suffered from
      two fires in VII and X centuries and was razed to
      the ground by Egyptian caliph Al-Hakim in 1009,
      with the razing eventually becoming, one of the
      events that brought about the Crusades.

      It took about 20 years for the Christian king to
      negotiate the rebuilding of the Church.

      In subsequent centuries it changed hands passing
      from Crusaders to Muslims, till the Ottoman Turks
      established firm control over the Holy Land in XVI century.

      Disputed custody

      Ottoman sultans started to lend control over the
      Church to various Christian denominations in exchange for bonuses and money.

      Since then the custody over the Church of the
      Holy Sepulchre became the biggest contest in
      Christianity often causing violent clashes. The
      dispute lived on even after a Status Quo was
      introduced by the Turks in 1767, dividing the
      primary custody over the Holy Sepulchre between
      the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, and Roman Catholic Churches.

      In the XIX century, the Coptic (Egyptian)
      Orthodox, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Syrian
      Orthodox Churches acquired lesser rights, which
      include shrines and other structures within and
      around the building, with the Deir al-Sultan
      monastery being an example of such.

      The Deir al-Sultan is currently under Ethiopian
      custody, but the Copts claim that being situated
      right next to the Coptic Quarter it has to be handed to them.

      As the main principle behind the Status Quo is
      that no common part can be changed without a
      consent from all parties, the Ethiopian/Coptic
      dispute is not at all helping in terms of making
      timely repairs to the monastery building, which
      appears to be badly needing a refurbishing touch.

      Hazardous condition

      An engineer – Yigal Bergman of the construction
      supervision firm Milav – has surveyed the Deir
      al-Sultan building not long ago, characterising
      it as ‘hazardous to its dwellers’, with
      particularly big problems with electrification and sewerage.

      Back in 2004 the Israeli Ministry of Internal
      Affairs announced readiness to pay for repair
      works, but only after all custody disputes are
      resolved. None of sides has budged since.

      According to Israeli daily Haaretz, the head of
      Jerusalem’s Ethiopian Church, archbishop Mattias
      has warned Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit of the
      dangerous state of the chapel and his
      unwillingness to come to an agreement with the Copts.

      “This condition is completely unacceptable to us,
      since we do not recognize any right of the Coptic
      Church in the area in question,” he has stated.
      “Moreover, it is inconceivable that the
      implementation of emergency repairs at the holy
      site would be conditioned on the consent of the
      Coptic Church. Indeed, there is disagreement
      between us and the Coptic Church regarding the
      rights at the site in question, but that is
      precisely the reason we are turning to the
      Israeli authorities, as a neutral factor, to carry out the necessary repairs.”

      Every sneeze regulated

      Today times and places of worship and living at
      the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for each
      denomination are strictly regulated, which
      doesn’t omit the occasional violence.

      On a sunny day in 2002 a Coptic monk who is
      stationed at the Deir al-Sultan to express Coptic
      claims moved his chair from its agreed spot into
      the shade. Ethiopians somehow took it a sign of
      hostility and started a fracas, in which eleven
      were in need of hospitalization.

      This story perfectly illustrates the level of
      hostility between the two communities, while
      another more notorious dispute shows just how
      long the search for a compromise might take.

      It concerns the question of which denomination
      has the right to remove a ladder that was placed
      on a ledge above the main entrance to the Church back in the XIX century.

      As no agreement has been reached, the
      ‘irremovable’ ladder can still be found in the same spot.
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