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Immovable Ladder

One of the interesting facts about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the way that different factions of the church have agreed to get along as each of them maintain and oversee different parts of the church. The symbol of the agreement to get along is most clearly seen from a wooden ladder that stays positioned underneath an outer window that is visible from the plaza area of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.


In 1757, the Ottoman Turks imposed a decreed called the Status Quo. This decree mandates that the ownership of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as a whole is shared between the Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church (also known as the Latin Church), and the Armenian Apostolic Church. Three other churches, the Coptic Church, the Syriac Church, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church have rights to use certain areas of the church. The effect of the Status Quo decree is that no one church can choose to make changes to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher without the other five churches agreeing to the changes.

Outside of the church and over the front door of the church, a wooden ladder sits on a ledge under one of the windows. It is said that the ladder was placed there when the Status Quo was issued so that no one church can move it without the others agreeing. Since the ladder itself is not controlled or maintained by any other six churches, no one knows who would be the group that would have to ask the others if it is permissible to move the ladder. Because all the churches guard their rights vigorously, it is unlikely that the ladder will be moved anytime soon.

Overall, the wooden ladder serves as a reminder that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher belongs to all the churches rather than any one body of believers. And, by extension, it is fair to say that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and all that it represents belongs to Christianity whole rather than just one part of it.

There are a few times that the wooden ladder has in fact been moved. In 1981, a month after the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II, someone stole the ladder and it went missing for a short time. The Israeli police soon found, took possession of the ladder, and returned it to its rightful spot, though the perpetrators were never discovered. In 1997, the ladder went missing for several weeks. As the tensions rose between the churches, especially between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church, the ladder was put back in place. Finally, in 2009 the ladder was moved from the right window over the entrance to the left window over the entrance. The thought is it was moved to clear away scaffolding that was needed to finish the renovations on the bell tower. Overall, the wooden ladder stays right where it is.


The wooden ladder stands as a symbol that though the relationships between the churches may not be the strongest, for centuries, the churches have been able to peaceably reside in and maintain the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

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