Certain holy sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem cannot be changed without agreement from the many local denominations. As a result, a ladder has been propped against a window ledge on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre since 1728.The Status Quo was instituted by Osman III (an Ottoman sultan) in 1757 to prevent conflict among the various religious communities in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. It set out standards of ownership and control for sites like the Church of the Nativity and the Western Wall. In many cases these standards are disputed, often violently, but in a few cases they create a weird bubble of stasis, a kind of theological deadlock.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is where, supposedly, Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected. It is claimed by no less than six different Christian communities: the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Coptic Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, and Ethiopian Orthodox denominations. Bits and pieces of the church are controlled by different orders: Calvary aka Golgotha is split between Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox chapels; the interior of Jesus’ tomb is used by the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Armenian Apostolic orders daily.
Let’s rewind 291 years. Some time around or before 1728, a ladder was propped up against a window on the outside of the church. Accounts vary about why it was added in the first place – either a mason restoring the church left it there, or it was added to avoid the church’s entry fee. But it was still there in 1757, when the Status Quo formally came into being.
The Status Quo dictates that nothing in the church can be changed without the agreement of all six orders. So that ladder…well, it has been there ever since. The United States was founded. The Napoleonic Wars raged. Empires rose and fell. And the ladder remained in place.
It’s still there. It has been disturbed only twice: in 1997 it was pulled up in protest, and in 2009 it was temporarily moved to a different window (I don’t know why). You can see a video of the former below, but only if you promise to mute the awful soundtrack. The ladder is still there today, and shows no signs of moving.
I live in Auckland, New Zealand, and am curious about most things.