Armenian Jerusalem
the tomb of Christ in the Holy Sepulchre
This project has been supported by the Gulbenkian philanthropic Foundation, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and members of the worldwide Armenian community. Reproductions of the genealogical documents [domar’s] are courtesy Photo Garo, Jerusalem. Copyright © 2007 Arthur Hagopian
           In   631   CE,   the   Caliph   Omar   Ibnul   Khattab   conquered   Jerusalem.   Flanked by   his   generals,   he   marched   to   the   Church   of   the   Holy   Sepulchre,   the placed considred the most sacred by his enemies, the Franks.          He   gazed   in   awe   at   the   church,   but   when   his   entourage   urged   him   to enter   the   building   and pray     there,     he     told them    no.    Rather,    he said,    pray    where    this stone    drops.    And    he picked   up   a   stone   and threw   it   as   far   as   he could,   away   from   the church.          Moslem   armies   were once     again     at     the gates     of     Jerusalem, when     Salah     ud     din (Saladin)    overran    it    in 1187.   In   a   bid   to   ensure fraternity   and   peaceful co-existence        betwen his         Moslem         and Christian    subjects,    he established   a   protocol, still   adhered   to   today, whereby   the   custody   of the    keys    to    the    Holy Sepulchre    is    entrusted to Moslems.          Since   that   day   and   those   times,   when   combatants   knew   how   to honor   the   precepts   of   chivalry,   control   over   access   to   the   Holy Sepulchre has remained with the Moslems.          In   our   days,   it   is   two   venerable   Moslim   families,   the   Joudeh   and Nusseibeh, who hold the keys to the imposing gate of the church. Every   morning,   precisely   at   4:30   am,   a   member   of   the   Joudeh family   picks   up   the   key   to   the   door   from   where   he   keeps   it   at   his residence,    a    legacy    he    has    inherited    from    his    father    and    his forebears.          Once   he   arrives   at   the   church,   he   entrusts   the   key   -   which   looks   like   an iron   wedge   a   foot   long   -   to   a   member   of   the   Nusseibeh   clan,   who   then proceeds   to   knock   on   the   door   to   alert   the   priests   and   pilgrims   who   had spent the night inside the precinct of the church in prayer.          One   of   the   priests   inside   then   passes   a   wooden   ladder   through   a porthole   so   the   Nusseibeh   guardian   can   use   it   to   climb   up   and   unlock   the upper part of the towering gate.           He   then   he   unlocks   the   lower   part   before   handing   the   precious   key   back to the Joudeh representative.    And every evening, at 7:30 pm, the ritual is repeated, in reverse.          But   despite   Omar's   and   Saladin's   well-intentioned   efforts,   harmony among   the   various   Christian   denominations   remains   elusive   as   each   tries to   defend   its   territorial   jurisdictions   and   rights   and   privileges   against attemtps at encroachment.          More   than   once   monks   have   resorted   to   fists   to   make   their   point. Perhaps   Saladin   foresaw   this   turn   of   events   and   ordered   the   second   front gate of the church sealed.          A   different   protocol,   which   was   intorudced   at   the   end   of   the   19th   CE, applies   during   Passion   Week.   On   Maundy   Thursday,   the   Nusseibehs   and Joudehs   give   the   key   to   the   Holy   Sepulcher   to   the   local   Franciscan   friars, for   as   long   as   it   takes   to   walk   to   the   church   in   a   procession   and   to   open the door after the morning liturgies.          When   those   are   completed,   the   friars   return   the   key   to   the   families. This   ceremony,   which   confirms   in   practice   the   validity   of   the   Moslim families’    custodianship,    is    repeated    with    the    Greek    and    Armenian communities   (members   of   the   Eastern   church   which   celebrate   the   feasts on    a    different    day),    on    Orthodox    Good    Friday    and    Holy    Saturday, respectively.