Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Saturday 24 July |
Saint of the Day: St. Sharbel Makhluf
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

The “immovable” ladder of the Holy Sepulchre: Why has nobody moved it since 1757?

©Aleteia

Daniel Esparza - published on 08/09/19

Also known as the “status quo ladder,” it is shared among six churches.

An old wooden ladder rests on the ledge of the right window of the main facade of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They call it “the immovable ladder.” It has barely been moved from that ledge since 1757. Someone tried to steal it in 1981 (the person was immediately arrested by the Israeli police). Then, in 1997, someone managed to hide it for several weeks, but eventually the ladder was found and returned to its site. Finally, workers involved in the preservation and restoration of the bell tower of church had to move it in 2009 to set some scaffolding.

That aside, the ladder has just been there since the mid-18th century.

Like most churches in the Holy Land, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a place of worship of numerous and diverse Christian confessions. In the 18th century, during the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Osman III, the Status Quo Agreement was signed. In addition to dividing Jerusalem into quadrants, the Sultan also decreed that whoever was in control of a designated area in the city, would control it indefinitely in the future.

However, the agreement also included a special clause: if multiple groups had some authority over a certain site, they should all agree unanimously to any changes made to the site, however small. And while this decree proved useful in avoiding impositions of some groups on others, it has also made it impossible to properly maintain several of these pilgrimage sites: unless all parties entirely agree to the minimum detail, there is nothing that can be done.

This explains why the ladder has not moved since then. Currently, six Christian churches have rights over the Holy Sepulchre, and nobody is very clear about who owns that very particular ledge or the window on which the ladder rests. Even more, it is not clear who owns the ladder itself (although some claim it belongs to the Armenian Apostolic Church).

Clearly, over the centuries the ladder has grown to have an important meaning on its own. During his visit to the Holy Land in the mid-1960’s, Pope Paul VI understood how the ladder, a symbol of the Status Quo Agreement, had also become a sad testimony of the divisions among Christians. Considering the Roman Catholic Church is one of the six groups that must decide on changes to be made in the Holy Sepulchre, he decreed that the staircase would not be moved until the divisions between Christians were not resolved. In fact, a Muslim family has historically been entrusted with keeping the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The keys keep getting handed down to the next generation.

Tags:
Church HistoryHistoryHoly Land
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
nightbirde
Cerith Gardiner
8 Powerful quotes from Nightbirde that will fill you with hope
2
HEADACHE
Kathleen N. Hattrup
2 Bible verses when you’re weary down to the soul
3
FRAY JUNIPERO SERRA
John Burger
Alumni sue after this Catholic saint’s name was removed fro...
4
ŁACINA
Philip Kosloski
Why is Latin the official language of the Church, instead of Aram...
5
WEB2-Benjamin_West_-_Joshua_passing_the_River_Jordan_with_the_Ark_of_the_Covenant_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
Daniel Esparza
Who are the cherubim in the Bible?
6
LEONINE PRAYERS
Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP
5 Questions (and answers) about Pope Francis’ changes to La...
7
MACHAERUS
Daniel Esparza
3 Legendary pilgrimages off the beaten path
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.