Christianity’s holiest shrine guarded by two Muslim families

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City is Christianity’s most hallowed shrine. It’s believed that the rock-cut tomb at the heart of the church was where the body of Jesus Christ was once laid.

The key to one of Christianity’s holiest sites is held by Muslims.

For centuries the church has been shared by six old Christian congregations — Latin (Roman Catholic), Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Egyptian Copts. However, disputes among these sects over the sharing of the church have sparked conflicts and street riots from time to time.
Strong rivalries such as these led to a rather exceptional arrangement that dates to the 12th century — two Muslim families were entrusted by an Arab monarch to be the gatekeepers of the church.

The Joudeh family keeps the key, while the Nuseibeh family opens the church door every morning and locks it in the evening.

In an interview with CNN earlier this year, Adeeb Joudeh, the current keeper of the key said he considers his family’s hereditary task to be a symbol for religious tolerance.

“For me, the source of coexistence for Islamic and Christian religions is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,” he said.

Wajeeh Nuseibeh, whose family is entrusted with opening and closing of the church described the vital role of these two Muslim families in Jerusalem to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2005. “Like all brothers, they sometimes have problems,” he said, referring to the feuding Christian sects. “We help them settle their disputes. We are the neutral people in the church. We are the United Nations. We help preserve peace in this holy place.”

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