It was a typical day at the shrine around what many believe is the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem’s Old City. A Greek Orthodox choir sang inside a room facing the baroque structure. But the voices were drowned out when chanting Armenian priests and monks circling the shrine raised theirs.
“Sometimes they punch each other,” Farah Atallah, a church guard wearing a fez, observed with a shrug.
Atallah is a seasoned witness to the rivalries among the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic communities that jealously share – and sometimes spar over – what they consider Christianity’s holiest site, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Amid the rivalry, the unsteady 206-year-old structure, held together by a 69-year-old iron cage that honors the keystone of Christianity, the tomb from which Christians believe Jesus was resurrected, is an uncomfortable, often embarrassing symbol of Christian divisions, which have periodically erupted into tensions. In 2008, monks and priests brawled near the shrine, throwing punches and pulling one another’s hair.