Tradition claims that Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchure is built over the cave in which Christ is said to have been buried.  In July 2002 the church became the scene of ugly fighting between the monks who run it. The conflict began when a Coptic monk sitting on the rooftop decided to move his chair into the shade. This took him into the part of the rooftop courtyard looked after by the Ethiopian monks.

It turns out that the Ethiopian and Coptic monks have been arguing over the rooftop of the Church of the Holy Sepulchure for centuries. In 1752 the Ottoman Sultan issued an edict declaring which parts of the Church belong to each of six Christian groups: the Latins, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Copts, and Ethiopians. Despite the edict conflict over the church remains.

The rooftop had been controlled by the Ethiopians, but they lost control to the Copts when hit by a disease epidemic in the 19th century. Then in 1970 the Ethiopians regained control when the Coptic monks were absent for a short period. They have been squatting there ever since, with at least one Ethiopian monk always remaining on the roof to assert their rights. In response a Coptic monk has been living on the roof also, to maintain the claim of the Copts.

And so we get to a Monday in July 2002, when the Coptic monk moves his chair into the shade. Harsh words led to pushes, then shoves, until an all our brawl is going, including the throwing of chairs and iron bars. At the end of the fight 11 of the monks were injured, including one monk unconscious in hospital and another with a broken arm.

How tragic that a church which serves as a memorial to Christ is the scene for such bitter conflict among his followers. This is a far cry from Christ’s call to love one another, turn the other cheek, and his prayer that his followers might “be one”.
Source: story reported by Reuters, Monday July 29, 2002

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