* The door
* Sunday Vigil
"Knock and the door will be opened to you"
Many pilgrims who visit the Holy Land and even the shrine of the Holy
Sepulchre do not realize that even today the rigid "code of the status quo"
describes exactly the times and modality in which the main door of the basilica is opened and
closed. As we have already mentioned, the keys of the basilica are kept by two Moslem families, the Judeh and the Nuseibeh. The door is in fact locked from the
The "opening" of the basilica is a ceremony in itself. This might
give us a clue of the difficulties that the "status quo" imposes on the
fraternites living within the precint of the Holy Sepulchre. Prior to 1831 the
opening and closing of the door was carried out by these families only after
the payment of a tax which was abolished by Ibrahim Pasha in
There are three types of "opening" of the doors of the basilica: the simple
opening, solemn opening and simultaneous solemn opening.
A simple opening
consists of the opening of one of the door leafs by the sexton of the community
which intends to open the door.
The solemn opening consists of opening of both
leafs of the main door: the right one is opened by the moslem porter and the
left by the sexton.
The simultaneous solemn opening takes place when all three
communities, on the same day, have a solemn entry (all Saturdays of Lent) and
for this ceremony all three sextons are present.
To understand fully this "ritual", which looks strange to the profane eyes, have a look at the
sequence of six pictures we have prepared hereunder. We can synthetise the
event in this way: from inside the basilica the sexton(s) hands a ladder to the Moslem
porter through an opening in the door of the basilica. The porter then opens
the lower lock and subsequently the upper lock. It is only then that the porter
opens the right leaf of the door.
The basilica of the Holy Sepulchre is opened daily at 4.00am and 12.30pm, when there are no special
feasts or occurences. It is closed at 11.30am and a
quarter of an hour after sunset. If for any reason one of the three communities
does not want to close the door at noon it has to pay the porter the
equivalent of a lunch. The communites have agreed that in the evening the
church closes between 5.45pm in December and 8.00pm in July.
Every evening, at closing time all three sextons are present and agree between
themselves who will take the turn to open the morning afterwards. He who has the right to open the
door the day after takes the ladder and places it on the centre of the door,
thus taking possession of the door for the day after. It must be kept in mind
that the "closing" ceremonies take place with the same "rituals", but with a
It is clear that all three communities have particular privileges and rights in
the opening and closing of the door of the basilica. The Latin community
(Franciscans) have the following:
All Saturdays of Lent, the night of Easter, the feast of the Holy Cross, the
feast of Corpus Domini the Franciscans can open the doors at 10.30 pm. This is done to
allow the Franciscan community of St. Saviour and the faithful to get into the
basilica and join the resident Frnciscan community in the solemn celebration of
the Liturgy of the Hour. The door then remains open all night long.
On Maundy Thursday the Franciscans have a particular privilege. At 1.30pm the
two Moslem porters of the Holy Sepulchre go to St. Saviour's Convent, the seat
of the Custos of the Holy Land, and hand over the key of the Basilica to the
Custodial Vicar. He, together with the friar responsible for the Holy Sites and
accompanied by the Moslem porters, goes down to the Church of the Holy
Sepulchre and hands the key to the Franciscan Sexton to open himself the door
for the solemn entry of the Latin Patriarch. On that day only the Franciscans
celebrate within the basilica. The door is opened and closed for three times
during that afternoon (only for ten minutes) to permit the entry and exit of
the faithful for the various liturgical celebrations. At 7.00 pm the doors are
opened again to allow the Franciscan fraternity of St. Saviour to get inside
and take part in the Adoration of the Eucharist.
Every time that an extra "opening" is required there is a tax to be paid: 8
piastre for a simple opening, 16 for a solemn and for a simultaneous solemn
opening each fraternity the established sum, two long candles and other
Photographic sequence of the "opening ceremony"
1. From inside the Church the Sextons hand the ladder
to the moslem porter through a small opening in the door
2. The moslem porter receives the ladder outside the door
3. The porter opens the lower locked latch
4. The porter opens the upper locked latch
5. The porter opens the right-hand part of the door
6. From left to right: the Franciscan sexton, the Armenian,
the Moslem porter, the Greek sexton and another Franciscan sexton