franciscan cyberspot
Opening and closing the doors of the basilica

MENU

  * Main
  * Introduction
  * Topography
  * Quarry
  * Temple
  * Garden
  * Byzantines
  * Glory
  * 614-1009
  * 1009-1099
  * Crusaders
  * Decadence
  * Christians
  * Turks
  * Anew
  * Restoration
  * Franciscans
  * The door
  * Sunday Vigil
  * Egeria
  * Liturgy
  * Constantine
SYNTHESIS

  * Italiano
  * Français
  * Português,
  * Español


"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 outside!

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 1831.

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 reversal sequence.

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 gifts!

Photographic sequence of the "opening ceremony"


opening the door ceremony 1

1. From inside the Church the Sextons hand the ladder
to the moslem porter through a small opening in the door

opening the door ceremony 2

2. The moslem porter receives the ladder outside the door

opening the door ceremony 3

3. The porter opens the lower locked latch

opening the door ceremony 4

4. The porter opens the upper locked latch

opening the door ceremony 5

5. The porter opens the right-hand part of the door

opening the door ceremony 6

6. From left to right: the Franciscan sexton, the Armenian,
the Moslem porter, the Greek sexton and another Franciscan sexton

  


 

© Text prepared by John Abela ofm based on articles and research by Virgilio Corbo ofm, Michele Piccirillo ofm and Eugenio Alliata ofm
Hi-Res pictures prepared by Michael Olteanu - Other pictures prepared by John Abela ofm and Michael Olteanu
B&W pictures courtesy of SBF-Jerusalem Archives - A joint project betweeen the Franciscans and Christusrex

Please fill in our Guest book form - Thank you for supporting us!
Created / Updated Wednesday, December 26, 2001 at 20:31:24 by John Abela ofm
Web site uses Javascript and Cascading Style Sheets - Space by courtesy of Christus Rex

logo

cyber logo footer