The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the most sacred shrines in Christianity. It is respected by Christians because they believe it is the place where Jesus was crucified and buried.
The fact that such a venerated Christian site, whose building is shared by five competing Christian denominations— Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic and Syrian Orthodox (as well as the Ethiopian Orthodox chapel on the roof!), has been under the custody of two Muslim families for centuries comes as a surprise for most people!
Built by Emperor Constantine in 330 A.D, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also known as Church of the Resurrection is situated within the walled Old City of Jerusalem.
Not surprisingly, often, the tension over the right to clean or pray in a particular area of the church turns violent.
Meet Wajeeh Y. Nuseibeh and Jawad Adeeb Joude whose families literally hold the keys to literally the heart of Christianity.
For the past 1300 years, the task of keeping the peace between the competing Christian faiths has been given to their families. The Joudeh family keeps the keys for safekeeping which are then handed over each day to Wajeeh Nuseibeh who opens and closes the door.
Every morning, at 4:30, Adeeb Joudeh, following in the footsteps of generations past, brings the cast-iron key to the church and hands it over to Wajeeh Nuseibeh, whose family has been receiving the key from the Joudehs for centuries.
Nuseibeh knocks at the gate to call the priests and the pilgrims who spend the night praying inside, who pass a wooden ladder to him from the inside through a porthole and he uses it to first unlock the upper part and then the lower one of the enormous church door.
He then returns the key back to Joudeh. The ritual is reversed every evening at 7:30, after hundreds of tourists and pilgrims have left the church.
During holidays, such as Holy Week and Easter, the elaborate opening and closing ceremonies take place several times a day.
It is said that that after the Muslim conquest in 637, the Muslim Caliph Omar Bin Khattab guaranteed the Archbishop Sophronius that the Christian places of worship would be protected. He thus, entrusted the custodianship to the Joudehs, who are the descendants of Umm Umara al-Ansariya, a family who originated in Medina and had had relations with the Prophet Muhammad. The very noble connection though, the Joudehs were not supposed to perform physical labor, such as climbing the ladder to open the gate. Hence came in the Nuseibehs to perform this duty.
And this was the story of the two Muslim families who guard the most sacred Christian site!