How Two Muslim Families Hold the Key to Christiandom

Posted By Levi

August 19th, 2012 11:16am

Church of Holy Selpchure

This post was written sometime ago. I am reposting it to correct an error in the original post. In that post I pointed out that the custodian of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was the family of  Wajeeh Nuseibeh.

However, recently I  received an email from Sari Jawad Joudeh who lives in Jerusalem. He points out that his family, the Joudeh family, is the custodians of the keys to the Church. The Nusseibehs are entrusted only with with opening and closing the door of the Church. He also sent me this document outlying the responsibility of each family.

Here is the updated story.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the most sacred shrines in Christianity.  It is venerated by Christians because they believed it was the place where Jesus was crucified and buried. Since the 4th century, the site has become an important pilgrimage for Christians. Here is a fascinated story of how two Muslim families in Jerusalem literally hold the keys to the heart of Christianity.

The Church was originally built by Emperor Constantine in 330 A.D. to commemorate the hill of crucifixion and the tomb of Christ’s burial. Eastern Christians called it the “Church of the Resurrection.” It is situated within the walled Old City of Jerusalem. It is a complex of cave-like rooms, winding corridors, a soaring domed roof, and ornate decorations alongside broken furniture.

Here is the amazing part. The building is shared by five competing Christian denominations — Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic and Syrian Orthodox. There also is a small Ethiopian Orthodox chapel on the roof. Sometimes, the tension over the right to clean or to pray in a particular area of the church spills over into violence. (See this previous post on the violent conflict that took place in the Church of the Nativity this past Christmas over the cleaning of gthe Church.)

For the past 1300 years, the task of keeping the peace between the competing Christian faiths has been given to two Muslim 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.

The Custodian of the keys of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem Mr. Adeeb Jawad Joudeh hands the keys to the Doorkeeper Mr. Wajih Nusseibeh.

Every morning at 4 a.m., Wajeeh Nuseibeh walks through the walled Old City of Jerusalem to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the most revered shrine in Christendom. He takes an ancient 12-inch iron key, climbs a small ladder and opens the huge wooden doors to the place that most Christians believe is the site of the crucifixion, tomb and resurrection of Jesus.

Every evening at nightfall, after three raps of an iron doorknocker spaced out over half an hour, Nuseibeh closes up and places the key in safekeeping. He inherited the job from his father and grandfather, in a chain stretching back more than 1,300 years. But surprisingly, Nuseibeh, doorkeeper of the site of the crucifixion, is, like his ancestors, a Muslim.”

Nuseibeh’s family has helped keep the peace between them since Caliph Omar Ibn Kattab first conquered Jerusalem for the Muslims in 638.


Here is a brief video of Nuseibeh opening the doors for worshippers.


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