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Meet the Muslim family who holds the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in their hands

The custody of the door and the key for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is entrusted to two Muslim families (Nuseibeh and Judeh) and it has been like this for almost a 1.5 thousands years Since the seventh century, the family of Wajeeh Nuseibeh, 69, has handed down the responsibility of opening the door of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

“If the key would be in the hands of the Greek Orthodox, then that would signify they are the owners of the church. If it is the hands of the Catholics, then it would be a Catholic Church, the same with the Armenians (Orthodox)” Nuseibeh told Catholic News Service in a 1999 interview. “So Muslims are neutral people to open and close the door.”

During most of the year, Nuseibeh job consists of keeping track of when and how to open the door, depending on which group is having a religious procession and what time it is.

The busiest time of the year for Nuseibeh is during Holy Week. During that week, Nuseibeh gets the key from the Joudeh family, a representative of whom is also present during Holy Week, and opens the door at 4 a.m.

Traditionally on a day when all three denominations have a holy day, representatives of the Greek, Armenian and Catholic churches unbolt the door from inside, then pass the ladder outside the trap-door window. Nuseibeh then climbs the ladder, a representative of the Joudeh family gives him the key, and he opens the lock.

On Good Friday, said Nuseibeh, the key is given to the Greek Orthodox in a similar fashion. The same ritual is followed for the Holy Fire ceremony for the Armenian Orthodox. Nuseibeh also plays a role in this traditional ceremony and is a witness to the sealing of the tomb of Jesus.


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