'Immovable ladder' which hasn't moved for 266 years to avoid religious conflict
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In one of the holiest sites in Christianity, there is a ladder that has been sitting exactly where it is for centuries now, unmoved for 266 years.
It’s a pretty unremarkable ladder, but it has become famous because of a particular rule that was agreed hundreds of years ago to stop different religions and cultures fighting over the various sites of religious importance in that part of the world.
The rule they came up with has become known as the ‘status quo’ – which has basically become a way to protect these holy sites for all religions without causing any arguments.
At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem – where some believe Jesus Christ to have died and been resurrected – that includes a ladder that was left there in the 1700s, now unable to move because things just have to be left exactly as they were.
The Church is of great importance to Christianity and people have been making pilgrimages out to it since the fourth century.
However, over that length of time Christianity has splintered and undergone schisms, all of whom think that their particularly branch of Christianity is the right one.
Eventually, at this site, the Ottoman empire and European nations intervened to preserve the peace of the sites, creating a rule that means everything must simply remain untouched, unless all denominations can agree.
The care of the church is overseen by six denominations of Christianity, from the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Armenian Apostolic Church, through to the Coptic, Ethiopian and Syriac Orthodox churches as well, who take on smaller duties.
They do argue with one another, and there have been fights between monks – yes, between monks – as recently as 2008.
Fights have even broken out over such trivial things as moving a chair 20cm to escape direct sunlight.
In fact, 11 people reportedly ended up in hospital because of that.
So, you can see why the ladder hasn’t moved.
It’s a short ladder made of Lebanese cedar wood, which sits underneath a window in the church.
According to one report, it used to belong to a mason who was restoring the church, and it appears in an engraving as early as 1728.
The status quo rule was established in 1757, meaning that it’s been sitting there ever since.
Explaining the situation, a Dominican priest called Jerome Murphy-O’Connor once said: "The ladder was first introduced at a time when the Ottomans taxed Christian clergy every time they left and entered the Holy Sepulchre."
That meant that the Catholics tried to circumvent this by simply setting up to live inside the church confines.
The priest and scholar continued: “The window, ladder and ledge all belong to the Armenians.
“The ledge served as a balcony for the Armenian clergy resident in the Holy Sepulchre, and they reached it via the ladder.
“It was their only opportunity to get fresh air and sunshine.
“At one stage, apparently, they also grew fresh vegetables on the ledge.”
The ladder has been a source of controversy ever since the rule was declared, with even Pope Paul VI remarking in 1964 that it represents division in Christianity.
It was allegedly moved once in 1997 by someone who wanted to make fun of how silly the rule is, before it was replaced and a grate was added on the window.
Then, in 2009 it was placed against the left window for a while before being replaced shortly after.
By this point, why move it?
Still, it’s a pretty potent reminder that humans can be really petty and bizarre at times.