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Status quo of Holy Land sites

Article 62 of the Treaty of Berlin (1878):
"The rights conceded to France are expressly reserved, it being well understood that the status quo with respect to the Holy Places shall not be seriously affected in any way."
The Immovable Ladder. Detail from photograph of the façade of the main door to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, 2011.

The status quo of the Holy Land sites, or Status Quo, is an understanding among religious communities with respect to nine shared religious sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.[1] Other Holy Places in Israel and Palestine were not deemed subject to the Status Quo because the authorities of one religion or of one community within a religion are in recognized or effective possession.[2]

It resulted from a firman (decree) of Ottoman Sultan Osman III in 1757[3] that preserved the division of ownership and responsibilities of various sites important to Christians, Muslims, and Jews to their then-current holders or owners, and represented agreements among the various religions that nothing could be changed from the way it was without upsetting the balance of order in maintaining the religious sites for visits by pilgrims. A further firman issued in 1852 and another one from 1853 reaffirmed the provisions of the 1757 decree.[4] The actual provisions of the status quo were never formally established in a single document, but the 1929 summary prepared by L. G. A. Cust, a civil servant of the British Mandate, The Status Quo in the Holy Places, became the standard text on the subject.[5][6]



When the Greeks launched a Palm Sunday takeover of various Holy Land sites in 1757[7] the Ottomans subsequently upheld this status quo.[8]

For Jerusalem, the Status Quo meant that certain statuses for the Holy Sites would be kept and were recognized as being permanent or at least the way things should be. The city was divided into four quarters. The Temple Mount became a Muslim holy place, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as well as other various Christian sites were recognized as belonging to the Christian world. Despite the arguments over who would control what aspects of these sites, the Status Quo has remained largely intact from the 18th century to the present. Claims that it was being violated led to the 1929 Palestine riots.

A further 1853 decree,[7] in the wake of the events leading to the Crimean War, solidified the existing territorial division among the communities and set a status quo for arrangements to "remain forever in their present state." This caused differences of opinion about upkeep and even minor changes,[7] including disagreement on the removal of an exterior ladder under one of the windows; this ladder has remained in the same position since then.


Under the Status Quo, no part of what is designated as common territory may be so much as rearranged without consent from all communities. This often leads to the neglect of badly needed repairs when the communities cannot come to an agreement among themselves about the final shape of a project. Just such a disagreement has delayed the renovations of most pilgrimage sites, and also where any change in the structure might result in a change to the Status Quo, disagreeable to one or more of the communities.[citation needed]


United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine Working Paper on the Holy Places

The Status Quo applies to nine sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem:[1]

Disputed between Christian denominationsEdit

  1. Church of the Holy Sepulchre and its dependencies, Jerusalem
    1. Deir es-Sultan, on top of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem
  2. Tomb of the Virgin Mary, Jerusalem
  3. Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem
  4. Chapel of the Milk Grotto, Bethlehem (no records exist)[9]
  5. Chapel of the Shepherd's Field, Bethlehem (no records exist)[9]

Disputed between Christian and Islamic denominationsEdit

  1. Chapel of the Ascension, Jerusalem

Disputed between Jewish and Islamic denominationsEdit

  1. Western Wall, Jerusalem
  2. Rachel's Tomb, Bethlehem

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b UN Conciliation Commission 1949, p. 7.
  2. ^ UN Conciliation Commission 1949, p. 7a: "As for example the Cenacle which, though a Christian Holy Place, has been in Moslem hands since the middle of the 16th century. The position that Christians do not in effect enjoy the right to hold services there is uncontested."
  3. ^ Cities of the Middle East and North Africa: A Historical Encyclopedia, edited by Michael Dumper, Bruce E. Stanley P 209
  4. ^ Eva Maurer Morio, What does Status Quo stand for?, in History of Latin Patriarchate, on the website of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem [1]
  5. ^ Cust 1929.
  6. ^ Breger, Marshall J.; Reiter, Yitzhak; Hammer, Leonard (16 December 2009). Holy Places in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Confrontation and Co-existence. Routledge. pp. 24–. ISBN 978-1-135-26812-1.
  7. ^ a b c Raymond Cohen (May 2009). "The Church of the Holy Sepulchre: A Work in Progress". The Bible and Interpretation. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  8. ^ Pat McCarthy,, Church of St James, Jerusalem [2]
  9. ^ a b Cust 1929: "The Grotto of the Milk and the Shepherd's Field near Bethlehem are also in general subject to the Status Quo, but in this connexion there is nothing on record concerning these two sites."


External linksEdit