A story arrived in my inbox today, regarding the tradition of the Holy Fire at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The day before Easter each year, clerics emerge from the small room believed to be the site of Jesus’ tomb with a flame which is then spread among the pilgrims crowding the church and out to those gathered on the street.
The reason I received the story was because the church has a single exit. Just looking at the photos gave me the chills, although the only confirmed serious “incident” was a stampede in 1834 when several hundred pilgrims were killed. There have been discussions over the years about adding a second exit, and I found a story from 1999 stating that church leaders had agreed to the renovation, but according to more recent sources the exit was not added.
The other interesting door-related story about this church is that the entrance doors have been locked and unlocked daily by members of two Muslim families since the 12th century. The decision for these families to safeguard the key was made in order to end the fighting between religious groups who sought control of the site. A ladder is used to reach the lock, and the ladder is then inserted through a small wicket door until the next morning. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the 12″ key was once stolen and a duplicate is now kept in a locked room within the church.
There is a very detailed history of the church including floor plans and photos on the Generation Word website, and I found a great series of blog posts written by a pastor who was allowed to spend the night locked inside the church.
Here’s a video of the 3-ton doors being locked:
And a video about the Holy Fire ceremony:
Photo Credit: EPA