You would think that the site of the death and entombment of Jesus (the same church covers both areas) would be a place of quiet contemplation and prayer. You’d be mistaken. For the last hundred years, it’s been a place of factional strife between different Christian groups that claim ownership of their bits of the church and are very territorial about alleged encroachments.
The worst has been a dispute over who owns the roof! As you leave the leave the Via Dolorosa, you enter the Coptic part of the Holy Sepulchre – in fact, you basically find yourself on a flat rooftop with a dome and some monastic cells – only the monks you see aren’t Coptic, they are Ethiopian. And these Ethiopians have been accused by the Egyptian Copts of having expanded their area of control. The Copts have even said that the Ethiopians have colluded with the Israeli authorities to grab a bigger share of the Holy Sepulchre – something the Israelis hotly deny.
The BBC has reported on this and has some helpful diagrams of how the church is currently divided up.
I went on the roof to take a closer look and peeked round the Ethiopian church – here’s what I saw.