Fist fight at Holy Sepulchre

Orthodox and Armenian clerics trade punches

An Israeli police officer holds back a member of the Armenian clergy (left) in the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, yesterday.

An Israeli police officer holds back a member of the Armenian clergy (left) in the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, yesterday.

Greek Orthodox and Armenian worshippers traded blows yesterday in the church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Christian denominations jealously protect their hold over areas of the traditional site of Jesus's crucifixion, Reuters reported.

Israeli police and troops moved into the shrine, which the faithful also believe contains the tomb of Jesus, to bring the brawl under control. They said they arrested two clerics - one from each side.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the incident flared during the Feast of the Cross, a ceremony in which the Armenian community commemorates what it believes was the fourth century discovery of the cross upon which Jesus was crucified.

The police said the clerics were arrested after a fist-fight erupted during a procession of worshippers in the church, the traditional site of Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection.

In the scuffle that took place, dozens of worshippers, dressed in the vestments of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian denominations, traded kicks and punches, knocking down tapestries and toppling decorations at the site in Arab East Jerusalem.

At some point they literally kicked, punched and lashed out at each other with candles at the revered spots.

Skynews said several followers were left with black eyes, bruises and cuts as priests tried to tear their rivals' robes off in the brawl.

Fights are not uncommon in the church of the Holy Sepulchre between Christian denominations who are responsible for maintaining its different chambers. Such are the rivalries that the church keys have been entrusted for centuries to two Muslim families.

Six Christian groups control the ancient church, which serves as the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.

They regularly fight over turf and influence, and police are occasionally forced to intervene.

The site is venerated by most Christians as Golgotha, (the Hill of Calvary) while the church has been an important pilgrimage destination since at least the fourth century.

The early Christian community of Jerusalem appears to have held liturgical celebrations at Christ's tomb from the time of the resurrection until the city was taken by the Romans in 66 AD. Less than a century later, in 135 AD, Emperor Hadrian filled in the quarry to provide a level foundation for a pagan temple. The site remained buried beneath the pagan temple until Emperor Constantin the Great converted to Christianity in 312 AD.


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