Throughout the history of Christianity, we are far more likely to be told stories of exclusion and violence, rather than of togetherness and fellowship. In Jerusalem especially, we are fed a daily diet of division from the news stations all over the world. It is the familiar tale of Jews against Muslims, Muslims against Jews and all types of Christians faiths arguing and squabbling with one another. It may come as a huge surprise then, when one finds out that the minder of the most important Christian site in the whole world, is in fact, a Muslim.
Wajeeh Nuseibeh is minder and gate keeper of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is his job very morning at 4am to walk through the old walled city of Jerusalem, right to the church of the Holy Sepulchre, the most blessed site in the history of all Christianity.
In his hand, he carries an ancient 12-inch iron key, that opens the main doors to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He usually climbs a small ladder and opens the huge wooden doors to the place that most Christians believe is the site of the crucifixion, tomb and resurrection of Jesus. It is an amazing sight, in the middle of the holy land, to see a Muslim opening the gates to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
When evening arrives, after three bangs of an iron door knocker spaced out over half an hour, Nuseibeh closes up and places the key in safekeeping. This is his daily ritual, in fact, his family have been doing this for hundreds of years. He was passed down the job from his father and grandfather, in fact, it is going now in a chain stretching back 13 Centuries, an amazing fact that one find shard to believe considering the history of this sacred place.
One would obviously think that an upstanding remember of the Jewish or Christian faith would have been made gatekeeper to such an important site, but instead Nuseibeh, doorkeeper of the site of the crucifixion, is, like his ancestors, a Muslim.
Every Easter this huge responsibly takes on an even bigger meaning, when thousands of Christians flock to the Holy Sepulchre for Easter services, processions and the ancient ceremony of the Holy Fire, in which Nuseibeh plays a crucial role. The ceremony, held on The Holy Saturday of Easter, the day before Easter, symbolizes the resurrection of Christ.
Christians from all religions pack into the church, trying to get as close as possible to Jesus’s marble-clad tomb, or Sepulchre. The old oil lamps inside the mausoleum that contains the tomb are extinguished, and a huge stone is rolled across the entrance, which is then sealed shut by Greek Orthodox priests.