Book ReviewsSaving the Holy Sepulchre: how rival Christians came together to rescue their holiest shrine

Book written by: Raymond Cohen. New York : Oxford University Press. 308 pages. Hardback. ISBN 978-0-19-518966-7. $27.95.


This is a fascinating and informative book by Raymond Cohen who writes about the disunity of Christianity which is exhibited in the story of Christianity’s holiest shrine, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – the place believed to be where Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and rose from the dead. The church built over this site has been claimed by the Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church and to a lesser extent the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. This holy shrine has been divided up amongst these churches and they guard their portions vehemently. Cohen explained how these churches slowly worked together to repair the shrine which was falling apart.


Negotiations between the three major claimants of the Holy Sepulchre have to be conducted under the frame work of the Status Quo agreement that the Ottoman Turks had set up to keep the peace amongst the churches when they were in charge of Jerusalem. This Status Quo property rule is based on the Muslim Sharia Law. The three claimants will not allow any changes to this agreement since it would be allowing another church to supersede them. The Status Quo is rigidly enforced. If one church wishes to have a procession or some celebration they must make sure the other churches know about it and they must not “trespass” on another church’s territory without permission or else a major fuss will occur. This also happens at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where more than one Church claims ownership.


Raymond Cohen has been a visiting professor at Georgetown University, and a research fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Watson Institute at Brown University. This book is highly recommended to those interested in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, ecumenism, and church history.


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