The Status Quo
The Status Quo is a collection of historical traditions and influences,
of rules and laws, which establish the relations, activities, and movements that are carried out in those parts of the church where ownership is shared by different Christian denominations.
For centuries, the different Christian communities have lived side by side under Islamic domination, despite their profound differences in dogma, ritual and language. The Franciscans, who have been in the Holy Land since 1335, had over time acquired ownership of numerous places within the Holy Sites, and from 1516 to 1629 were in fact the
Following the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, the Greek Patriarch, who had thereby become a subject of the Ottoman Empire, was granted jurisdiction over all Greek Orthodox adherents throughout the Empire. With the Turkish conquest of Palestine in 1516, this jurisdiction expanded to include the Orthodox
Christians of the Holy Land. From that point, with the approval of the Ottoman Sultan, the Orthodox Patriarchs of Jerusalem were Greek. In 1622, at a time of bitter conflict between the Western powers and the Ottoman Empire, a dispute arose over the ownership of the Holy Places.
The Franciscans, vulnerable to accusations of being spies for foreign powers, were placed in a difficult position, and in order to protect
their rights had to appeal to the ambassadors of the European powers. The Greeks had the support of Russia, and the Holy Places became almost a traded commodity, particularly in the period
from 1690 to 1757. In the first half of the 19th century, the alliance between Turkey and Russia had direct consequences on the question of the Holy Places, and in 1852 the Sultan promulgated the Status Quo nunc, freezing the conditions existing at the moment of the agreement, as had been sought by the Greeks.
The Status Quo was confirmed as a legal instrument and continues to the present day as the sole frameof reference for resolving litigations and disputes.
In the absence of official texts, notes of a private nature have to be relied on, often leaving the legal situation confused and uncertain.
Two Muslim families have the privilege of guarding the door of the church, which is opened according to a schedule agreed to by the three largest religious communities. At the end of the First World War, with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and with the Holy Land becoming a British Mandate, the problems of the Holy Places became international ones. The Mandatory Power was unwilling or unable to act, and the Jordanian Government, which succeeded it in 1948,
continued the same policy. The United Nations intervened on numerous occasions, naming commissions and pleading for the internationalization of Jerusalem, but without achieving any concrete
At present, the three principal communities – Greek, Franciscan and
Armenian – have managed to reach an understanding for the restoration of the church. The restoration works, which began in 1961, continue to the present day, albeit at a relatively slow pace.