CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHER - THE IMMOVABLE STAIRCASE
The immovable staircase is a symbol of the status quo in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
Why a simple wooden staircase has become a symbol of the status quo in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem cannot be said for sure.
It is well known that the tradition appeared in the 1830s when the status quo was finally established between various confessions, which have their own side-altars and altars in the temple: Orthodox Greeks, Armenian Gregorians, Catholics, Copts, Ethiopians, and Syrians-Jacobites.
The meaning of the status quo is clear - no rebuilding, repairs, and relocations without the general consent of all six confessions.
An immovable staircase stands on the cornice of the main facade of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which, according to the status quo, belongs to the Greek Church. Its original purpose - a staircase, if necessary, allows you to go up or down through a window into the Armenian side-altars of the second tier of the temple. Probably, to prevent the Armenians from walking freely through their territory, the kind Greeks in the same 1830s built a lurid buttress on the cornice in the best traditions of medieval architecture.
It remains unclear whether this is the staircase that will soon be 200 years old? Hardly. The tree roots dry, and decays in the Jerusalem climate with dry summers and cold, wet winters. I can assume that the staircase was redone several times. Moreover, each time the number of steps remained unchanged - six. This is clearly seen in old lithographs, watercolors, and photos. Why are there six steps? That is how much is needed to make it convenient to use, and maybe by the number of confessions in the church ?? Or is it just a coincidence?
I have always been interested in the question - why, in my own words, a wooden building staircase has become a symbol of the status quo, and not some other object or shrine ?? I don't know the answer to this question. Although, for example, in the Jewish tradition of ascending and returning from exile to Jerusalem, the staircase of the forefather Jacob, which is described in the books of the Bible, plays a huge role:
The ladder is on the ground, and its top touches the sky, and behold, the Angels of God ascend and descend along with it. And now, the Lord stands on it and says: ... The land on which you lie, I will give you and your offspring.
I heard a story from local old-timers that supposedly at the beginning of World War I the Immovable Ladder was thrown down either by the Greeks or by the Armenians in protest against the world massacre. But I did not find any documentary evidence confirming these events.
Interestingly, there is another wooden staircase in the Church of the Sepulcher - it always stands to the right of the main entrance, behind the massive door of the temple. What is it used for? Just like a ladder to climb, for example, to a lamp and add oil and so on. But ... if you need to block the entrance to Calvary during the service, then this is the staircase used by the Greeks, Armenians, and Catholics - and the temporary blocking of access to Calvary is one of the conditions for observing the status quo in the temple.
And yet, it is this staircase that is used twice a day, morning and evening, when friends of all the guides Omar or his younger brother Amir, under the watchful eyes of representatives of all confessions of the guardians of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and a crowd of curious people, close and open the gates of the temple.
It is curious that at this staircase I counted eight steps, which corresponds to the number of Christian confessions in the Church of the Sepulcher until 1914, where, in addition to the above six confessions, the Georgian Orthodox Church and the Maronite Lebanese Church were also represented.