Thousands of Christian believers will fill the medieval chambers of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem on Saturday for a ritual known as the Holy Fire, packed shoulder to shoulder and holding burning candles as pilgrims have done for centuries. And, as in centuries past, the church will still have only one door and no fire exit.
The saga of the emergency exit at the storied church has pitted common sense against religious politics and tradition at one of Christianity’s most sacred sites. The winner was never in doubt. Despite dire warnings from Israeli officials, safety concerns have been outweighed by a reluctance to upset a brittle balance of power among the six Christian sects in the Sepulcher. A fire exit still does not exist.
“Everyone understands that there is logic in it,” said Theofilos III, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem. “But there is logic in the desire that no unnecessary changes be made. It is volatile.”