Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre

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Flag of the Patriarchate with the letters "ΤΦ" (Tau + Phi) representing the words "phylakes taphou" ('Protectors of the Tomb')

The Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre,[N 1] or Holy Community of the All-Holy Sepulchre, is an Eastern Orthodox monastic fraternity guarding the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other Christian holy places in the Holy Land. It was founded in its present form during the British Mandate in Palestine (1920-1948). Headed by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, the brotherhood also administers the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, such as metropolitans, archbishops, bishops, archimandrites, hieromonks, hierodeacons, and monks.

The brotherhood's symbol is the taphos, a monogram of the Greek letters tau (Τ) and phi (Φ), for the word taphos (τάφος, meaning "sepulchre, grave").[1][2] It can be seen on most Greek Orthodox buildings in Jerusalem.

The brotherhood is seated in the Central Monastery of Saints Constantine and Helen, Jerusalem,[N 2] northeast of Megali Panagia Nunnery.[6]


The Holy Sepulchre refers to the burial chamber, or sepulchre, of Jesus, which is believed to be inside the eponymous Church.

The organization is also known as the Hagiotaphite Brotherhood,[7] and its members referred to as Hagiotaphites or Agiotaphites, from the Greek hagios ("holy") and taphos ("sepulchre").[8]



Jordanian Law No. 227, dated 16 January 1958, regulates the Brotherhood's government.

Holy places[edit]

Status quo[edit]

The immovable ladder. Detail from photograph of main entrance above, 2011

After the renovation of 1555, control of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre oscillated between the Roman Catholic Franciscans and the Orthodox, depending on which community could obtain a favorable firman, or decree, from the Ottoman government; this was sometimes achieved through outright bribery, with violent clashes not uncommon. In 1757, weary of the squabbling, the Porte issued a firman that divided the church among the claimants. This was confirmed in 1852 with another firman that made the arrangement permanent, establishing a status quo of territorial division among the communities.

Greek Orthodox priest of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

The primary custodians are the Greek Orthodox Church, which has the lion's share; the Custodian of the Holy Land, an official of the Franciscans affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic Churches. In the 19th century, the Coptic Orthodox, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Syriac Orthodox acquired lesser responsibilities, which include shrines and other structures within and around the building. Times and places of worship for each community are strictly regulated in common areas.

Under the status quo, no part of what is designated as common territory may be so much as rearranged without consent from all communities. This often leads to the neglect of badly needed repairs when the communities cannot come to an agreement among themselves about the final shape of a project. Just such a disagreement has delayed the renovation of the edicule, where the need is now dire, but also where any change in the structure might result in a change to the status quo disagreeable to one or more of the communities.

A less grave sign of this state of affairs is located on a window ledge over the church's entrance. Someone placed a wooden ladder there sometime before 1852, when the status quo defined both the doors and the window ledges as common ground. The ladder remains there to this day, in almost exactly the same position. It can be seen to occupy the ledge in century-old photographs and engravings.

None of the communities controls the main entrance. In 1192, Saladin assigned responsibility for it to a Muslim family. The Joudeh Al-Goudia a noble family with a long history were entrusted with the keys as custodians. This arrangement has persisted into modern times.

Breaches of the status quo[edit]

The establishment of the status quo did not halt the violence, which continues to break out every so often even in modern times. For example, on a hot summer day in 2002, a Coptic monk, who was stationed on the roof to express Coptic claims over Ethiopian territory there, moved his chair from its agreed spot into the shade; this was interpreted as a hostile move by the Ethiopians, leading to an altercation that left eleven people hospitalized.[9]

In another incident in 2004 during Orthodox celebrations of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a door to the Franciscan chapel was left open. This was taken as a sign of disrespect by the Orthodox and a fistfight broke out. Some participants were arrested, but no one was seriously injured.[10]

On Palm Sunday, in April 2008, a brawl broke out due to a Greek monk being ejected from the building by a rival faction. Police were called to the scene but were also attacked by the enraged brawlers.[11] A clash erupted between Armenian and Greek monks on Sunday 9 November 2008, during celebrations for the Feast of the Holy Cross.[12][13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Greek: Ιερά Αγιοταφιτική Αδελφότητα, Ierá Agiotafitikí Adelfótita; Palestinian Arabic: اخوان القبر المقدس
  2. ^ [3] Greek: Κεντρικόν Μοναστήριον Ἁγίων Κωνσταντίνου καί Ἑλένης[4] and Arabic: الدير المركزي (المعروف بدير القديسَين قسطنطين وهيلانة)[5]
  1. ^ Maunder, Chris (2019). The Oxford Handbook of Mary. Oxford University Press. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-19-879255-0. A taphos (the symbol of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre) is usually engraved on the entrance of Greek Orthodox churches
  2. ^ Kroyanker, David; et al. (1994). Jerusalem Architecture. Harry N. Abrams. p. 211. ISBN 978-0-86565-147-0. Taphos: Greek for "sepulcher" and the monogram of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. Composed of the Greek letters Tau and Phi, the Taphos sign appears on the front of most Greek Orthodox buildings
  3. ^ "Holy Monasteries and Churches in Jerusalem". Jerusalem Patriarchate.
  4. ^ "Ἱεραί Μοναί καί Ναοί ἐν Ἱερουσαλήμ". Πατριαρχείοv Ιεροσολύμων (in Greek). Κεντρικόν Μοναστήριον Ἁγίων Κωνσταντίνου καί Ἑλένης, ἔνθα ἡ Ἕδρα τῆς Ἁγιοταφιτικῆς Ἀδελφότητος.
  5. ^ "الكنائس والأديرة داخل المدينة المقدسة". بطريركية الروم الاورثوذكسية (in Arabic). الدير المركزي (المعروف بدير القديسَين قسطنطين وهيلانة) حيث مقر أخوية القبر المقدّس
  6. ^ "The Feast of Saint Melani at the Patriarchate". 13 January 2018. the Nunnery of Megali Panagia adjacent to the south-west side of the Hagiotaphites' Central Monastery
  7. ^ "Hagiotaphite Brotherhood". Jerusalem Patriarchate. The Holy Brotherhood of the All-Holy Sepulchre
  8. ^ Société de géographie du Cher (1909). Bulletin (in French). Typ. de M.H. Sire. Du grec hagios, saint, et taphos, tombeau
  9. ^ Christian History Corner: Divvying up the Most Sacred Place | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction
  10. ^ Fisher-Ilan, Allyn (2004-09-28). "Punch-up at tomb of Jesus". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2010-04-27.
  11. ^ Armenian, Greek worshippers come to blows at Jesus' tomb - Haaretz - Israel News
  12. ^ "Riot police called as monks clash in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre". London: Times Online. November 10, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-11.
  13. ^ "Once again, monks come to blows at Church of Holy Sepulcher". The Associated Press. November 10, 2008. Archived from the original on November 11, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-11.

External links[edit]