Immovable Ladder

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The immovable ladder in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, made of cedar wood and here pictured in 2009, has remained in the same location since the 18th century.

The Immovable Ladder (Hebrew: סולם הסטטוס קוו‎, translit. sulam ha-status kvo, lit. "The status quo ladder") (Arabic: السُّلَّمُ الثَّابِتُ‎, translit. as-sullamu ṯ-ṯābitu, lit. "The stationary ladder") is a wooden ladder located above the entrance, under the window of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem. Made of cedar wood, possibly from Lebanon, it was first mentioned in 1757 and has remained in that location since the 18th century, aside from being temporarily moved on two occasions. The ladder is referred to as "immovable" due to an understanding that no cleric of the six ecumenical Christian orders may move, rearrange, or alter any property without the consent of the other five orders.[1]

Upon the Pontifical orders of Pope Paul VI in 1964, the ladder was to remain in place until such a time as the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church reach a state of ecumenism. The ladder has since been related to the agreement of Status Quo that defined the six Christian religious orders that claim rights over the use of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The primary conflicts, however, surrounding the ladder and its immovability have been disputed by a lasting conflict between the Greek Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church.


Engraving of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre dated to 1728

According to various accounts, the ladder once belonged to a mason who was doing restoration work in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Jerome Murphy-O'Connor states that "the ladder was first introduced at a time when the Ottomans taxed Christian clergy every time they left and entered the Holy Sepulchre." The Catholics adapted by setting up quarters inside the church. O'Connor continues:

The window, ladder and ledge all belong to the Armenians. The ledge served as a balcony for the Armenian clergy resident in the Holy Sepulchre, and they reached it via the ladder. It was their only opportunity to get fresh air and sunshine. At one stage, apparently, they also grew fresh vegetables on the ledge.

In 1757, the same year the status quo of Holy Land sites was introduced, Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid I mentioned the ladder in a firman (edict). This was followed by another edict by Sultan Abdülmecid I in 1852. The ladder is thought to be owned by the Armenian Apostolic Church along with its accompanying ledge.[2] However, there are some claims the cornice the ladder is on belongs to the Greek Orthodoxy.[3]

Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 1885. The Immovable Ladder is visible below the upper-right window. (A different ladder is silhouetted against the dome.)

Various lithographs confirm that the ladder was in place by the late 1830s. While the Franciscans make no reference to the ladder, something in the form of a ladder can be seen in the right window above the entrance. The earliest photograph showing the ladder dates from the 1850s.[4] By the end of the 19th century, the ladder was being used to bring food to Armenian monks imprisoned by the Turks.[5]

In 1981, an attempt to remove the ladder was made, which was prevented by local Israeli police though the culprit was not caught. In 1997, the ladder was pulled in through the window and hidden behind an altar by a Protestant Christian intending "to make a point of the silliness of the argument over whose ledge it is." It was returned to the ledge weeks later, and a grate was installed in the window to keep it from being pulled in again.[3]

In 2009, the ladder was placed against the left window for a short period, perhaps in order to clear scaffoldings at the completion of renovating the bell tower.[6]

Ecumenical significance[edit]

During his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1964, Pope Paul VI described the ladder as a visible symbol of Christian division,[7] and it is generally regarded as culturally significant as a visible symbol of the Status Quo agreement among the six ecumenical Christian orders.

Author Simon Sebag Montefiore says that "tour guides claim [the ladder] can never be moved without other sects seizing it. In fact, the ladder leads to a balcony where the Armenian superior used to drink coffee with his friends and tend his flower garden: it is there so that the balcony can be cleaned."[8]


  1. ^ The six Christian religious orders are the Latins (Roman Catholics), Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Syriac Orthodox, Coptic Christians and Ethiopians.
  2. ^ Cust, L. G. A. (1929). The Status Quo in the Holy Places. H.M.S.O. for the High Commissioner of the Government of Palestine. p. 17. Above the doorway runs a classical cornice, a relic of the Byzantine buildings. This is reached from the windows of the Armenian Chapel of St. John, and this Community has the use thereof on the occasion of the festival ceremonies that take place in the Courtyard. The upper cornice is used in the same manner by the Orthodox. These two cornices are in a damaged condition and the whole facade is badly weather-beaten and requires expert attention.
  3. ^ a b Lancaster, James E. (2015). "The Church and the Ladder: Frozen in Time". Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  4. ^ Günther Simmermacher. The Holy Land Trek: A Pilgrim's Guide. Southern Cross Books, Cape Town. p. 194–5. ISBN 978-0-9921817-0-3.
  5. ^ Bar−Am, Aviva (1999). Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem. Ahva Press. p. 56.
  6. ^ Who Moved thy Ladder?
  7. ^ Günther Simmermacher. The Holy Land Trek: A Pilgrim's Guide. Southern Cross Books, Cape Town. p. 196. ISBN 978-0-9921817-0-3.
  8. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore (8 November 2011). Jerusalem: The Biography. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p. 519n. ISBN 978-0-297-86692-3. Retrieved 30 October 2012.

Coordinates: 31°46′41.64″N 35°13′45.73″E / 31.7782333°N 35.2293694°E / 31.7782333; 35.2293694