What is the Status Quo?
In 1757 AD and also in 1852 AD the Turkish Ottoman Empire, which controlled the Holy Land on these dates, established what we call the Status Quo. The Status Quo is a collection of historical traditions, rules and laws for six religious denominations that have altars or chapels within three different religious shrines - the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Church of the Nativity, and the Tomb of the Virgin.
The Status Quo was confirmed as a legal instrument and continues to the present day as the sole frame of reference for resolving litigations and disputes.
Regarding Separate Chapels and Altars.
The Status Quo acts as a sort of property register, detailing possession of every stone and nail. Each denomination controls its own space, and carries out revisions, repairs and maintenance within its space without the need for shared oversight. Each chapel that was under the control of a certain group at the time that the Status Quo was put into effect will remain under that same control in perpetuity.
Regarding Common Areas.
The status quo is not just about proprietary space. It also established the relations, activities, and movements, liturgy and processions that are carried out in those parts of the church where ownership is shared by different Christian denominations (the so-called common areas).
Regarding these common areas, such as passageways, and the churchs’ exteriors, no part may be so much as rearranged or reordered 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.
In this respect the Status Quo functions like a railway timetable, specifying for every day of the ecclesiastical year the time and place of services and processions conducted by the communities in the common areas of the church.
The door to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is one such common area. Two Muslim families have the privilege of guarding it, which is opened according to a schedule agreed to by the three largest religious communities.
In short, the Status Quo allows all six denominations to live and worship alongside each other in a confined space. Without it there would be chaos. Because the major communities realize this, they insist on its strict observance. Change is not completely ruled out, however, provided the parties can amicably agree.