Starts March 25
Twist the biblical quote from John 14:2 to reveal Christian chaos and competition among the “many mansions” in Old Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the theme of this documentary by director/cinematographer/writer Hajo Schomerus (Hannover, 1970.)
The church stands on the holiest Christian site in the world, including both Calvary (where Jesus was crucified) and the tomb (sepulcher) where he was buried, and is continually fought over by its custodians: the major three first appointed by the Crusaders, i.e., Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Roman Catholic, then, added in the 1800s, the Coptic, Ethiopian and Syriac Orthodoxies, all jealously guarding their areas and trying to expand their influence. Whoever has charge of the pipe organ at the time has the advantage – as processions and prayers combine for a filmed cacophony that would scare away any potential visitor. Especially claustrophobic was the Holy Saturday ceremony of the Holy Fire, where hundreds of visitors light torches from the fire carried through the crowds by Greek Orthodox priests.
Maybe the checkered history of the site has determined the tumult it has become, ranging from a quarry in 100 BC (a popular site for tombs), an early Christian gathering place, a temple to Venus, a total destruction in 1009 by a mad calif, damage by fires, earthquakes, neglect and partial rebuildings, all leading to a mishmash of architectural styles. The church caretakers interviewed spoke of keeping traditions and appeared unchanged from biblical times. And they are all men, maybe because they are locked inside the church each night when the tourists leave by a Muslim doorkeeper who keeps the keys to prevent disputes between the Christian factions, which themselves appear to have no relation to Christianity in today's world.
Schomerus’ film depicting the rival religious groups living in the church, “a parable about the difficulty of true understanding and compromise ”( L. Scheuer for Cineman,) is a bit repetitive and could be helped with some narrative, otherwise, very interesting.