Key to Jesus' tomb site in Jerusalem entrusted to Muslim family

The ancient key to the purported site of Jesus' tomb in Jerusalem is currently under the care of a Muslim man named Adeeb Joudeh, who explained that his family had been entrusted with the task since the time of Saladin in 1187.

(REUTERS / Ronen Zvulun)Adeeb Joudeh (R), a Muslim, who says his family were entrusted as the custodians of the ancient key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, looks at a priest as he peers through an opening in the church doors as they prepare to open it, in Jerusalem's Old City November 3, 2017.

According to Joudeh, his family's task of carrying the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City can be traced back to the time of the Muslim conqueror who took the holy city from the Crusaders. He said another prominent family --- the Nusseibehs --- was given the task of opening and closing the doors of the church, which they still do, Reuters detailed.

"Honestly, it's a great honor for a Muslim to hold the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is the most important church in Christendom,"said Joudeh.

"I started learning this when I was eight years old. It's handed down from father to son," he explained. "I have been doing this for 30 years and I feel that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is my second home."

Opening the doors of the holy site is no easy feat as the key is 30 centimeters (12 inches) in length and weighs 250 grams (0.5 pounds). Joudeh says the key he currently keeps is around 800 years old.

In an interview with CNN last year, Joudeh described the Church of the Holy Sepuchre as "the source of coexistence for Islamic and Christian religions." He explained that 1,400 years ago, Umar ibn Khattab took the keys from Patriarch Sophronius and granted Christians the right of free worship, an arrangement that he said was his duty to continue. 

According to some researchers, the arrangement likely stemmed from Saladin's desire to maintain Muslim dominance in the city. For Christianity scholar Yisca Harani, this setup helps preserve co-existence among the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Armenian denominations that have shared custody of the church.