Mystery of the “Immovable Ladder” Leaning Against Christianity’s Most Holy Church

Updated: Mar 28

The immovable ladder

There is an old immovable ladder resting on a ledge at perhaps the most significant church in Christianity.

Commonly known as the “immovable ladder,” it has been left in almost the same position for hundreds of years as rival church denominations can’t agree on what to do with it. The ladder is famous because it’s located at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

No one knows how it got there or who put it there, although presumably it was used for repairs. References to and drawings of the ladder date back to the early 1700s. The first known photographs of the church depict the ladder in the 1850s. It hasn’t been used since.

The immovable ladder on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the old city of Jerusalem

An edict in the early 1850s by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire stated that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was to be shared among the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Armenian Apostolic Churches.

Three other church orders, the Coptic, Syrian, and Ethiopian Orthodox Church, were also given rights to use some parts of the building.

It was considered a compromise to all denominations making claims to the church building.The edict became known as the “Status Quo agreement.” The ladder then became “immovable,” because to be moved, all six church groups had to agree to it.

Byzantine facade and Immovable Ladder of Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem.

It was never agreed upon which church should take possession of the ladder and the mundane object became a symbol of the divisions within Christianity itself.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is coveted by most Christian denominations. It’s considered a holy site where the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ took place.

When Roman Emperor Constantine I converted to Christianity in the 4th century, he is said to have sent his mother, Saint Helena, to search for the burial place of Jesus in Jerusalem. Helena reportedly located the burial site, as well as the “True Cross” from which Jesus was crucified.

Constantine then ordered a church to be built on the site, replacing an existing pagan temple. The church was completed around 335. Pilgrims have been traveling to the church since the 4th century. Massive crowds of pilgrims and tourists continue to visit today.