Clergy and believers chant prayers in a profusion of languages last heard in the Tower of Babel. Bishops conduct exotic rituals in biblical Aramaic while other ancient tongues echo through the darkness of Christianity's most sacred shrine. Mysterious monks circle the tomb swinging incense burners, as rays of light break through – an enigmatic combination of rituals dating back to some of the earliest Christian sects. It is perhaps the only place in the world with processions and masses held under the same roof as a diverse crowd of worshippers recites prayers side by side.
Over the past seventeen centuries people have been drawn to these ancient, sacred stones. Pilgrims in ecstasy do not leave before they have touched, kissed, prayed and knelt before every sacred altar. Outside, worshippers bearing wooden crosses walk along the Via Dolorosa leading to the Holy Sepulchre.
Jerusalem may be a focus of international political attention, but it is also a center for the three major monotheistic religions. Halfway between east and west, the city has not become a melting pot, but rather a mosaic where cultures and religions meet without ever merging. The Christians, a dwindling minority in the Middle East, are concerned about their future in the region, but instead of being united in the Church, are often divided, fighting to defend their particular ethnic and/or religious identity.
A centuries-long struggle over power and territory has left the Christian faith divided into six denominations: Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian, the main custodians of the church under an edict proclaimed in 1852 by the Ottoman Sultan, plus the Coptic (Egyptian), Syrian Orthodox and Ethiopian churches, coming together in a unique collage of people and faith.