Catholic abbot told to cover cross at Western Wall

The abbot was told that the cross worn at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City was "really big and inappropriate for this place."

 The Western Wall is seen in a photo taken February 9, 2023  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Western Wall is seen in a photo taken February 9, 2023

The abbot of the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem, Nikodemus Schnabel, was asked by workers at the Western Wall to cover the cross he was wearing around his neck on Wednesday morning, according to a video shared by Der Spiegel reporter Christopher Schult.

The video shared by Schult on Twitter showed a worker at the Western Wall telling the abbot that the cross was "really big and inappropriate for this place. It's a Jewish place, you need to respect that."

Schnabel responded that the request was "very harsh," with the worker insisting that she respected that he is religious and asking people nearby to stop filming the incident.

"This is not a provocation. I'm an abbot. This is my dress," said Schnabel. "The cross is part of my dress code, I'm a Roman Catholic abbot. You want me to not dress as my faith tells me I should dress."

 View of the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem's Old City on sunset, November 14, 2016.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
View of the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem's Old City on sunset, November 14, 2016. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Schult tweeted that the worker told the abbot that the requirement to remove the cross "is a new regulation."

Schnabel responded to the incident on Twitter on Wednesday, writing "The unfortunately not so nice end of a nice tour of the Old City through the morning #Jerusalem. It is painful to see how the climate in this wonderful city is changing more and more for the worse under the new government. Jerusalem is big enough for everyone!"

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation apologized for the incident on Wednesday afternoon, stating "The Western Wall is open to all. It should be emphasized that there are no regulations regarding this matter at the Western Wall Plaza. The usher approached and politely asked if it would be possible to cover the cross to prevent any discomfort, as has recently occurred in the Old City, out of a desire to respect both the visitor and the site. When he refused, entry was obviously not denied, and the usher respected the decision and continued on her way."

Attacks on Christians in Jerusalem continue to rise

The incident comes amid a spike in anti-Christian attacks in Jerusalem in recent months, including many incidents of Jewish residents spitting on Christian tourists and clergymen.

Last Thursday, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper that there have been several attacks on priests in Jerusalem and a number of Christian sites have been vandalized, with incidents reported every week.

When asked if he thought the new government was driving the attacks, Pizzaballa "I don't know if there is a connection there. But the fact is that since the new government took office, we have seen a significant increase."

"The source of such attacks is education. There are children who spit and yell at Christians - someone must have taught them that," said Pizzaballa to Frankfurter Allgemeine. "Perhaps there is a young generation, for example in the settlements, that grew up in an extremist or polarized context and does not know any diversity. But we can only make assumptions."

The patriarch added that the church is speaking with Israeli authorities and that the government and religious institutions had said they were trying to take action, but noted that "it's very difficult because we're not dealing with mainstream Judaism, we're dealing with fringe groups." He added that the churches "have no contacts with the government at the political level."

The patriarch additionally stressed that while most of the attackers are haredi and religious Zionists, there are also a lot of positive reactions from these groups and people shouldn't generalize.

Last month, a Jerusalem city council meeting erupted into a shouting match after a member of the Hitorerut party on the council called for it to condemn attacks by haredim and far-right Jews against Christians in the Old City.

"They're spitting on and cursing at Christian tourists and worshippers," said Hitorerut Councilman Adir Schwartz during the meeting. The Hitorerut Party also called for additional security cameras and further cooperation with the police in order to protect the Christian community.

"We support tourism but not missionaries," said far-right Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Aryeh King.

Councilman Yonatan Yosef also belittled the call for a condemnation, stating "I would like to add a condemnation of the Christians who conducted the crusades, the pogroms, the Inquisition, all the things that the Christians did to the Jews throughout the ages."

"What did the pope do during the Holocaust? I'm still waiting for the pope's condemnation of the Holocaust."

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion stated during the meeting "We condemn – and 'we' means all of us, most of us let's say – all expressions of violence regardless of religion, race or sex."