Punches flew after Greek Orthodox monks blocked the way of Armenian clergymen marching in commemoration of the 4th-century discovery of the cross believed to have been used to crucify Jesus.
"We were keeping resistance so that the procession could not pass through ... and establish a right that they don't have," said a young Greek Orthodox monk with a cut next to his left eye.
The Greeks objected to the march without one of their monks present, fearing that otherwise, the procession would subvert their own claim to the ancient structure revered as the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection.
Israeli riot police, assault rifles in hand, arrested two bloodied monks during the Sunday brawl –– one from each side.
The site is no stranger to holy disputes.
The six Christian sects that divide control of the church regularly fight over turf and influence, and Israeli police are occasionally forced to intervene.
The Israeli government has long wanted to build a fire exit in the church, but the sects cannot agree where the exit will be built.
A ladder placed on a ledge over the entrance sometime in the 19th century has remained there ever since because of a dispute over who has the authority to take it down.
More recently, a spat between Ethiopian and Coptic Christians is delaying badly needed renovations to a rooftop monastery that engineers say could collapse.