An annual cleaning ritual at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, one of the most sacred and oldest continuously operating churches in the world, ended up in a broom fight between the rival clergy belonging to three separate monastic communities.

The church built over a cave, which is traditionally regarded as the birthplace of Jesus, is jointly administered by Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic authorities. According to convention, the right to own a portion or structure of the Church lies with the monastic community which cleans it up. This accepted practice may have led to the clash between clergymen who accused each other of encroachment by tidying up portions which didn't belong to the community.

The ritualistic cleaning up of the church was part of the preparations leading to Orthodox Christmas celebrations in January, the Associated Press reported. Unlike the Western Christians who celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, Eastern Christians, who follow the Julian calendar (which has a 13 day difference with the modern Gregorian calendar) celebrate Christmas on Jan. 6, which translates as Jan. 7 for the rest of the world. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Armenian Apostolic Church follow the Julian calendar, while the Roman Catholic Church follows the Gregorian calendar.

The fight erupted between clerics tidying up the borders of their respective portions, and the agitated monks were reportedly shouting and hurling brooms at each other. Palestinian security men rushed to break up the fight, which did not cause any serious human injury.

Clashes between Christian religious sects over the ownership of the Church of the Nativity aren't new.  The structure, which currently occupies about 12,000 square meters, was one of the key causes that led to French involvement in the Crimean war against Russia. The dispute between Roman Catholic monks supported by France and the Orthodox clergy supported by Russia, over the possession of keys of the main door of the church, led to the Crimean war in the 1850s.

The preservation of the Church has been a major concern since 2008, after it was placed in the watchlist of 100 most endangered sites by the World Monument Fund. The Palestinian authorities announced a restoration program in 2010.