Upon the Pontifical orders of Pope Paul VI in 1964, the ladder was to remain in place until such a time as the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church reach a state of ecumenism. The ladder has since been related to the agreement of Status Quo that defined the six Christian religious orders that claim rights over the use of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The primary conflicts, however, surrounding the ladder and its immovability have been disputed by a lasting conflict between the Greek Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church.
According to various accounts, the ladder once belonged to a mason who was doing restoration work in the Holy Sepulchre. The first account to mention the ladder was related to a firman (edict) dated in 1757 by Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid I followed by another edict by Sultan Abdülmecid I in 1852. The ladder is thought to be owned by the Armenian Apostolic Church along with its accompanying ledge.
Various lithographs show that the ladder was in place by the late 1830s. Possibly the oldest image is an engraving that the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land dates to 1728. While the Franciscans make no reference to the ladder, something in the form of a ladder can be seen in the right window above the entrance. The earliest photograph showing the ladder dates from the 1850s.
In 1981, an attempt to remove the ladder from its location was made, but was quickly prevented by local Israeli police though the culprit was not caught. In 1997, the ladder was removed and remained missing for weeks. Thought to be a prank, it was returned later amidst rumor of further conflicts between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church leaders. In 2009 the ladder was moved again. It was placed against the left window for a short period, perhaps in order to clear scaffoldings at the completion of renovating the bell tower. Since the ladder's symbolism is so important, it is not allowed to decay completely, and new immovable ladders have been used over the years, since "if it goes rotten, it must be replaced."
Objectively, the ladder is not an absolute measure of ecumenism. Various key differences in rituals, liturgy, dogma and theology divide the two churches, rather than the dispute over ownership and use of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. However, during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1964, Pope Paul VI described the ladder as a visible symbol of Christian division, and it is generally regarded as culturally significant as a visible symbol of the Status Quo agreement among the six ecumenical Christian orders.