Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land - 06/03/2000 info: custodia@netvision.net.il

Status Quo
The question of the Holy Places

At the beginning of the 3rd cent. Caesarea was the civil capital and the metropolitan see with Jerusalem as suffragan. Towards the end of the 3rd cent. the Roman Legion was withdrawn from Jerusalem and it lost in importance. The Edict of Milan (313) was destined to revive the Holy City, and in a few years stately basilicas were to arise over the Holy Sites through the generosity of Constantine and the piety of his mother St. Helen. The three basilicas at the Holy Sepulchre, Bethlehem and the Mount of Olives were practically completed when the Pilgrim of Bordeaux visited Palestine in 333, and the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre was dedicated in the presence of over 300 bishops in September 336.

By the 6th century Jerusalem had become a treasure house of churches, monasteries, hostels and hospitals. Justinian (627-669), ruler, jurist and builder of St. Sophia rebuilt and repaired many churches and monasteries, but the glorious period of Byzantine rule failed before the Persian challenge and the formidable onslaught of the armies of Islam, which held the country, with the exception of the brief period of the Crusades, from 638 till 1917.

But prior to 638 certain divisions had arisen in the Christian Church. The Patriarchates were slill united, but various groups of Christians had deparated themselves from this unity and formed dissident Churches of their own. Doctrinal differences were, naturally, the principal causes of these secessions, but subsidiary reasons of a political and even a personal nature were present. Though the great heresies of the early days of Christianity, Arianism, Nestorianism, Pelagianism etc, did not entirely disappear, only two of them are still represented by existing Churches, whose origins were in the Christological controversies of the 6th cent., today known as Nestorianism and Monophysitism. The Nestorians, were condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431. The Monophysites were condemned by the Council of Chalcedon in 451, and today are represented by the Copts , Ethiopians, Jacobites (or Syrians) and the Armenians, all of whom have churches in Palestine. The four churches are autonomous.

Following the Moslem conquest in 638, the Christians were initially treated with tolerance but in later centuries relations ceased to be happy and the Christians were constrained to seek the protection of a Christian Power. Constantinople, preoccupied with its own troubles, was unable to help, so they turned to the West. Pepin and his son Charlemagne (742-814) entered into negotiations with the Caliph Haroun el Rashid for the protection of the Christians in Palestine: it was the beginning of the French protectorate. But the victories of the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus Phocas, over Islam embittered Moslem sentiments, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was burnt as well as the Patriarch John. In 1009 the Caliph Hakim rigorously persecuted the Christians, but his son was tolerant and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was rebuilt by the Patriarch Nicephorus, the Emperor Constantine X Monomachus contributing much of the expenses.

From 1027 till 1064 the Byzantine Emperors exercised a protectorate over the Christians, but before the close of the 11th century two events, the rupture between the Christian East and West and the beginning of the Crusades, were to have a profound influence on the history of Christendom.

For some 260 years relations between East and West had been subject to increasing strain. The coronation of Charlemagne in 800 as Emperor of the West had given great offence in Constantinople. In 863 there had been a serious rupture between Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, and Pope Nicholas I: the rupture was healed but mutual distrust did not abate. In 1063 the Patriarch Cerularius began a controversy with Pope Leo IX regarding certain Western (Latin) practices which Cerularius stigmatised as "unchristian". On July 16, 1064 the papal legates laid upon the Altar of the Church of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople the Papal bull of excommunication confirming the division between the eastern and western church. The underlying causes of the rupture were in reality political and not theological. The three other Eastern Patriarchs supported Constantinople and the rupture between East and West was complete. Since that date, the 4 Eastern Patriarchates (together with the Slav Churches, converted to Christianity by Constantinople) constitute the Orthodox Church. It need hardly be said that among the unhappy effects of this rupture is to be found what is in fact the basic cause of the long dispute over the Holy Places between Orthodox and Catholics.

The arrival of the Seljuk Turks on the scene could not permit the Western Powers to be indifferent when events threatened not only the complete destruction of the Byzantine Empire, but also the safety of the Christian East and the Holy Places in Palestine. Already in 1073 the Byzantine Emperor Michael VII had appealed to Pope Gregory VII asking for the aid of the Christian West and promising the reunion of the Greek Church with the See of Rome. The Pope promptly invited the Western princes to come to the aid of the East, but it was only at the end of the Council of Clermont that Pope Urban II succeeded in arousing the enthusiasm of the West.

The Crusaders from 1096 till 1291 failed in their object on account of internal dissensions, but above all on account of the tragic quarrels between the Eastern and Western Empires, still a prey to mutual jealousy and distrust, which finally led to open war and the diversion of the 4th Crusade, despite the express orders of Pope Innocent II, to the conquest of Constantinople, which was sacked by the Crusading army on April 4, 1204.

The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Simeon II, had withdrawn to Cyprus before the arrival of the Crusaders in Jerusalem. He died there in 1099, and in his place was appointed a Patriarch of the Latin rite. The Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem was reestablished in 1142 when by virtue of an accord made in that year between the Emperor Manuel Comnenus and the Latin King of Jerusalem, Fulk of Anjou, it was agreed that a Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem should be nominated in Constantinople: it was not, however, until the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187 that the Greek Patriarch returned to reside in the Holy City: during the following centuries a number of Patriarchs found it convenient again to reside in Constantinople to facility their dealings with the civil power. The last Patriarch to do so was Athanasius V who died in 1844.

His successor, Cyril II (1846-1872) was elected, not at Constantinople, but in Jerusalem by the Hagiotaphites (Confraternity of the Holy Sepulchre) brought about by Russian diplomacy. The Latin Patriarchs, on the other hand, transferred their residence to Acre on the fall of Jerusalem, and Nicolas de Hanapes, who was killed at the fall of Acre in 1291, was the last Latin Patriarch to reside in Palestine until the restoration of the Latin Patriarchate by Pope Pius IX in 1847.

During the occupation of Jerusalem by the Latin Kings (1099-1187), the Christians of the Latin Rite held the praedominium in the Holy Places, but it would be a mistake to suppose that the Eastern Churches were excluded: on the contrary there is ample evidence that for many years after the arrival of the Crusaders, Latins and Orientals lived and worshipped peacefully together. To cite two examples. In 1107 the Greek Abbot of St. Sabas celebrated the ceremony of the Holy Fire at the Holy Sepulchre in the presence of King Baldwin I. In 1172 the pilgrim Theoderic relates that, in adition to the Latin Christians, there also ministered in the Holy Sepulchre representatives of the Eastern Churches "differing in language and their manner of conducting divine services". The Latin praedominium continued even after 1187, and it was not seriously challenged until the arrival of the Turks in 1617.

In 1217 St. Francis sent some of his Friars to the Holy Land and in 1219 he came himself and obtained permission from the Egyptian Sultan Melek el Kamel for the Franciscans to remain unmolested in the Levant and to visit the Holy Sepulchre without hindrance. On the departure of the Crusaders in 1291 the Franciscans remained to guard the Christian shrines: agreements were concluded with the Sultan Bibars II in 1309 and with Sultan Melek en Naser in 1333 which recognised their rights of occupation and worship. In 1336 they acquired their first residence, the Cenacle. In 1342 Pope Clement VI confirmed them as the official guardians of the Holy Places on behalf of the whole of Catholic Christendom.

In the meantime the fortunes of Constantinople had been steadily declining, and finally fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. With the fall of Constantinople the Byzantine Empire came to an end after an existence of over 1,100 years. Fourteen years before the fall of Constantinople one last effort had been made for the reunion of the Christian East and West. As in 1073, now John VIII Palaeologos appealed to Rome with new proposals for reunion. The Pope summoned a Council at Florence in 1439: this Council, which was attended by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Joseph II, decreed the reunion with the See of Rome of the 4 Orthodox Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, and also of the Catholicos of the Armenians, the Coptic Patriarch, a number of Syrian Jacobites and one Nestorian bishop. In the case of the last 4 the reunion was never effective, but it subsisted for a time in the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. In Constantinople it lasted until the fall of the city in 1463. The Melkite (Greek Catholic) Church began when Cyril V Patriarch of Antioch recognised the Pope in 1709. The Syrian Catholic Church came into being in 1662; the Coptic Catholic in 1742; the Armenian Catholic in 1740; the Chaldaean Catholic in 1662.

In 1617 the Ottoman Turks took Palestine from the Mamluks of Egypt, and from this time onwards there is a definite change in the "balance of power" in relation to the Christian Holy Places. The Ottoman Sultans were naturally disposed to treat the Orthodox Christians, who were their subjects, with greater favour than the Latins, who were the subjects of European powers with whom the Sultans were constantly at war, and in consequence, following the Ottoman conquest, Orthodox influence was renascent at the expense of Latin. And the Franciscans in 1662 were ejected by Imperial decree from the Cenacle.

The Greek (Hellenic) Confraternity of the Holy Sepulchre was founded by the Patriarch Germanus (1634-1679) and since that date its members have been the guardians of the Holy Places on behalf of the whole of the Orthodox world.

For three centuries, from 1336 till 1662, the Franciscans were the sole owners of the Cenacle, the Holy Sepulchre and Calvary, the Tomb of the Virgin and the Manger in Bethlehem; all restorations were executed on their intiative. During this period there were Oriental clergy living in Jerusalem and Bethlehem alongside and in peaceful relations with the Franciscans. There were the Greeks, Georgians, Armenians, Maronites, Jacobites, Syrians, Abyssinians, Copts and Nestorians. Without making claim, they took part in the religious functions celebrated by the Franciscans and with the latter's permission carried out their own. Undoubtedly friction would occasionally arise, but it was easily composed. The Georgians, when the Franciscans were imprisoned, occupied half of Calvary for a time; the Greeks occupied part of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and part of Bethlehem; the Copts erected their altar at the back of the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre. In doing so the Orientals wished to have their own place for the free exercise of their devotions, and the Franciscans, for the sake of peace, conceded, content to retain a general supremacy.

Entering Constantinople in 1463, Mohammed II proclaimed the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople the religious and civil head of all the Oriental Christians resident in his Empire. The Byzantine clergy easily infiltrated into Palestine and with the nomination of the first Hellenic Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1634, they succeeded in ousting the native-born Patriarch who had hitherto been the only Greek Patriach to be recognised. Profiting by his prestige and with the support of the Ottoman Goverment, the new Patriarch, in 1666, began to impede the Franciscans in the restoration of the Shrines. In 1666 the Patriarch Germanus made a claim to the Bethlehem church, and this was renewed by Sophronius IV (1579-1608) and Theophanius (1608-1644).

From Bethlehem the claims passed to Jerusalem, especially to the Stone of unction. These attempts were blocked at the Sublime Porte by the Bailiff of Venice and the French Ambassador. But faced with these claims, the Franciscans attempted conciliatory measures by the offer of concessions. Instead of dealing with the Franciscans, they brought their claims before the Court in Constantinople, where political power lay in the venal hands of a capricious dynasty of ministers who succeeded each other in the family of Eupriuli, influenced by interpreters of Greek nationality, especially Panayotti and Maurogordos.

The Patriarch, Theophanius, with the help of archdeacon Gregory, obtained in 1633 a firman anti-dated to the time of Omar (638) which conferred on him the ownership of the Grotto of the Nativity, Mount Calvary and the Stone of Unction. Gregory confessed the forgery, and the Western Powers, on a plea from Pope Urban VII, succeeded in 1636 in having the firman withdrawn. Little daunted, they got another firman in 1637, and since Venice, Austria and Poland were at war with the Porte, nothing was done. Despite the Capitulations negotiated June 6,1673 between Louise XIV and the Porte, Greeks held on to their gains. The question became even more acute when the Patriarch Dositheus (1669-1707) secured in 1676 another firman, giving him exclusive possession of the Holy Sepulchre. On pressure from the European Powers, the Porte appointed a special tribunal to examine the documents presented by both sides. The result was a firman of 1690, by which the Franciscans were declared to be the legitimate proprietors of the Sanctuaries and their ancient rights were restored to them.

From then on the Western Powers were more active and in making treaties with the Ottoman Government always imposed clauses to guarantee the rights in the Holy Places, as in the peace of Carlowitz (1699), that of Passarowitz (1718), of Belgrade (1739), and Sistow (1791). But the struggle went on. The 7 firmans obtained by the Franciscans in the 29 years from 1690 to 1719 echo the insistent pressure of the Greek clergy.

Then a new kind of ruse was recoursed to. At Easter 1767 led by the Greek clergy, the Orthodox populace attacked the Franciscans in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre and created havoc. Following this vandalism they accused the Friars of all kind of intrigues. The Porte, without inquiry, issued a firman giving the Greeks possession of the Basilica of Bethlehem, the Tomb of the Virgin, and joint possession with the Latins in parts of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. Despite the appeals of the Pope Clement XIII to all the Western Powers, the firman stood and the position in the Holy Places has changed only in details since then.

In the 19th century the question of the Holy Places became a political one, mainly between France and Russia. France assumed the exclusive protection of the Catholics and Russia that of the Eastern Rites. Each sought by all means to outdo the other. Meanwhile the century opened with a great fire in 1808 in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, which destroyed the greater part of the Edicule.

The Greeks got a firman to carry out the restoration, and unfortunately defaced the beautiful Crusader work. In 1829, the Armenian Orthodox, now forming a big part of the civil service of the Ottoman Government succeeded in getting their present rights in the Sanctuaries.

In 1847, the Greeks removed from the Grotto of the Nativity the silver star with its Latin inscription, the last symbol which testified to the rights of the Catholics. The Catholic Powers made many attempts to improve the position of the Latins and in 1860 the French Ambassador at the Porte, General Aupick, in the name of the Catholic countries, demanded the restoration of the rights of the Franciscans held prior to 1767. The Ottoman Government was ready to accede, when the Russian Czar, Nicholas, intervened and ordered the Sultan to make no change in the existing state of affairs under the threat of a breach of diplomatic relations. Turkey was forced to issue in 1862 a firman directing that the Status Quo (i.e. that of 1767) be maintained. Russia made more demands and got 2 more firmans in favour of the Greeks in May, 1863. Emboldened, she demanded moral hegemony over all the Orthodox and their institutions within the Ottoman Empire.

The Porte, supported by the Westem Powers, refused. On February, 1864, began the Crimean war between Turkey, England, France and Piedmont on the one side, and Russia on the other. At the Treaty of Paris in 1866 the Allies failed to get any advantage from their victory: the Status Quo was confirmed without specifying the detail or stabilizing the right of the two parties. European diplomacy, powerless to solve the question, from now on sought to avoid it. Thus the Congress of Berlin, 1878, excluded a priori the question of the Holy Places, although summoned to deal with the question raised in the Russo-Turkish War. The Status Quo was a diplomatic expedient to avoid responsibility. Meanwhile more aggressions oontinued,. as in Bethlehem in 1873 and again in 1901 in the Parvis of the Holy Sepulchre.

At the conclusion of World War I Palestine passed again into the protection of a Christian power. The time seemed favourable for a solution of the age old problem and Art. 14 of the Mandate for Palestine made provision for the appointment of a Commission to study the question. On June 4, 1922 the Holy See made very important reservations in regard to the Commission and on August 15 asked for a permanent Commission formed from the resident Consuls in Palestine. On August 1st. Lord Balfour proposed the formation of a plenary Commission, with an American Protestant President, and, subdivided into 3 sub-Commissions, Christian, Moslem and Jewish. The Christian would have a French President, and would be composed of one Italian, one Belgian, one Spanish,one Rumanlan, one Greek, one Armenian, one Copt and one Abyssinian delegate. The Holy See objected, seeing that the Catholics were in a minority. Balfour withdrew his proposal and nothing further was done.



Created / Updated Monday, March 06, 2000 at 14:10:28