The Franciscans at Damascus
by Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land
The Franciscans arrived in Damascus in 1233, after being sent by Pope Gregory IX with a letter of recommendation to the Sultan of the city, Melek el-Ashraf. As they were not allowed to preach the Gospel openly, they made it their aim to care for the spiritual needs of the European traders who lived there. We know very little about their mission in the following years. What we do know is that in 1289, two Franciscans were martyred. It is recorded that in 1368 three Franciscans were imprisioned and later beheaded. In 1375 we find the Franciscans holding liturgical services in the chapel of the Venetian Consul. We have records of the martyrdom of three Italian Franciscans in 1557. In 1620 the Cadi of the city granted the Franciscans the privilege of being able to open a public chapel for observance of the Latin Rite. Many years later, in 1668, we find that they have established themselves in a Maronite church. In 1719 they left the Maronite church and acquired a new church in the Christian Quarter of Bab Tuma. At the same time they founded a college where missionaries could be taught Arabic studies, and in 1820 they purchased the site of the Sanctuary erected over the House of Ananias.
And then came the massacre of 1860. During the night of July 9th and 10th, the entire Franciscan community of Bab Tuma was murdered: Fr. Manuel Ruiz, the superior of the monastery; Fr. Carmelo Bolta, the parish priest; Fr. Engelberto Kolland, the parish assistant; Fr. Nicanor Ascanio, Fr. Pedro Soler, Fr. Nicol·s Alberca, all students of Arabic; Bro. Francisco Pinazo and Bro. Juan Santiago Fern·ndez. All were of Spanish origin except for Fr. Kolland who was Austrian. Along with these eight Franciscans, three Christians of the Maronite Rite were also slaughtered ‚ the three Masabki brothers: Francisco, Mooti and Raphael. These eleven martyrs of the Faith were beatified on October 10th, 1926, by Pope Pius XI. Their relics have been placed in a decorated metal chest, which is kept in the Latin church of Bab Tuma, in Damascus.
Returning now to the history of the Franciscans at Damascus, it was not long before other Friars came to replace those who had been martyred in 1860. They rebuilt the shattered monastery and, as soon as 1866, they were able to inaugurate the new church and adjacent monastery, as well as opening a parish school. Nowadays, there are three monasteries in Damascus, one in the district of Bab Tuma and the others in Salhiye and Tabbaleh.
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Created / Updated Saturday, April 28, 2001 at 23:59:59 by John Abela ofm
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