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Franciscan Mount Sion

Providence wanted that after the Crusades a new christian presence starts its existence on Mount Sion. Fr. Roger Garin, a friar of the Province of Aquitaine, arrived in Jerusalem in 1333 and took up his abode in the Hospital of St. John beside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was then a pilgrim Hospice and in which lived a Sicilian lady, Margaret, a great benefactor of the Christians and influential at the Egyptian Court. Fr. Roger was the representative of the sovereigns of Naples, King Robert and Queen Sancha, in the difficult negotiations for acquiring the holy sites on Mount Sion.

According to the original deeds in Arabic, in the Archives of the Custody in Jerusalem, on May 15, 1335 the Christian Frank Margaret bought from the Public Treasury an estate on Mount Sion for a thousand silver dirhem. On Sep. 19, 1335, Fr. Roger bought one third of the estate from Margaret for 400 dirhem. On Feb. 1, 1337 Fr. Roger and other friars, called the friars of the Cord (Cordeliers), bought more land in their own name for 1400 dirhem. From this it is apparent that Fr. Roger, then living in the convent near the Cenacle was juridically recognised by the local authorities, and furthermore it is clear from the limits of the property that the Cenacle (Eliat Sahiun--the upper room of Sion: hyperoon Siôn) was no longer the property of the Treasury. Fr. Roger, therefore, between 1335 and 1337 had acquired the site of the Cenacle. Two papal bulls, however, of 1343 tell the Catholic world that "after difficult negotiations and huge expenses", entered into between the Sovereigns of Naples, and the Sultan of Egypt Malek al Nasir Mohammed, the Franciscans had taken possession of the Cenacle of the Lord, the Chapel of the Descent of the Holy Ghost, the Chapel of the Apparition of the risen Jesus, and around these sanctuaries Queen Sancha had built a convent for 12 friars and 3 lay brothers. It was probably in 1336 that the Friars took over possession, for ever after pilgrims find the friars there in their convent of Sion, from which the Superior took the title, still retained, Guardian of Holy Mount Sion.

The first Franciscan cloister on Sion

When the friars took over they preserved as far as possible the arrangement prior to 1336. The edifice is described as having two floors, and each floor two sections. Lower floor: the eastern side (higher than the western) to the left in a small rectangular room were venerated the tombs of David and Solomon; to the right the chapel of St. Thomas. The western side, dark and underground was marked as the place where Christ held his last discourse with his Apostles: later this was the Chapel of St. Francis and was also used as a Dormitory for pilgrims. The memory of the Washing of the feet was transferred to a side altar in the upper Chapel. Upper floor: To the west was the real church of the Friars, the Cenacle itself, the place of the Last Supper. A stairs at the south-west led to the Lower Chapel. The eastern part or the Chapel of the Holy Ghost was always shown in ruins.

The documents in fact reveal that the friars repaired only the Chapel of the Cenacle, and the present room is ascribed by some archaeologists to the 14th century, and was probably the work of artists brought from Cyprus by the Friars.

Pope Paul VI praying on Sion in 1964

The Chapel of the Holy Spirit for some reason was not restored. In 1288 Fr. Ricold mentions that part of the Cenacle, the place of the Descent of the Holy Ghost, had been turned into a mosque. The Sultan favourable to the Friars died in 1340, and as a letter of Pope Clement VI to Peter IV of Aragon in 1346 shows, a period of strife had set in. And in fact the second Guardian Fr. Nicholas, was forced to repurchase, in 1346, part of the property bought by Fr. Roger in 1337. There were ever difficulties and we know from an interesting letter of the tribune Cola di Rienzo in 1361 that the reparations begun in the time of Queen Sancha had been interrupted and were not yet in hand in 1361. In 1363 a Florentine, Sophia degli Arcangeli, opened a pilgrim hospice north of the Franciscan convent. This in time came under the Friars and the women in charge of it became Tertiaries.

When in 1365 Peter I of Cyprus attacked Alexandria the Sultan had his revenge on the Christians, and the Franciscans of Mt. Sion were conveyed to Damascus, where they died in prison. Peace was concluded in 1370 and new Friars arrived from the west to take their place on Sion and at the Holy Sepulchre. There followed a period of peace and in 1377, the Guardian of Mount Sion became independent of the provincial of Cyprus and dependent immediately on the General of the Order. The Friars then numbered 20, serving Mount Sion, the Holy Sepulchre and Bethlehem. Although the Friars possessed the whole site, they were unable to rebuild the site of the Descent, which is described by pilgrims as an open terrace. It was then that the Jews began their intrigues to acquire from the Moslems the Chapel of David to make there a synagogue. Neither the Jews nor the Moslems had any certain tradition regarding the Tomb of David. In 1383 Isaac Helo of Aragon affirms that the tombs of the house of David, which were on the mount of Sion, are no longer known today either to Jew or Moslem.


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Created / Updated Thursday, March 24, 2005 at 11:47:41 by J. Abela, E. Alliata, E. Bermejo
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