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The Franciscans thrown out from Sion

The nearness of Moslem families, placed there to guard the Chapel of the Holy Ghost and that of David, rendered almost impossible the lives of the Friars on Sion, who held on to officiate in the church of the Cenacle and the subterranean chapel of St. Francis. Every day brought greater trials, and the Friars had no better hopes when Palestine passed to the Ottoman Turks in 1517.

The Moslems continued the annoyance and in 1521 Suliman I interferred to stop the trouble. The Moslems had then recourse to a new expedient. They asked the Mufti whether it were right and proper for infidels to reside near a Moslem sanctuary and whether christian ceremonies were not a profanation of the place. The Mufti agreed and recourse was had to Constantinople. An order was issued from the Porte on March 18,1523 to the Governor of Damascus to expel forthwith the infidels who desecrated the whole place by processioning according to their false creed over the tomb of David, worthy of Moslem veneration, and to hand over the place to the bearer of the order, Mohammed el Adjami. This Adjami did not hand over the order immediately, but tried to sell it to the European merchants who protected the Friars. The Friars got to know of the order and Venice made representations to the Sublime Porte, which agreed to annul the order. The pilgrims from Europe, among them St. Ignatius of Loyola, on embarking in Oct. 1523, were aware of the revocation, but before it reached Damascus, the Governer, Khurrem Pasha, had expelled the Friars in January 1524. El Adjami had an inscription, still to be seen, placed there to commemorate the fact. The Friars betook themselves to a nearby home, called the bakery, where Tertiary women lived.

A new order of March 26 1526, allowed the Friars some rooms in their convent and the Chapel under the Cenacle. Many attempts were made by the European powers, especially Venice and France to undo the injustice, but all in vain. The Friars were accused of harbouring important Europeans of warlike intent, which finally brought a new and final order of expulsion in 1551.

The friars betook themselves to the nearby bakery, where they lived until 1560 when they transferred to the Georgian monastery El Amud, called St. Saviour's, where to this day resides the Superior of the Holy Land, who still retains the title of Guardian of Holy Mount Sion.

The Franciscan Cenacolino (small Cencale) on Sion today

The Upper Room of the Cenacle was transformed into a Mosque dedicated to king David and access to the christians was totally forbidden. This situation lasted until the end of last century when this "Upper Room" was partially reopened for christian pilgrims to visit, nonetheless forbidding the celebration of the Eucharist or of any other devotion. Later on the Franciscans were permitted to visit officialy the site on Maundy Thursday and Pentecoste but still they were forbidden to celebrate any liturgy.

On Mar. 29, 1936 the Franciscans returned to within a few yards of the Cenacle, having bought the old bakery from the Dejani family that held the Cenacle and transformed it into the Convent of St. Francis, and the Church ad Coenaculum. This is an oasis of peace, serenity and tranquillity overlooking the place of so much sacred events and travail. The whole area of Christian Sion has been in the hands of the jewish authorities since 1948 and all around the Christian monuments has been taken up by jewish Torah Schools, and nothwitstanding the "empty crusaders' cenotaph" made it a national pilgrimage site for the jewish people in memory of King David.

It is worth mentioning that the skyline of Christian Mount Sion today is dominated by the Benedictine shrine built over the place of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin. This church, built on the plans of Aix le Chapelle covers the crypt where the Apochryphal tradition of Mary's death on Sion is celebrated. Any visitor to this site will surely kneel in front of the "Reclining Madonna" and in subdued voice repeat the words "Salve Regina".

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Created / Updated Thursday, March 24, 2005 at 11:47:39 by J. Abela, E. Alliata, E. Bermejo
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