The Peaceful Liberation of the Holy Places in the XIV Century

I - 11 Third Crusader Period (1241-1244)

As a result of an accord signed between Prince Richard of Cornwall (brother of the King of England) and the Sultan of Egypt, Es-Saleh Ayyub (April 23, 1241) the Frankish clergy returned to Jerusalem in 1241. This is the second return of the crusader clergy to the Holy Places by means of negotiations between two high authorities. It is highly unlikely that the Oriental clergy also returned to their posts in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
In order to defend himself against a strong league formed by the Sultans of Damascus, Homs, Kerak, and the Crusaders of Acre, the Sultan As-Saleh Ayyub called upon ten thousand Khawarismian Turks who were stationed on the Euphrates River to come to his assistance. When these new barbarians arrived in the Holy Land they killed the defenseless Christians. They burned and ruined churches and monasteries.
On July 11, 1244 they besieged Jerusalem itself. The small Crusader garrison defended itself well. Nonetheless, the Khawarismians succeeded in penetrating the city. They massacred the Christian population. The Crusaders withdrew on August 24th. The Khawarismians killed the Christians in the streets and in their houses. They finally entered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where the old people, children, and monks had taken refuge. The invaders slit the throats of the Western and Eastern clergy alike. They profaned and destroyed all that was sacred and Christian. (*16)
This third loss of Jerusalem apparently was the cause of despair for the Frankish Clergy who resided in Acre and for the small Latin Kingdom of the Mediterranean Coast. However it was not to last. The armies of the league prepared themselves for battle. The confrontation took place on October 17, 1244 at a site between Gaza and Ashkelon. Despite the resistance of the Crusaders, the bloody battle was a disaster for the armies of the league. For the Crusaders in particular it proved to be a second Horns of Hattin. In this miserable situation it was rightly feared that the end of the Latin Kingdom was at hand.
After the victory at Gaza was reported to the Sultan of Egypt, As-Saleh Ayyub, he went to Jerusalem to receive an account of the damages and massacres perpetrated by the Khawarismians. He immediately commanded the restoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He also ordered that the front of the Church be closed. He placed eight responsible custodians at the entrance. These guardians were members of the highest authority in Jerusalem! Together they were to open and close the door for those pilgrims who had paid the established tax. (*17) It was their custom to enter the Church at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and to remain there all night, finally leaving the following morning, between 6 o'clock and 9 o'clock. The pilgrims were able to visit any place inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They could pray and hold processions in the middle section of the church. At night, those who wished could take lodgings in the room adjoining the Chapel of the Apparition. No clergy lived in the interior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This desolation lasted another sixty years.
After the devastating tempest of the Khawarismians had abated, the Latin and Oriental clergy in Bethlehem were once again able to return to their previous posts. This situation would last only a short time.


*16 - Anonimus, Continuation de Guillaume de Tyr (1229-1261), dit du manuscrit de Rothelin, dans le Recueil des Historiens des Croisades, II, Paris 1859, 563: "Li Coramin... Dedenz lesglyse du Sepulchre trouverent Crestienz qui ne s'en voudrent mie aler ovec les autres. Cex esbouelerent devant revestuz ou il chantoient messes aus autiex. Aprez il bouterent jus l'entablement de marbre qui estoit entor le Sepulchre Nostre Seigneur, et les envoierent a Mahommet a Meques en signe de victoire. Et pour reprouche des Crestienz, il effondrerent les sepolturez des roiz et pristrent les oz, et les espandirent d'une part et d'autre. Et plusseurz mainerez ordierent et laidirent les Sanz Leuz". Matthieu. Paris (1198-1259), Grand Cronique, V, Paris 1840, 424, anno 1244: "Là, ils massacrèrent comme des brebis, destinées au sacrifice, les religieuses, les vieillards et les infirmes qui, ne pouvant supporter les fatigues de la route et de la fuite, s'étaient refugiés dans l'église du Saint Sépulchre et dans le Calvaire, lieu consacré par le sang du Christ, et ils se souillérent ansi dans le sanctuaire du Seigneur d'une ignominie exécrable" (p. 467): "Enfin, les infidèles susdits entrèrent dans la ville de Jerusalem presque abandonnée de tous ses habitants; et comme le peu des chrétiens qui y étaient retirés dans l'église du Saint Sépulchre, ils les éventrèrent tous devant même le sepulchre du Seigneur; et en coupant la tête aux prêtres qui célébraient alors les saints mystères". Ch. Kohler, "Un Rituel et un Bréviare du Saint-Sépulchre de Jérusalem (XIII-XIII siècle)", Revue de l'Orient Latin, 8 (1900-1901) 449-450: "Nous savons au surplus que, lors de la prise de Jérusalem par les Kvarismiens, plusieurs chanoines furent massacrés dans léglise du Saint Sépulchre où la foule des chrétiens s'était réfugiée" (Lettre du patriarche Robert et d'autres au Pape Innocent IV, 21 Sept. 1244).

*17 - For the story of the keys, doors, and doorkeepers of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, cf. S. De Sandoli, Church of the Holy Sepulchre: Keys, Doors, and Doorkeepers, Jerusalem 1986, 21.

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