For the newly arrived Franks or Latins (the Franciscans) the imposition (or the offer) of fraternal harmony with the Eastern clergy in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, at the Tomb of the Madonna, and at the Holy Sepulchre must have been accepted calmly.(*85) They knew that this harmony was a symbol to the whole world, to Christians, as well as to Jews and Moslems. It was a sign of Christian unity to honor the Lord and His Blessed Mother in such famous Sanctuaries as the Manger and the Tomb of the Madonna. In fact, Moslems even came to the Tomb of the Madonna to pray and to burn candles and lamps.(*86)
However, given the circumstances, there was the possibility for future problems. Just as the unity of Christians under one Pope disintegrated, so too would the harmony of Eastern and Western clergy living together in the same place. Likewise the day would come when there would be a less conscientious government protecting the Latins. At that time the Holy Places would become the setting for unpleasant episodes and the peace and rights so carefully reacquired in the negotiations of 1333 would be harmed.
Such problems did not arise in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries because at that time the government and the Clergy had the same faith in common. Now all sorts of situations were possible since there was a Moslem government which could easily cause problems while dealing with the political situations of Christian governments. Likewise concern for money could lead to corruption and ignoring the rights of the weak. In the following centuries the history of the Holy Places would contain many sad changes for the rights of the Latins.
Many mistaken ideas developed among certain local inhabitants in the Holy Land as well as among some foreigners. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, by naiveté or by malice, the notion arose that the Franciscans had entered the Holy Places by forcing themselves in the midst of the clergy of the various Eastern Rites. They were accused of using the protection of European sovereigns and the Pope to gain their way into the Holy Sites. Anyone who is familiar with the history of the Holy Places knows that this cannot be true. In fact, the very opposite happened, especially under the Turkish government (1517-1917).(*87)
We know from history that in the first millenium there were many houses of Eastern Rite religious in Jerusalem. However there is no record that some of the Rites or all of the Rites lived together in one Sanctuary of Palestine as they did at the time of the Franks. It was precisely these Franks who allowed the clergy of the Eastern Rites to use certain altars in the Holy Sepulchre. Was this done because the Franks recognized the ancient custodians of the Sanctuaries (the Greeks and the Syrians), or as a tangible expression of an ecumenical spirit toward all the other Rites. The Sultan Saladin, an Ayyubid, and the Sultan En-Naser, a Mameluke, allowed the admission of Syrians and Georgians into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They did not take the initiative to call the remainder of the Eastern Clergy to take a place, at least at one Sanctuary. It was only through the good results of the transactions of 1333 which occasioned the admission of one representative of the clergy of the various Eastern Rites. Whereas in the time of the Crusaders the clergy of the Eastern Rites were found only in the Basilica of the Nativity and in the Holy Sepulchre, now they were also found in the Church of the Madonna.
The Syrians were able to enter and officiate at the three Sanctuaries only after they had paid a large sum of money to Saladin. In fact their presence at the end of the Twelfth Century and at the beginning of the Thirteenth Century is attested to in the documents of western pilgrims. It is also clear that the transaction and concession had a private and provisional character. Other Eastern Rites did not enter with the Syrians. Their privilege was only for a few years. Saladin knew well that the Holy Places and the numerous other churches of Palestine had been taken from the Frankish Clergy, not from the Eastern Clergy. The Eastern Rites were able to re-enter the Holy Places only after the treaty of 1229 between Frederick II of Naples and the Sultan of Cairo (Malek El-Kamel, nephew of Saladin). This was an arrangement of right, not concession. It was the first made after 1187, notwithstanding the request of the Emperor of Constantinople to Saladin in 1189 and notwithstanding the "rent" paid by the Syrians to Saladin.(*88) The Eastern Clergy was able to enter, even without right, only together with the Frankish Clergy who represented the Universal Church.
The Georgians were able to state the fact that their king had asked permission from the Sultan of Egypt, En-Naser, to remain in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This request was made in 1308, long before the request of the Sovereigns of Naples. Likewise, western pilgrims had noted their presence in the Holy Places. All this is true. However, their presence in the Holy Sepulchre was always a "benevolent concession" of the Sultan. He could revoke it at his pleasure. As a concession it was both private and provisional in character. It was a concession given to a group who were not the owners of the Sanctuary. Since entrance was not the result of a juridical treaty, the Sultan did not violate any of their rights because these rights did not exist. It was for this same reason that the Sultan did not take upon himself the task of officially establishing either the Eastern or Western Clergy in the Sanctuaries.
In 1323 the Dominicans entered into the service of the Holy Sepulchre through another benevolent concession of the Sultan. Although they were also Frankish clergy they did not have any official custody of the Sanctuaries. The concession did not allow any rights for the Eastern clergy nor for any of the other Sanctuaries. The same sort of thing happened in 1327 when the Franciscans of Aragon entered the Holy Sepulchre. After these events neither the Dominicans nor the Franciscans pretended that they had any rights over the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Such a legal right did not exist. It had been arranged only through the benevolent concession of the Sultan.
The difference is that in 1333 the Franks acquired rights to the Holy Places for the third time through official and legally binding negotiations. Although the treaties of 1229 and 1241 between the Franks and the Egyptian government were also binding, there was a great difference. In the earlier century the Franks had absolute ownership. Now, in the Fourteenth Century, they entered in a relative manner, and although at great cost, there was also considerable allowance made for the Eastern Rites. Nonetheless, government doorkeepers were posted and the rights to the churches and convents was delayed.
The treaty and the date of 1333 are very important for the history of the Holy Places for both the Franks and for the Eastern clergy. From that year on, a new historic period began. Although different from those which preceded it, it was also closely connected to them. Some scholars of the history of the Holy Land began to term this period after 1333 as "the Franciscan Period" because the Sovereigns of Naples consigned the custody of the Holy Places to the Franciscan Order. The Franciscans of that period and of succeeding centuries were known as the "Franks" or the "Latins", in order to distinguish them from the Oriental clergy.(*89)
From the very beginning of this era the Franciscans began their ministry of caring for the Sanctuaries. Over the years they also dealt with the Egyptian authorities in order to fulfill all the stipulations of the treaty of 1333 with the King of Naples. As a result it is really no surprise that in subsequent arrangements with the Egyptian authorities the Franciscans were able to obtain the Custody of the Basilica in Bethlehem (1347)(*90) and the Church of Mary's Tomb with the private use of the keys (1376). They also obtained the convent of the Holy Sepulchre and the convent of Bethlehem. Pope Urban V authorized them to build a convent near the Church of the Tomb of Mary. This permission had always been denied to them by the Jerusalem authorities. Some years before the end of the Fourteenth Century they had also obtained the keys to the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre from the Moslem custodians.(*91)
The various religious groups were able to live in harmony in the three Holy Places which they held in common. Always remembering the treaty of 1333, they were able to live together in peace and to respect the rights and privileges of each respective Rite. They likewise suffered together the frequent persecutions of the Saracens and the intrigues of certain Jews.(*92) Without doubt this initial peaceful co-existence could have continued as a sign of the unity and love which the Lord commanded us to live. However, the human situation being what it is, difficulties arose when certain groups pressed for more rights than the treaty had outlined. This is true for only the two centuries of Mameluke domination in the Holy Land. Under the four hundred years of Ottoman domination which would follow, the history of the Holy Land and the Holy Places would undergo incredible and unfortunate change.
*86 - Leonardo Frescobaldi, Viaggio in Terra Santa, A.D. 1384, Firenze 1862, 102: "La chiesa che fece fare santa Elena, madre di Costantino imperadore, la quale s'ufficia per Cristiani Franchi, cioè di nostra fede; i quali sono sotto il guardiano di Monte Sion dell'Ordine di San Francesco. Ha nella detta chiesa certe cappelle d'altri Cristiani, cioè Cristiani di cintura, Cristiani giacopini e Cristiani greci. Ancora v'ha una gran quantità di lampade il dì e la notte, e danno sussidio alla vita de' detti frati, e all'acconcime della chiesa".
*87 - In the Mameluke era the strongest opposition to the rights of the Latins came from the Georgians. Although they had been absent from Palestine for more than three centuries, even in this century they had support. R. Janin wrote a long article on their history which was published in Echos d'Orient, 1912-1913 (cited in notes 35 and 37). He wrote: "Les Géorgiens posséd&eagrave;rent tranquillement le Calvaire pendant un si&eagrave;cle et demi. Ce n'est que vers la fin du XV si&eagrave;cle que les Latins réussirent à leur enlever la moitié" (p. 35).
In these few words Janin reports a great historical error: having obtained information from an ineffective historical source, and not having taken any account of the witness of contemporary pilgrims, he imputed the grave accusation of stealing the Holy Places to the Franciscans!
The truth of the history is this: There were three altars on Calvary. Two of them were near each side of the spot where the Cross of the Lord had stood. This was considered the most sacred part of Calvary. A third altar was found south of these two altars. It was considered marginal, secondary. When Western pilgrim priests arrived at the Holy Sepulchre the Georgians or Moslem doorkeepers indicated the this third altar as the place where they could offer Mass. If no representatives of the Eastern clergy were present, the Latin pilgrim priests celebrated on any altar. Anthony de Reboldis (1327 and 1331) wrote this: "Nullus intravit nobiscum ecclesiam Sepulcri nisi soli Latini, ita quod potui cantare alta voce in monte Calvariae et Sepulcro, nemine prohibente" (But where were the Georgians?).
Beginning in the year of the treaty, 1333, the Franks or Latins had to occupy the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre and Calvary, the most sacred parts of the Church. This was also true for the Grotto of the Nativity, the Edicule of the Tomb of the Madonna, and the Edicule of the Ascension, as was observed in note 48. In order to avoid a show of force with the Georgians, they preferred to wait patiently for a more opportune time. In fact, in the years of persecution (1344-45), the Georgians lost Calvary and the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre. What is strange is that while the keys of the Edicule passed into the hands of the Moslem doorkeepers (that is, of the government), Calvary was occupied by the Armenians and not by the Latins, who were its rightful owners. Forty-five years later the Latins once again received the keys to the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre, not from the Georgians, but from the Moslem doorkeepers. Calvary was occupied on the north by the Armenians and always by the Latins in the south. This is attested to by pilgrims: Niccolò of Poggibonsi (1347), Frescobaldi (1384), Marthono (1394), d'Anglure (1395), Grethenios (1400).
Another contest over the possession of Calvary took place in 1426 between the Latins and the Armenians. For thirty years the Georgians contested the rights of the Armenians to the northern part of Calvary. They fought against the Armenians because they could not prevail over the Latins. They finally succeeded definitively in 1475 (Hintlian, History of the Armenians in the Holy Land, 42). The Latins always defended themselves with the documents of the Sultans of 1467, 1471, and 1493. In order to stop the continual disturbances of the Georgians they finally reclaimed the northern part of Calvary in 1499 according to the treaty of 1333. No change took place, but the contestations of the Georgians did not stop until 1514, the year each of the contestors remained in the part which they had previously occupied.
It is evident, then, that the Georgians had not held Calvary for over a century and a half (since 1308) but for less than forty years. They held it a second time, for 130 more years, from 1495 until 1635, when they were finally forced to give it to the Hellenic-Greeks. Thus, it was not the Latins who had violated the rights of others, but, on the contrary, it was the Georgians. In the Fifteenth Century the Latins had to think of many other things. In that century the Mameluke Government seemed to take special delight in tormenting the Franciscans on Mount Sion. At first they would give permission to build and restore buildings connected with the convent and the Cenacle, then they would order their destruction or partial occupation of the buildings and lands. In the midst of these problems, the Franciscans took special refuge in their friendships with the Eastern clergy, especially with the Maronites, the Armenians, and even the Georgians of Jerusalem. In order to defend themselves, their property, and their rights against the government, they (the Eastern Rites) needed recourse to the mediation and protection of the Father Custos of the Holy Land. Yet, favor was often returned with hostility against the Latins in the Holy Places.
Even in this present Twentieth Century I hear errors when tour guides speak. Some are just errors of ignorance, but others are hate-conditioned, anti-Latin prejudice. The Franciscans are accused of stealing the Sanctuaries from the Orthodox, through bribery, tricks, and even violence. Those who do not have recourse to the true historical situation are often tricked into believing this.
*88 - G. Golubovich's historical principle is helpful on this matter (Biblioteca Bio-bibliografica, IV, 195): "Gli eterodossi possono obiettare, che i Latini sono entrati nel possesso dei Luoghi Sancti politicamente, col diritto cioè dei più forti, col diritto dei trattati, e con la protezione delle Potenze d'Europa. E ciò è vero, verissimo. Ma la storia soggiunge, che i Latini non hanno potuto ledere alcun diritto degli eterodossi, dal momento che questi, non godettero mai un diritto legale, giurdico, assoluto, esclusivo, sopra i Luoghi Santi, de'quali lo Stato musulmano si è creduto sempre assoluto padrone e libero di conferirli in possesso o in uso a chi più gli conveniva per qualsiasi ragione politica o convenzionale.
Gli eterodossi, come sudditi dello Stato musulmano, non ebbero mai altro diritto fuorché quello, effimero e limitato, di uffiziare in un dato luogo, in un prefisso sanctuario, con certi limiti imposti loro dall'autorità dello Stato, sempre libero a scindere i patti coi suoi sudditi, quando ciò gli conveniva. I patti che gli eterodossi possono aver conchiuso coi loro padroni, non eccedono mai i diritti di un'enfiteusi a scadenza, o di una concessione gratuita, senza vincoli di sorta: patti, che non potranno mai valere un titolo pari ai solenni trattati stipulati dallo Stato musulmano con le potenze d'Europa".
*89 - The government documents of Jerusalem and Cairo give the Franciscans the following titles: the Religious, the Franks, the Frankish Religious, the Brothers of the Cord (1337), the Religious of the Cord, the Religious of Mount Sion. Afterwards the title "Latins" was added to indicate their Liturgical Rite. This distinguished them from the various Eastern Rites. The Eastern Rites referred to the Franciscans as the Latins, the Latin Religious, and the Latin Franks.
Pilgrims from Western Europe called the Franciscans "Franciscans" or "Religious of St. Francis" in order to distinguish them from the Benedictines, the Dominicans, the Carmelites, etc. according to the custom of the time in Europe.
A remembrance of the title "Franks" remains to this day at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There is a small chapel at the top of a stairway against the Crusader façade of the Church. This is called the "Chapel of the Franks". It does not refer to a chapel of the Crusader era. In the Twelfth Century there was not chapel here, but only an external entrance to Calvary (1149). The name signifies simply the "Chapel of the Franciscans", who were considered the new Franks, that is, successors and heirs of those Franks of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. All these stairs were purchased through the Venetian ambassador to Constantinople in 1636 (G. Golubovich, Biblioteca Bio-bibliografica, NS, VIII, Quaracchi 1929, 295).
The Arabs used the word Franks (El-Franji) to indicate the inhabitants of the Empire of Charlemagne. From the Fourteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries the Franciscans were practically the only "Frankish residents" of the Holy Land. Because of their common origin, all the Christians (Catholic and Protestant) were called "Franks" when they made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
*90 - Moscopoulos writes in his book La Terre Sainte (p. 151) that in 1435 Alexis IV Comnenus, Emperor of the tiny Empire of Trebizond, a city on the Black Sea near Armenia, "fit réparer à ses frais, le toit de la basilique de Bethlèem"! It is an affirmation that is not supported by any documentation.
We know from history that from 1435 until 1463 Trebizond was assaulted many times by the Ottoman Turks. This was in addition to suffering from a series of scandals and crimes. From these facts we conclude that it was reasonably impossible that Alexis IV was able to repair the roof of the Basilica at Bethlehem due not only to the great costs, but also because this Basilica was the responsibility of the Latins. The Latins would certainly have protested this violation of their rights to the Sultan at Cairo. On the contrary, we know that Gérard Chauvet, Custos of the Holy Land, began to collect money in 1394 for the restoration of the Basilica at Bethlehem. A variety of factors prevented him from accomplishing his work. It was delayed from year to year until 1448. The restorations were finally made at the expense of the Duke of Burgundy. A new repair was carried out by Custos Giovanni Tomacelli in 1482-1483. He used wood from Venice and lead from England (G. Golubovich, Biblioteca Bio-bibliografica, V, Quaracchi 1927, 269, 271, 302; and in the NS., IX, 114-115; Bull of Pope Nicholas V, 1448, ibidem 153)
*91 - The treaty of 1333 helps us to understand how the Latins went about receiving all that had been promised to them. It took another 60 years to accomplish this. There were no other official treaties and no other "juridical entrances" of the Latins or of any of the Eastern Rites.
*92 - It is difficult to understand the interest of the Orthodox Jews in this site.