The Peaceful Liberation of the Holy Places in the XIV Century

II - 4 Attempts of the Western Christians or the Franks

James II, King of Aragon (1264-1327) had good access to the Egyptian Court, probably because he was respected as having the most powerful fleet in the Mediterranean during those years. During his long reign he sent several ambassadors to Cairo (in 1293; 1303; 1305; 1314; 1318). In 1322 he sent a sixth ambassador. Among other requests presented to the Sultan, this one asked permission for twelve Dominican Friars of Aragon to have the custody and service of the Holy Sepulchre and to live in the place where the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem had previously lived. The Sultan agreed to the proposal. In 1323 twelve Dominican Friars left Spain for Alexandria and Cairo. From there they went to Jerusalem via Gaza.(*38) It seems that they lived in the present small convent of the Franciscans which they found in rundown condition. Pilgrims to Jerusalem lodged in that house after having entered the Holy Sepulchre in the afternoon. They paid the entrance tax and then rested during the night when the church was closed to visitors and prayer. Afterwards, whoever wished was able to rest in the aforesaid place until the church was reopened in the morning of the following day.
Either the dampness of the ancient constructions caused by the lack of sunlight because of the surrounding buildings or the fact that the government doorkeepers, appointed to keep the only entrance door of the Church closed at all times, not allowing anyone to enter or to leave, made life for the Dominicans very difficult.(*39) Thus it is understandable that these priests who were dedicated to study and to preaching were not able to live as prisoners. After one year they were thoroughly displeased with their experience and the Dominicans abandoned the place and returned for good to their own country.
The two Georgian monks who had been seen in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by the Irish Franciscan pilgrim Friar Simon de Simeonis (Fitzsimmons) and his companion Friar Hugh (1322-1324) remained in the Church. The Georgians had a house just a few meters away from the door of the Church. They also possessed other monasteries in the city. Their confreres in these monasteries provided their necessities, even though the two monks remained closed with the Church itself. They could also be replaced by two other monks whenever the doors of the Church were opened to allow pilgrims to enter or to leave. This explains how the Georgians could remain there even under such stressful circumstances.
Despite the discouraging experience of the Dominicans, the Franciscan Friars of Aragon felt a strong desire to live and pray in the Holy Places. They begged King James II to intercede on their behalf with the Sultan of Egypt in order to obtain the same concessions that had previously been given to the Dominicans: to grant a place of devotion within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and, as a place to live, the adjoining pilgrim hospice.(*40) King James, out of his love for the Holy Places and his respect for the Franciscan Order (of which he was a Tertiary) agreed to this second proposal. He quickly dispatched an ambassador to Cairo who arrived there on August 20, 1327. Sultan En-Naser graciously granted the request of the King of Aragon. Pleased with his success, the ambassador returned to Barcelona after six months. Unfortunately the practical results of his mission hung suspended: King James II had died on November 2, 1327.(*41)
Charles IV the Handsome (1294-1328, the King of France since 1322) also sent an ambassador to the Sultan of Cairo in August of 1327. His requests were the same as the ambassador of Spain. Unfortunately both ambassadors had embarked upon the same ship. Instead of uniting their efforts in order to guarantee the complete success of their missions, they opposed each other ferociously, even in the presence of the Sultan. Notwithstanding this grave scandal and discord, the two ambassadors returned to Europe aboard the same ship where they continued to fight unceasingly. Arriving in Sardinia, both received notice of their deaths of their respective sovereigns.(*42) Not only did their incomprehensible vindictiveness not cease, but it led to the destruction of the friendship between their two Kingdoms. This was only healed on March 10, 1342, fifteen years later.
Since the French government had not obtained a satisfactory response to its various diplomatic missions, it assumed a belligerent attitude. Finally the French ended up calling for a Crusade, promoting an alliance of Catholic Nations (Bavaria, Venice, Cyprus, Armenia, and others), and gave chase to the Turkish and Saracen navies with a flotilla based in the Mediterranean (1332-1335).(*43) Fortunately the Sultan of Egypt always distinguished between those Christian governments which were sincere friends and those who had declared themselves enemies. However it is not difficult to perceive how the attitude of the French would have had some damaging influence on the decisions of the Sultan.


*38 - Golubovich, Biblioteca Bio-bibliografica, III, 73-85, 232-233. "Moreover, at the request of the King of Aragon, the Sultan, who had been rendered a noteworthy honor and been shown a special love, was pleased to concede and to decree that the custody and the service of the Holy Sepulchre was given in perpetuity to the Order of the Friars Preachers, which Order was highly esteemed in Christianity... And that the friars be given as their place of living the houses which had been the Patriarch's since they were next to the place of the Holy Sepulchre". In the same volume of Golubovich (p. 225) we read in the itinerary written by some Catalanian pilgrims about a pilgrim of Cervera (Spain) by the name of G. De Tremps, who arrived in Alexandria and obtained a letter in Cairo from the Sultan, an order to be able to go safely and securely through his land in the company of twelve Preachers whom the king of Aragon had sent to the Sultan for service in the Holy Sepulchre. Cf. also: A. Arce, Miscelanea de Tierra Santa, III, Jerusalem 1975, 105-139.

*39 - For the housing of pilgrims in the church of the Holy Sepulchre, cf. note 17.

*40 - Golubovich, Biblioteca Bio-bibliografica, III, 309-315. From the letter to the Sultan: "What is more, o Sire, since we also have, as you know, a great devotion for the Holy Tomb of Jesus Christ, and since we have heard from certain Christians, Friars Minor, who a short time ago have come from Jerusalem, that the same Church of the Holy Sepulchre does not have any decent or sufficient services as it should have. Therefore, we ask Your Highness, with all the affection that you, for our sake, be willing to concede that the religious Friars Minor of our kingdom, have some devout place in the church of the same H. Sepulchre, and a place near to that church; where they will be able to serve God and confirm the Christian pilgrims in the faith: and that these Friars Minor be able to travel freely in your kingdom and that you will not demand tribute, tolls, nor any duty, and that same Friars Minor especially, and all other Christians, we recommend to your protection and that of your ministers. And with this intention (we beg you) to concede and to issue those firmans that will be necessary. May this bring us, o Sire, great joy and great honor, and we will be immensely grateful to your Highness. Given at Barcelona, the 20th day of the month of August, in the year of Our Lord 1327".

*41 - After the concession of the Sultan we have two documents that relate to the religious history of the Holy Land and which ought to have had unbiased motives. The first is a letter from Pope John XXII (August 9, 1328) sent to the Provincial Minister of the Holy Land who resided at Cyprus. In this letter he gave the faculty of sending two religious and one domestic every year to the Holy Land (Golubovich, "Biblioteca Bio-bibliografica, III, 344-345. The second document is a request presented to the Sultan (February 28, 1330) by King Alfonse IV (2 November 1327 - 24 January 133). He asked permission for Peter of Lapalu to occupy the Latin Patriarchal See of Jerusalem. This Dominican was the titular Patriarch of Jerusalem. Although the reply of the Sultan seems to have been favorable to this arrangement, it was never acted upon (Arce, Miscelanea de Tierra Santa, III, 115).

*42 - Golubovich, Biblioteca Bio-bibliografica, III, 115.

*43 - Golubovich, Biblioteca Bio-bibliografica, III, 359-365.

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