The Peaceful Liberation of the Holy Places in the XIV Century

III - Franciscan Chronology of the Four Shrines (1333 - 1517)

2 - The Church of the Tomb of the Madonna

1333: Negotiations for the redemption of the Sanctuaries of the Holy Land began in Cairo. The participants were the Sovereigns of Naples, Robert of Anjou and Sancha of Maiorca, and the Sultan En-Naser Muhammed. Roger Garin led the Christian delegation. The accord had to overcome relative difficulties. The government, which was the absolute owner of the sites, retained for itself the keys to the church. Later, private use of the keys, the Edicule containing the Holy Tomb of the Madonna, and another altar in the church, to the north of the Edicule, were conceded to the Franciscans. These were called the Franks or the Latins in Jerusalem. They also received pre-eminence and precedence in the church's liturgical functions.
The Eastern Clergy, therefore, entered with the Latins, and each rite had its own altar established by the same government; the Arabs and the Greek rite received the main altar placed in the east apse; although the Latins where able to celebrate a solemn Mass on this altar on the greatest feasts. The other altars where given to the Nubians (North Sudan), to the Abyssinians, to the Nestorians, to the Maronites, to the Giacobites and to the Georgians
1335: The Augustinian pilgrim Giacomo of Verona said that he sang the Mass on the main altar on the Feast of the Assumption. On the following day he celebrated Mass on the Tomb of the Madonna. At this time he made the point that the Franks or Latins were considered "The first and true Christians". On the eighth day after the Assumption he again celebrated Mass on the Tomb of the Madonna.
1347: The Franciscan pilgrim Niccolò of Poggibonsi celebrated Mass on the Tomb of the Madonna. He observed many Muslims entering to visit and pray, making a profound reverence to the Tomb of the Madonna. He saw many altars and on the day of the Assumption observed each Eastern Rite officiating on its own altar.
1361: Through the intercession of Peter IV of Aragon, Pope Innocent VI, with the Bull "Ad ea quae in laudem" gave permission to the Franciscans to build a convent next to the church.
1362: With the Bull "Rationi congruit" Pope Urban V allowed the Franciscans to transfer from Europe the workmen, the iron and wood necessary to construct the convent.
1363: On March 22nd of this same year Queen Giovanna of Naples (1342-1382) wrote to Sultan Al-Ashraf Shaaban (1363-1376) concerning the same construction. She asked permission for the Franciscans to enjoy their rights in that church. The local Saracens, avaricious for money, harassed the Franciscans. In order to relieve the tension, they had recourse to the intercession of Queen Giovanna of Naples, King Peter of Aragon, and to the Republic of Venice. These princes wrote to the Sultan Al-Ashraf Shaaban, requesting that he protect the Franciscans. The Franciscans were their subjects. They asked that the Franciscans not be maltreated and that they be allowed to celebrate in the Churches of the Nativity, Mary's Tomb, and the Holy Sepulchre. They also asked that the Franciscans be allowed to construct a convent next to the church of the Tomb of the Madonna.
1377: The first statutes of the Custody of the Holy Land prescribe that every Saturday a Mass of the Madonna was to be celebrated on her Holy Tomb (Article XIV).
1384: The Italian pilgrim Gucci wrote in his report of his voyage that he assisted the Friars Minor many times at the celebration of Mass. Nicola Corner went to Cairo (Nov. 2) to ask the Sultan for permission to build a convent next to the Church of the Holy Tomb of the Madonna. He was refused. Francis Suriano (1485) said that the Friars also wished to build on the ruins of other Holy Places on the Mount of Olives (Gethsemane, Ascension, etc.). The government responded that the residence at the Cenacle was sufficient.
1392: Gérard Chauvet opened and closed publicly, before a notary and many witnesses, the door of the church, of the Edicule, and of the Grotto of the Agony, to indicate symbolically the real and free possession of these Holy Places by the Latins. In this way he removed any doubt and accusation.
1399: King Martin I of Aragon (died 1410) sent 600 Aragon florins to the Franciscans of the Holy Land for the restoration of the church and to build a convent next to the Tomb of the Madonna. He also sent a quantity of cloth to the Friars for clothing.
1400: Grethenios, the Russian Archimandrite, counted nine lamps on the Tomb of the Madonna. He observed that the Greek Patriarch (namely an Arab of the Greek Rite) officiated on the altar in the east apse. To the right of the Holy Tomb he found an altar of the Iberi (namely, of the Georgians). The Armenians, the Jacobites and Abyssinians officiated on the other altars.
1420: The Western Religious Orders who had cared for the Sanctuaries at the time of the Crusaders reclaimed their ancient possessions. Among them was the Church of the Tomb of the Madonna. Pope Martin V entrusted the process to the Patriarch of Grado (near Trieste). After having listened to the witnesses, he declared that the Franciscans were the legitimate custodians of the Holy Places of Palestine (February 1421).
1422: The pilgrim John Poloner wrote that eight lamps burned on the Tomb of the Madonna. He added that the first altar to the side of the Tomb belonged to the Armenians; the second, under a dark dome, belonged to the Georgians; the third, under the window, was that of the Greeks; the fourth, towards the north, belonged to the Friars Minor; the fifth, near the first step of the stairway to the left, belonged to the Indians.
1455: In the introduction to a "Pontifical Brief" of Pope Callistus III, we read these words: "Beloved sons, Guardians and Brothers of the Order of Blessed Francis of the Observance, namely of the Places of Mt. Sion, the Holy Sepulchre, Bethlehem, and the Valley of Josaphat."
1485: The Franciscan Francis Suriano wrote that the key of the church was kept by our Friars and recounts this episode: because of the oppression of the government doorkeepers, the friars could not have free access to the Sanctuary. Later, in 1465, it happened that the Madonna appeared to the porter in a dream. She reproached him for preventing the Franciscan religious from the celebration of the Mass on her Tomb. She threatened that he and his children would die. The following morning he told this dream to the Friars of the Cenacle and gave them the keys so that they could celebrate Mass whenever they wished. As a sign of devotion to the Most Blessed Mary, he paid honor to the friars and brought the first fruits of his field which was near the church. The friars placed two lamps over the Tomb which burned day and night in thanksgiving for the protection of the Madonna. They restored the custom of celebrating Mass every Saturday on the Holy Tomb.
1494: The Sultan of Egypt, Al-Ashraf Sayf ed-Din Qaytbay (1468 - 1495) decreed that the keys of the church belonged to the Franciscans and that they had the right of restoring the church.
1507: The Franciscan Anselmus said that only the Franciscans had the keys of the Church of the Tomb of the Madonna. Only they had free access. He added that the friars celebrated Mass there every Saturday.
1517: In December 1516 the Turks of Constantinople, with the Sultan Selim I himself at their head, occupied Palestine. In January of 1517 they passed into Egypt and thus the rule of the Mameluke sultans ended. For the Franciscans this marked the beginning of a chapter of history which would prove even sadder than the previous one. The most basic elements of justice were trampled when, in 1757, they were driven away from the sanctuary altogether (For the history of this Sanctuary, see A. Aracíl, Il Sepolcro della Vergine e i Francescani, Jerusalem 1930).

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