The Peaceful Liberation of the Holy Places in the XIV Century

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

4 - The Holy Cenacle

1333: The Franciscan Roger Garin, of the Province of Aquitaine, in the name of the Rulers of Naples, Robert of Anjou and Sancha of Maiorca, began negotiations for the purchase of the Holy Places from the Sultan En-Naser Muhammed. It seems that the accord for the purchase of the Cenacle presented some difficulty, more than for arrangements to purchase the Basilica of Bethlehem and for the Church of the Tomb of the Madonna. The Cenacle was surrounded by great ruins. The Rabbi of Jerusalem, Isaac Chelo, said that the tombs of the family of David, which were on Mt. Sion, were no longer recognized either by the Jews or by the Moslems.
1335: After a long period of transactions and at great expense, the Cenacle became the exclusive property of the Rulers of Naples,who consigned it to the care of the Franciscan Friars. On May 15th of that same year the Lady Margaret of Sicily, together with Roger Garin and his companions, bought some adjoining land for a convent from the Public Treasury of Jerusalem. In August the Augustinian pilgrim Giacomo of Verona celebrated Mass at the Cenacle "with great consolation". On the day of the Vigil of the Assumption he celebrated another Mass at the place where the Most Holy Virgin Mary lived and died.
1336: The German pilgrim Ludolf of Sudheim visited the Cenacle. He clearly states it is was "on Mount Sion, where formerly there was a monastery of the Canons Regular (of St. Augustine). At this time the poor Friars Minor lived on the gifts of the faithful and were maintained especially by the provision sent by King Robert and the Queen (Sancha). These same friars recited the Divine Office".
1337: Roger and two other Franciscan priests purchased from the Public Treasury another four properties and certain ancient ruined buildings which they found beside the Cenacle.
1340: Following the death of En-Naser Muhammed, the Sultan favorable to the Christians, persecutions against the Christians of Damascus and of Egypt began to take place. There was also damage done to the holy edifice of the Cenacle and to other Sanctuaries.
1342: When the construction of the convent and the great restoration to the Sanctuary and the other connected buildings were finished, the Rulers of Naples communicated the joyful news to the Pope that their peaceful Crusade had come to a successful end, despite the difficult negotiations and heavy expenses. On November 21st Pope Clement VI issued two Bulls in which he praised the piety and generosity of King Robert of Anjou and Queen Sancha of Maiorca. He congratulated them that the "Tomb of the Lord", the "Cenacle", and the other "Sanctuaries beyond the sea" had been returned to the Christian cult. He also conceded that twelve Franciscans were able to live in the new convent on Mount Sion. They were to celebrate in the above-mentioned Sanctuaries. They were also to render obedience to the Superior of this convent as their Guardian and to the Minister Provincial who resided in Cyprus.
1345: East of the Cenacle, a site with ancient Roman construction, was purchased.
1347: The Franciscan pilgrim Niccolò of Poggibonsi arrived and lived for some months at the Cenacle. He also spent many months at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He recorded detailed descriptions of these two Sanctuaries.
1348: A piece of land which extended in front of the gate of the convent was purchased.
1352: The noble Lady Sofia de Arcangelis of Florence bought some abandoned houses near the Cenacle. She also purchased a large piece of land in order to found a hospice for women pilgrims. Pope Innocent VI placed the hospice under the jurisdiction of the Franciscans living at the Cenacle.
1357: An adjoining piece of land, containing a Roman cistern, was purchased.
1363-1366: The noble Lady Sofia de Arcangelis, with the aid of benefactors, bought some fruit-bearing properties adjoining the great women's hospice and obtained from Pope Urban V five Bulls in favor of the hospice.
1365: Peter of Lusignan, King of Cyprus, wishing to wage a good and profitable Crusade, departed with a great fleet and sacked Alexandria in Egypt. The Sultan of Cairo, Al-Ashraf Shaaban, as an act of revenge, persecuted all the Christians in his kingdom. He imprisoned sixteen Franciscans of the Holy Land. They remained in prison in Damascus for five years where they died of privations.
1369: Other Franciscans arrived from Europe to replace their confrères who had died in prison in Damascus.
1370: Peace was made between the King of Cyprus and the Sultan of Cairo.
1377: The first Statutes of the Holy Land exhorted the following dispositions of Pope Clement VI given in the Bull "Gratias agimus" of 1342 concerning the jurisdiction of the Guardian of Mount Sion (who is also Custos of the Custody of the Holy Land with autonomous authority, but with a dependence upon the Provincial residing in Cyprus): Every Monday a Mass would be celebrated for the repose of the souls of deceased benefactors, especially for the Rulers of Naples, Robert and Sancha. Furthermore, other weekly Masses were prescribed for the Pope, for pilgrims and for other benefactors. These events were to be commemorated everyday in the afternoon by reading the Gospel. This was the beginning of the processions which later took place at the principal Sanctuaries. At this time a series of intrigues began. Certain rabbis tried to deprive the Franciscans of the chapel which was also the location of the false tomb of David. They wanted to build a synagogue on the site.
1378-1389: Pope Urban VI wrote some letters about the women's hospice of Mount Sion. In 1384 he issued the Bull "Ad ea quae".
1391: Gérard Chauvet, Guardian of Mount Sion, purchased all the garden of the Armenians which was on Mount Sion. At that time the Armenians were still united with Rome. On November 11th, Niccolò Tavelich, and another three confrères left the convent of Mt. Sion and went to the Mosque of Omar in order to convert the Moslems. They were martyred on Nov. 14th.
1395: The Father Guardian Niccolò of Candia bought a house on Mount Sion. Paolo of Venice, his Vicar, obtained a letter of recommendation from King John I of Aragon to the Sultan of Cairo, As-Sayf Ed-Din Barquq (1382-1398). It concerned the repairs of the convent of Mount Sion and the Basilica of Bethlehem.
1400: A friar of Mount Sion, eager for martyrdom, took a cross and at the prayer hour of the Moslems carried it on his shoulder and boldly entered the Mosque of Omar. To the wonderment of the Moslems, he left peacefully. They had not harmed him. From the beginning of the 15th Century the Jews began to circulate the rumor of the existence of a false tomb of David in a chapel of the Cenacle. Christians and Moslems accepted the legend as truth. A century of difficult reconstructions began for the Franciscans who tried to keep in repair places damaged by the government and ordinary people.
1404-1413: The Guardian of Mount Sion, with the permission of the government, made some urgent restorations on the site.
1407: The Guardian of Mount Sion bought a piece of land near the convent in order to enlarge the garden of the friars.
1420: The western religious Orders who had custody of the Sanctuaries at the time of the Crusades wanted to reclaim their ancient possessions. The Cenacle was among these. Pope Martin V gave the process to the Patriarch of Grado (near Trieste). After examining the testimony he decided in February of 1421 that the Franciscans were the legitimate custodians of the Holy Places in Palestine.
1429: Through the intrigues of certain rabbis, the authorities of Jerusalem took from the Franciscans the ground floor containing the false tomb of David. The Jews, however, were not able to turn it into a synagogue. As a result there were reprisals against the Jews in Europe.
1430: Through the intervention of the Republic of Venice the chapel of the false tomb of David was restored to the Franciscans. A high wall was built around it. Ludovic of Bologna, Guardian of Mount Sion, acquired a piece of land near the convent.
1436-1438: The Father Guardian James Delfin (1434-1436) began a grand restoration of all the buildings on Mount Sion. He had received permission from Sultan Barsbay for this project.
1438: Sultan Barsbay, the protector of the Franciscans, died and was succeeded by the fanatic Jaqmaq (1438-1453). Jaqmaq ordered the closure of the Christian churches and the deportation of the friars on Mount Sion to Cairo. The protests and threats of the Negus of Abyssinia forced the suspension of the Sultan's order.
1439: Gandolf of Sicily and his successor Baldassar of Santa Maria obtained two firmans (or decrees) for the repair of the Church of Bethlehem and for the reconstruction of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit at the Cenacle. Duke Philip of Burgundy assisted in this intercession.
1452: An inspector was sent from Cairo. He destroyed all the restorations that had been made. He also took back the chapel of the so-called Tomb of David from the Franciscans. In the following year the Moslems made a prayer niche (mihrab) in the wall,indicating the direction of Mecca, where they faced when they prayed.
1457: The Chapel of the Holy Spirit was knocked down because of the incredible accusation that Christians, who wore shoes, walked over the dome of the tomb of David.
1461: The Sultan Khoshqadem (1461-1467) permitted the reconstruction of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. The work was freshly completed at the expense of the same Duke Philip of Burgundy.
1468: The Moslems, believing that it was a profanation for the Christians to pray in a place above the site where they themselves prayed, once again ruined the Chapel of the Holy Spirit and all the rooms of the courtyard as well. In order to go to this chapel under cover of night, the friars made a makeshift staircase. There was danger that the courtyard could be invaded by the rushing, threatening crowd.
1489: The Franciscans reconstructed the Oratory of the Madonna. Sultan Qaytbay (1468-1495) returned the Chapel of David to the Franciscans because of the graves of the friars which were located on that site. According to Moslem law, they were not allowed to have a mosque in a Christian cemetery.
1490: On May 22nd, the authorities and judges of Jerusalem arrived under the cupola of the Chapel of the Madonna (Church of the Dormition) and, having summoned the superior of the convent, they ordered the cupola of the chapel to be demolished. On May 23rd the friars, with the help of the Christians, were forced to destroy the Oratory of the Madonna and the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. They had to abandon them to the Moslems. The friars were reduced to living in the restricted convent and to officiate only in the Chapel of the Cenacle and the Chapel of St. Francis beneath it.
1514: Francis Suriano, Guardian of Mount Sion, bought a piece of land on Mount Sion (for other purchases, cf. GOLUBOVICH,Bibl. Bio-Bibliog., NS., t. IX, pp. 103-106).
1517: In January the Sultan of Constantinople, Selim I, overcame the last resistance of the Mamelukes in Egypt. For the Franciscans an epoch, even worse than that before, began. For the Holy Places in general and especially for the Cenacle, difficult times lie ahead.

(As an appendix we add these brief notes on the first and the gravest violation of the rights of the Franciscans which had been ratified in Cairo in 1333. Committed by the Turkish government, it was a brutal and irresponsible violation.)
1522-1523: A Jew of Jerusalem, with diabolical suggestions, persuaded the Santon Moslem of Mount Sion, Muhammed Al-Ajamy, to drive the Franciscans from the Cenacle. The Moslem, finding a pretext, went to Rhodes to Sultan Suleiman II. On March 18, 1523 he received an order for the expulsion of the friars from the convent of the Cenacle, an expulsion which was to be executed by the Governor (or Pasha) of Damascus. The Franciscans had recourse to the representative of the Republic of Venice. He obtained a revocation of the order, but it arrived late in Jerusalem. The Franciscans had already been expelled (January 1524).
1524: The Franciscans of Mount Sion carried their things to a nearby house called "the oven".
1525: (March 26th) The Sultan Suleiman restore some of the rooms of the convent to the friars, as well as the chapel below the Cenacle. However, the Religious were always exposed to the noise and disturbances of the local Moslems, who considered themselves to be the absolute masters of the site. They did not follow the orders of the Sultan.
1528: Suleiman, in a letter to Francis I, the King of France, refused to restore the convent and the Sanctuaries taken from the Franciscans. In that same year the Father Guardian, seeing the great hardships on his friars, bought a house with a cistern near the Cenacle.
1537: On September 16th, the Father Guardian and all the Franciscans of the Holy Land were imprisoned in the Citadel of Jerusalem, the result of a war between the Turks and the allied forces of Venice, Pope Paul III, and of Emperor Charles V. Within thirty eight months, the Father Guardian, eight religious and their procurator died. The other friars were released on November 16, 1540 through the intercession of the King of France, Francis I.
1542: The friars of Mount Sion were ill-treated by the Turks who lived on Mount Sion. Beatings and robbery were typical of the injuries they endured. In order to avoid these episodes, the Franciscans walled up the gate of the terrace from which the Turks could descend at will. The Santon of Mount Sion reacted by obtaining an order which prevented the friars from passing from the chapel on the ground floor to the Cenacle above.
1546: The Santon of Mount Sion, desiring to have the lower chapel of the Cenacle, offered the Vicar of the convent an exchange of places. Because the Guardian did not accept the offer, the Santon and the Cadi wrote to Sultan Suleiman who then ordered that the lower chapel be consigned to the Santon.
1547: The Christian Ambassador to Constantinople obtained an order from the Sultan that the church of the Cenacle and the convent of the friars be equally divided between the friars and the Santon in order to prevent any further disputes. In revenge for the loss of the chapel below the Cenacle, the Santon wrote to the Governor of Damascus and accused the friars of allowing women into the church to pray and that the friars had made the Palm Sunday procession from the Mount of Olives without a license. The Governor of Damascus prohibited both of these practices.
1551-1552: The Santon, by means of other devilish suggestions, obtained an order from Sultan Suleiman that the friars be driven away from the convent and from the Church of Mount Sion. The friars retired to the house called "the oven". They remained there for eight years. The King of France wrote to Suleiman requesting that the Cenacle be restored to the friars. The Sultan replied that the Cenacle had been converted into a mosque and thus, according to their law, it could not be restored.
1553: The Sultan ordered the authorities of Jerusalem to find a convenient place in the city for the Franciscans as compensation for the loss of the convent on Mount Sion.
1554: In a letter the Doge of Venice asked for the restitution of the Cenacle to the Christian cult. The Sultan replied to the Doge in the same way he had replied to the King of France. Others also tried, among them, Italian and German princes and King John III of Portugal. All received the same response. Thus, after 218 years of legal possession, the Franciscan chronology at the Cenacle came to an end.
1559-1561: Because of harassment from the Arabs and the Turks and other disturbances, the friars were forced to move out of the little house called "the oven". They moved to the "Convent of the Column", today known as "St. Saviour's". It was then the property of the Georgians. The Franciscans paid 1200 sequins (Venetian gold coins) for the site. At that time, just as today,there are three altars in the Church: one dedicated to the Descent of the Holy Spirit, one to the Last Supper, and one to the apparition of the Risen Christ to St. Thomas. Pope Pius IV conceded that the indulgences of the Cenacle could be applied to the above-mentioned altars.
To this day the Franciscans have claim to the restitution of the Cenacle and of the annexed parts "with the absolute exclusion of any other religious community, whether Catholic or Orthodox".

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