"It was not without a providential purpose that the historical vicissitudes of the 13th Century brought the Order of the Friars Minor into the Holy Land. Without interruption, up to the present day, the sons of St. Francis have remained in the land of Jesus to serve the local church and to guard, restore, and protect the Holy Christian Places." (Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation, Nobis in animo, March 25, 1974; Acta Apostolicae Saedis, 1974, 184).
In fact, the Franciscan presence in the Holy Land dates back to 1217. However, it was only in later times that the Friars Minor became the prime leaders in the peaceful liberation of the Holy Places. This study offers a brief but compact reconstruction of the providential events that brought the Franciscans into the principal Holy Sites.
The true history of how, in 1333, the Latin clergy, namely the Franciscans, came to possess the Holy Sites and to officiate at them has not been clearly understood. Often one finds only the repetition of false or imprecise opinions. The Franciscans did not expel other brothers in faith nor dismiss the laws acquired by other Christian communities. With great sacrifice they made their contribution to the arrangements which made the Christian cult relive into the Holy Places of the Redemption which had been in the control of Moslem authorities for centuries.
Fr. De Sandoli, the head-librarian of the library of the Custody of the Holy Land, is an impassioned scholar of the Crusader era. In this work he confronts his subject, in a non-polemic fashion, with the keen desire to deepen our knowledge of that era which was filled with so many complex historical events. In this way he carefully guides us to a knowledge of the exact events of that epoch by constant references to the first-hand historical sources. Especially those which led to the important negotiations of 1333 in Cairo between Sultan Muhammed En-Naser and the Sovereigns of Naples, Robert and Sancha, and resulted into the renewed presence of the Christian clergy in the Holy Places. For more than a century the Franks and the Arabs were capable not only of warfare against each other but were also capable of conducting reasonable, peaceful negotiations (in 1229, 1241, and 1333) for the small parcels of land which had been made holy by the presence of Jesus and Mary, of whom both the gospels and the Koran speak with respect.
Another important point worth underlining is the fact that the Frankish (or Latin) clergy were in favor of co-existence in certain shrines with the various Oriental Rites both before and after the Negotiations of 1333. This reveals a ray of light on an era that is often remembered only for its episodes of intolerance.
We hope that the work will find a welcome reception and will help to promote further research, dialogue, and love for the Holy Places.
15 April 1990