The Franciscans at the Holy Sepulchre

The western powers, after failing several attempts to conquer the Holy Sites manu militari, tried to secure agreements that would ensure the worship at the site and assistance to the pilgrims.
The royal couple of Naples, Angiò and Sancia of Majorca (1309-1345) succeeded, after long negotiations and large sums of money to obtain from Melek en-Nazer an official residence for the Latin community of Jerusalem within the Holy Sepulchre. 

With the approval of Pope Clement VI this responsibility was conferred onto the Franciscans who had established themselves on Sion in 1335. The papal Bull "Gratias Agimus" of Pope Clement VI written to the general of the Order of Friars Minor established that "the Friars of your Order may live permanently at the church of the Sepulchre and there solemnly celebrate the Masses and the other divine offices".

The Franciscans were in fact given the Chapel of the Apparition of the Risen Christ to his Mother, a place they have never left since. The Franciscan Niccolo' da Poggibonsi visited the Holy Land between 1346-1350 and spent four months serving at the Holy Sepulchre. In his "A voyage beyond the Seas" describes the situation within the Holy Sepulchre: "Desirous am I to tell you about the altars, which are inside, and which are in all XX (20): for each generation of Christians has there its own altar. On Olive Sunday and Holy Easter all go there, each generation to its own priest, and each priest celebrates at the high altar..". He affirms also that the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre was the property of the Saracen who "opened the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, ushered in the people and left them inside for the duration of three Our Fathers, then he drove them out and locked". He also stated that Calvary was in the hands of the Armenians. A few years later things changed and the Friars seemed to possess more space within the basilica.

In fact the Russian Archimandritte Gretenius who came in pilgrimage in the first years of the XV century says that within the basilica live permanently a Greek priest, a Georgian, a Frank (that is a friar minor), an Armenian, a Jacobite and an Abissinian. He states also that on the aedicula on the tomb there was a picture of the Risen Christ with a kneeling St. Francis.
He also says that the Friars of the Chord (as the Franciscans became to be know) possessed Calvary together with the Armenians. All this was probably due to the firmans issued by sultan Barquq (1382-1399) in favour of the Friars of the Holy Sepulchre. Furthermore, sultan Barsabai (1419-1467) ordered to the authorities of Jerusalem that the friars 'are not to be hindered in all their visits to the sites in which the are accustomed to go, neither are they to be hindered from entering these sites and there celebrate their functions and solemnities as their religion demand of them, as well as to exercise their worship, they and those who go to them on the altar situated on Calvary, inside the Holy Sepulchre, according to their custom, kept since many years ago and in force of the noble decrees they possess'.

According to Fr. Francesco Surian (1485) the Franciscans had changed the fixed altar within the Aedicula of the Holy Sepulchre with a mobile wooden one in order to be able to celebrate the Eucharist all the time. He also affirms that no one could celebrate without prior permission of the Franciscans who also had the key of the Aedicula.

A similar testinony is given by Felix Faber in 1483 who states that "the keys of the sweet Sepulchre are in the hands of the Friar Minor and they open it and close to whom they want and in it they celebrate Masses when they want". By 1475 the Armenians ceded their rights on Calvary to the Franciscans who placed an altar creating the Chapel of the Nailing to the Cross. 

This was a period of relative calm when all the Christian denominations present at the Holy Sepulchre succeeded in finding a way to live together and even celebrate together the Holy Week, including the pilgrimage of Palm Sunday from Bethfage.

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