The first pilgrim to record the new situation of the Holy Places was the Augustinian Giacomo of Verona (1335). Unfortunately his record is incomplete.
We learn from his account that two days before the Feast of the Assumption (on August 13) many Christians of the Holy Land and of nearby regions had the custom of assembling in Bethlehem to celebrate in honor of the Madonna. There was an Eastern tradition that the Madonna went to Bethlehem three days before her death. Giacomo of Verona estimated that for this Solemnity there was an assembly of five thousand Christian foreigners from various countries! In the Basilica of the Nativity Vespers were sung, Matins during the night, and in the morning there were Masses. More than one hundred Latins filled the Grotto of the Nativity. There were Europeans of various nationalities. Among the clergy were two Dominicans, two Franciscans and some diocesan clergy. Giacomo of Verona sang the Mass.
Arab clergy of the Greek Rite prayed their liturgy at the Main Altar in the Church of the Nativity. In the area of the north apse there were three altars. The Iabeni (Armenians), the Nubians, and the Nestorians each officiated at their own. In the area of the south apse the Jacobites officiated at their own altar. On another two altars, outside of the three in the apse, the Georgians and the Maronites prayed. Giacomo of Verona said that each Rite used its own altar "sibi ex ordine deputatum", that is, where they had been established according to an orderly arrangement. From evidence such as this it seems that the altars had been distributed, once and for all time. This arrangement had already been in effect for one or two years. It is more interesting than one could think at first reading.
It is important to remember that the Eastern Rites adjusted themselves to celebrate this Solemnity of Mary according to the Latin Calendar. The same adjustment was true for the Feast of the Assumption in the Church of the Madonna, as well as for Easter and the Feast of the Holy Cross (as celebrated in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre). The reason for this was that the Moslems (and therefore the government) recognized the Sanctuaries as the property of the "first and true" Christians. Only on these days did the government doorkeepers open the doors of the churches without demanding the entrance tax. Under these circumstances, in order to solemnize the same feasts according to their own rituals, the bishops and priests of the Oriental Rites entered the Church after the Latins. At the times when the various Solemnities occurred on the same day, the Latins still maintained their precedence over the other Rites.
Giacomo of Verona did not mention who lived or celebrated at the Church of the Cenacle and the Holy Sepulchre. This silence is thought to be because the negotiations for these two churches were still in progress. On the other hand, he did mention the chapels which covered the small plaza in front of the Holy Sepulchre, reporting which chapel belonged to which Rite.
His comments about the Feast of the Assumption at the Church of the Tomb of the Madonna resemble what he wrote about the celebration in Bethlehem for the day before the Vigil.
On the Solemnity of the Assumption Giacomo of Verona sang the Mass on the Main Altar, which, as mentioned above, belonged to the Arabs of the Greek Rite. Later the priests of the various Oriental Rites sang their Masses according to the order of precedence. The first to sing were "the Franks, who were the "true and first Christians". Next came the Greeks (or the Arabs of the Greek Rite), third were the Nubians, fourth the Abyssinians, fifth the Nestorians, sixth the Maronites, seventh were the Jacobites, and eighth the Georgians".
Giacomo of Verona celebrated Mass on the following day and on the octave day at the Tomb of the Madonna.(*72)
We now offer a brief reflection. The pilgrims of the preceding years had never handed down such a clear and important record concerning the participation of the Eastern Rites at the celebrations at the Holy Places. It is evident that this was possible only as a result of the negotiations that had been completed in Cairo in 1333 between the Sovereigns of Naples and the Sultan of Egypt. It was not up to Giacomo of Verona to chose any altar to his liking for the celebration of Mass. By law he was obligated to use an altar that belonged to the Latins. Although he himself does not say so, one can feel a sense of regret that, instead of finding the return of the Augustinians and Benedictines who had been guardians of the Holy Places during the Crusader Era, he found only modest and poor Franciscans, and those in small number. It is not improbable that he was unable to overcome the same sentiment when he visited the Cenacle, since he does not even mention the transactions which were in process.(*73)
In 1336 the Canon Ludolf of Sudheim arrived as a pilgrim in Jerusalem. He observed that on the night of Christmas (Latin Calendar) there was a gathering of all clergy of each Rite: the Syrians, the Greeks, the Latins... and in the Church there was an assigned place for each group, a place which had been assigned in perpetuity. The Latins had the site of the Nativity (namely, all of the Grotto). At each Mass, perhaps even before beginning it, even in Masses for the Dead, they sang "Gloria in Excelsis Deo". The Nubians had also received a place in the Basilica from the Sultan of Egypt.(*74) This is just a small note but it is interesting given its connection with the events that ultimately transpired between Nubia and Egypt and in relation to the transactions at Cairo.
Nubians were present in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Their place was in the Chapel below Calvary. The Georgians held the key to the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre. They would open it, even at night, for pilgrims who paid a Venetian coin. Canon Ludolf of Sudheim also notes that the Latins always began their ceremonies by singing "Alleluia".
The Canon Ludolf also adds that the local Christians were allowed to enter into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre twice a year without paying the tax: from Good Friday (Latin Calendar) until the Monday after Easter and on the Vigil of the Feast of the Holy Cross. On those feast days the Latins had the first service, followed by the Greeks, then the Armenians, then the Syrians, and finally the Georgians. On the night before Easter all prayed and sang and made processions through the Church in their own languages and according to their own liturgical rites. The Latins sang a Gospel in the place where Christ appeared to the Magdalen. Each Rite had a special place in this Church. This was established so that each could always officiate at its own liturgy.(*75)
It is clear that by the early months of 1336, the year of the visit of Ludolf of Sudheim, that the negotiations begun in 1333 had finally been completed. Although he did not log all that we would like to know about these events, we must also say that no other preceding pilgrim before these two dates had spoken of similar material. Even if we posit the possibility that the Sultan of Egypt had given the concession mentioned above regarding the Feasts of Easter and the Holy Cross, the fact remains that with the completion of the negotiations of 1333, this custom became legalized. Along with the legalization of this custom came the possibility for even greater concessions, which in fact took place later in the same century.
Ludolf of Sudheim is even more explicit in his statements about the Cenacle. He recalls that in the past the Canons Regular (Augustinians) had lived on Mt. Sion. By this time the site was occupied by the Friars Minor who lived there through the goodness of others' contributions, especially the subsidy of King Robert and Queen Sancha of Naples. There they celebrated the Divine Office freely and tried to do good for all people.(*76) This clear, exact information should dissipate any doubts about the topic. Since the negotiations of 1333 were finished before the arrival of Ludolf, we can calculate that they had lasted over two years. But, even though the dialogue was finally finished and the official acts had been transcribed onto parchment, the final execution of the negotiations would only be completed during the next sixty years, not withstanding the persecution and imprisonment of the Franciscan Friars and the first contestation of rights over the Holy Places coming from both the Christian East and the Christian West for possession of the very same places!(*77)
In May 1345 an English pilgrim came to Jerusalem. Since we do not know his true identity, he is referred to as "The Anonymous Englishman of 1345". He was accompanied to the Holy Sepulchre by a certain Nicola, the director of the Amalfi (Hospice of the above-named Margaret of Sicily). He reports that when he entered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre he was met by four Friars Minor and four Greeks (namely Georgians) who also lived in the same Church. He and the pilgrims were accompanied with singing to the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre and then on a visit to the other Holy Places. After they had attended Mass the following morning, they left the Church and went to the Cenacle. At the Cenacle they found the Friars Minor.(*78) It was the understanding of this Anonymous Englishman that the Georgians no longer had the key to the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre.(*79) What had happened? No one knows. The times in which he lived were not those of Sultan En-Naser.
The following year another Franciscan arrived in Jerusalem, Niccolò of Poggibonsi. He remained in Jerusalem for some ten months and wrote one of the most original and reliable reports on the Holy Places.(*80)
He observed the same thing that Canon Ludolf had seen on Christmas Night in Bethlehem and what Giacomo of Verona had recorded regarding the Feast of the Assumption.(*81) He related that in 1347 his confreres had received all of the Basilica of the Nativity from Sultan Modaffer (1346-1347).(*82) (The Basilica had been the object of the transactions of 1333.)
During the ten months that he lived in Jerusalem Niccolò of Poggibonsi stayed at the Convent of the Cenacle. From there he was able to substitute for one of the religious of the Holy Sepulchre. During his two sojourns there he was able to become well acquainted with these two Holy Places and to describe them in minute detail. He counted twenty altars in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He adds that on Easter Sunday the Greek Patriarch officiated at the Main Altar, the Armenians officiated on the north side of Calvary,(*83) and the Jacobites officiated below Calvary. In addition to these the Indians and the Ethiopians celebrated at the altar behind the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre. The Nubians were nearby. The Latins (Friars Minor) celebrated at the Altar of Mary Magdalen and the Georgians at a second altar known as St. Mary Magdalen. The "Christians of the Girdle" celebrated at the chapel known as the "Prison of Christ" and finally the Nestorians observed their rituals on the altar which was behind the apse of the choir.
Niccolò of Poggibonsi omits other pieces of information, perhaps because he considered them uninteresting or common knowledge. For example, he omits that the southern part of Calvary and the Grotto of the Finding of the Cross belonged to the Latins. He omits mentioning the pilgrims in relationship to the various particular places in the Holy Sepulchre, perhaps because the government did not allow many religious of the Latin and Eastern Clergy to remain in the Church itself. At the beginning there were only the Latins and the Georgians. The other Rites, even though they had altars, must have been admitted to the Church only for Feasts. After a short time, however, six religious persons representing six different Rites were found in the Church.(*84) As a consequence of this, the Latin clergy took care of only the two most important Holy Places, Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre. They left the care of the other altars to a more opportune occasion.
The testimony of these contemporary pilgrims is sufficient to give some idea of what occurred after 1333, especially in comparison to the desolate condition of the Sanctuaries before the negotiations. It is true that these pilgrims do not speak with much enthusiasm, but how could it be otherwise, given that the use of the Holy Places was limited to only four places and that in three them the Latin presence was restricted, not by Eastern religious, but by the government doorkeepers who restrained the religious liberty of both the local Christians and pilgrims alike. For us Christians this slavery was a sign of those times.
*73 - On the silence of Giacomo of Verona about the presence of the Franciscans in the Holy Places, especially at the Cenacle, cf. Golubovich, Biblioteca Bio-bibliografica, IV, 21-24.
*74 - Archives de l'Orient Latin, 2 (1884) 349; Baldi, Enchiridion Locorum Sanctorum, 126-127.
*75 - Archives de l'Orient Latin, 2 (1884) 352; Baldi, Enchiridion Locorum Sanctorum, 681.
*76 - Archives de l'Orient Latin, 2 (1884) 352; Baldi, Enchiridion Locorum Sanctorum, 507; Golubovich, Biblioteca Bio-bibliografica, IV, 24-31.
*77 - The first persecution after the treaty of 1333 took place from 1340-1341. Christians of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria were massacred. The convent of Mount Sion was assaulted and destroyed. One of the witnesses was the Anonymus Germanus. In his work De gestis trium regum (about 1364), he writes in chapter 55: "Anno Domini MCCCXLI dum in Damasco et Egypto oriretur ex opinato ac ex vulgo, et comuni populo, persecutio et interfectio Christianorum... quod per tres menses duravit" (Golubovich, Biblioteca Bio-bibliografica, II, 153.)
A second persecution occurred in 1344. It is mentioned in a letter of Clement VI to King Peter IV of Aragon: "blasfemus Christi Soldanus Babiloniae, seu officiales eiusdem, dilectos filios fratres Ordinis Minorum ad Sepulchri Dominici et Montis Syon in Ierusalem custodiam deputatos contumeliis diversis afficiunt, opprimunt, incarcerant ac etiam persequuntur, sanctaque aedificia destruunt, ac fratres eosdem prefata custodia spoliare nituntur" (Avignon, 23 March 1345). Cf. Golubovich, Biblioteca Bio-bibliografica, IV, 406-409.
One report about a Franciscan martyr in Cairo of that year (1344) is found in the review Le Missioni Francescane in Palestina e in altre regioni della terra, 1893, 708-711: "Passio Fratris Livini de Francia".
The longest imprisonment endured by the Franciscans of the Holy Land was from 1365-1370. It was caused by the sack of Alexandria by Peter I, King of Cyprus, on October 10, 1365. A second imprisonment took place from September of 1510 to June of 1512. Its pretext was that the flotilla of the Knights of Rhodes defeated the Egyptian flotilla in the waters off the coast of Jaffa.
Jean Germain, Discours du voyage d'oultremer au très victorieux roi Charles VII, prononcé en 1452, refers to an episode which took place in 1451: "En outre, l'année passée, les Sarrazins de Jherusalem prindrent les frères du mont de Syon, qui servent Dieu au Saint Sepulchre, les firent prisonniers du Souldan, et, acouplez et liez de chaynes comme chiens, les menoient batans parmy la cité de Jherusalem. Et les aucuns d'eulx ainsi liez menerent jusques au Cayre, fourragerent tous leurs biens qu'ilz avoient en leur-dit couvent, espancherent leur vin dont ilz chanteht leurs messes ou Saint-Sepulcre, et les tirerent par les cheveux à terre et les traynerent hors de l'eglise, où ilz les batirent inhumainement. Et qui pis est, en despit de la chrestienté, espancherent par terre le saint sacrifice, foulanz des piez sur la saincte hostie sacrée" (Revue de l'Orient Latin. 3, 1895, 326).
*78 - "Eodem die sabbati, circa horam vesperarum, duxit nos Nicholaus, custos hospitalis, ad ecclesiam S. Sepulchri ex opposito... Receperunt nos cum cantu iiii fratres Minores et alii iiii graeci, viri religiosi, qui in ecclesia manent, et non exeunt" (Archives. de l'Orient Latin, 2, 1884, 353-354; Golubovich, Biblioteca Bio-bibliografica, IV, p. 20, 4.)
*79 - "Saraceni aperto ostio domus Sepulcri, exivit a Sepulcro odor suavissimus… et sic nos introduxerunt ad venerandum Sepulchrum... Adorato Sepulcro cum precibus, et tributo saracenis soluto duorum grossorum, pro capite, venetorum, expulerunt nos ab ecclesia" (Golubovich, Biblioteca Bio-bibliografica, IV, 453: Itinerarium cuiusdam Anglici, 1344-1345).
*80 - Fra Niccolò of Poggibonsi wrote in his Libro d'Oltramare that he left Venice on April 16, 1346. He remained in Cyprus from June 1 until February of 1347. Afterwards he embarked for Jaffa and before the 25th of February he arrived in Jerusalem. About the end of March he entered the church of the Holy Sepulchre and stayed there for three months. He left it in June and visited the different Holy Places. In January 1348 he departed for Damascus, Beirut, Egypt, and Sinai. Then he arrived in Gaza and returned to Damietta (Egypt). From there he went to Cyprus. On August 7 he embarked for Venice, where he arrived at Christmas (Fra Niccolò da Poggibonsi, A Voyage Beyond the Seas 1346-1350 [Libro dOltramare], Jerusalem 1945.
*81 - "E un dì, quand'io dissi sopra la sepoltura la messa, e io ci vidi Saracini venire adorare, nonne alla messa, che non ci hanno fede, ma alla sepoltura facevano grande reverenzia. La chiesa sì è grande e divota, e scura molto, e con assai altari, chè ogni generazione di Cristiani ci ànno il suo altare, al modo suo." (c. LXXXII).
*82 - Others held that this Sultan was Moudhaffar Baybars II (1308-1309). However, the Mameluke Sultan of that time was Al-Moudhaffar (or Mouzaffar) Hajji (1346-1347), one of the nine sons who followed their famous father En-Naser Mohammed over a period of years. We must believe that the Franciscans received the Basilica of the Nativity as a result of the treaty of 1333. It would be impossible to think that such a famous landmark and monumental sacred building would be so easily given to foreigners and persecuted religious, (as was the situation in 1340-1344). We have no knowledge of any other treaty or request before or after the famous treaty of 1333. We could submit the hypothesis that a petition for the return of the Basilica of the Nativity was made by Peter IV of Aragon (1336-1387). This may be indirectly ascertained by his letter of 1363 to the Sultan Al-Ashraf Shaaban. In that letter he recommends the Friars Minor (who had arrived at Bethlehem and Jerusalem) to him. He employs these words in reference to them: "the special favor given to us by your illustrious predecessors".
A. Arce, in the third volume of Miscelanea de Tierra Santa (p. 134 and 136) reports two unpublished letters of Peter IV, King of Aragon. The first was sent to the Sultan of Egypt En-Naser Hassan (1354-1361), and the second was sent to Pope Innocent VI (1352-1362). Both letters are dated January 23rd, 1361. In those letters we read some emphatic (and therefore exaggerated) phrases. Taken by themselves, they contradict the previous history. If they are considered in the context of their historical development (the transfer of the Sanctuaries arranged by the Sultan En-Naser Muhammed in 1333), they can be interpreted in a different sense. Since these letters did not receive any contemporaneous or later reference, we begin to think that they never left the Royal Chancellery of Aragon.
In the letter destined for Pope Innocent VI, he wrote: "cum se opportunitas exhibuerit, nostram ut citius poterimus solemnem ambaxiatam proposuimus soldano Babiloniae destinare, quam alias novimus annuisse favorabiliter votis nostris, presertim in concedendo nobis loca ipsa sacratissima, ubi est sepulcrum Domini in Ierusalem et locus nativitatis Christi in Bethleem, quae nullus alius catholicorum mundi principum potuerat obtinere".
After the deaths of King Robert of Naples (1343) and his consort Queen Sancha (1345), two Franciscans of the Holy Land, Anthony of Alexandria (Italy) and Adam of Roynac (Province of Aquitaine) presented themselves to King Peter IV in Barcellona (1346) and asked for his protection and aid: (Arce, Miscelanea de Tierra Santa, III, 126). By considering the events of 1333-1360, we can better understand what Peter IV wrote in his letters of 1361.
In conclusion we have this very interesting piece of information from Niccolò of Poggibonsi concerning the Basilica of Bethlehem: "Essendo tornati alla chiesa di Bethlem, la quale tengono oggi i fratri minori di santo Francesco, che ce la donò Medephar, soldano di Babilonia, e i frati c'entrarono, quando io era in Gerusalem” (c. CIX).
*83 - Niccolò of Poggibonsi says clearly that the Armenians had liturgies on the northern part of Calvary because they were considered Catholic at that time (They were still in union with Rome then.) The Georgians succeeded in retaking it about 1479-1480, as affirmed by the two pilgrims Tucher (1479) and Fabri (1483); see note 87.
*84 - Grethénios, Le pèlerinage, A.D. 1400, B. de Khitrowo, Itinéraires Russes en Orient, Genève 1889, 123; Baldi, Enchiridion Locorum Sanctorum, 694.