Monday, December 21, 2015

Mamluk and Franciscan Order relations in the 13th and 14th century Holy Land

Mount Zion, Jerusalem (source)
The expulsion of the Crusaders from the Holy Land in 1291 did not end Arab relations with Western European Christians. Western monks, most notably the Franciscans, continued to live among the Muslims in the Holy Land. The nature of the relations of the Franciscans with the Mamluks serves as an interesting counterpoint to earlier Arab views on the Military Orders.

Franciscan tradition maintains that in 1219 St Francis himself obtained permission from the Sultan Al-Salih Isma'il (1245-1249) for the Franciscans to be allowed to worship unmolested in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Franciscans are also said to have been used by the Sultan as ambassadors to Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254). Throughout the late thirteenth century, as the Mamluks were driving the Crusaders from the Holy Land. Franciscans apparently remained on relatively good terms with the Arabs and were afforded special treatment by the Sultans.

After the fall of Acre in 1291, Pope Nicholas IV (1288-1292), a Franciscan, begged permission from the Sultan al-Ashaf for Latin monks to be allowed to remain in Jerusalem. The Sultan granted this request of the Pope and bade him send some clergy, monks, and men of peace to Jerusalem. So the Pope chose some discreet, learned, and faithful friars from his own order. With the help of a judicious payment in 1300 of 32.000 ducats from Rupert of Sicily, the Franciscans were given the Cenacle (also known as the upper room) on Mount Zion as their headquarters, as well as chapels in other Holy places in Jerusalem. This presence of the Franciscans in Jerusalem was thus permitted by the Mamluks before it was
officially authorized by pope Clement VI in 1342, when he established the Franciscans as "Caretakers of the Holy Land (Terrae Sanctae Custodis), a position they still maintain.

Thus, within a few decades of the fall of the Crusader kingdom and the expulsion of the Military Orders, the Mamluks were permitting Western monks to ,visit worship and remain in the Holy Land. But of course, the Templars and Hospitallers were not included in this new policy of toleration. Arab opposition to the Military Orders was thus clearly not simply antagonism towards Christianity or monasticism. Rather, their fourteenth century patronage of the Franciscans, described as "men of peace", perhaps
in specific distinction to the military functions of the Templars and Hospitallers,indicates that the Arabs were willing to accommodate peaceful Western monastic activities in the Holy Land. (....)

In light of the preceding two centuries of invasions and warfare and the Mamluk fear of a possible renewal of crusades in the early fourteenth century, the overall Mamluk policy toward a continued western monastic presence in the Holy Land was remarkably enlightened. Some contemporaneous European policies showed much less tolerance towards Jews and Muslims in Spain and other parts of Europe.


This blog draws freely on the paper "Muslim perspectives on the military orders during the crusades" by William J. Hamblin, published in BYU Studies.

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