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THE SONS OF ST. FRANCIS IN THE HOLY LAND Official Entrance of the Franciscans as Custodians of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Introduction The following pages are written in order to throw some new light on that difficult historical question: the date of the entry of the Friars Minor as custodians of the venerated Sanctuary of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The documents we have consulted are already known to students of medieval Palestinology, but, for many reasons, the conclusions drawn from them by various authors were not, to our mind, what they should be: the texts of these documents have been published but not all of them critically established, a fact which has led to some false interpretations . Between 1900 and our own day, wonderful progress has been made in the study of Franciscan history in the Near East and new documents have been brought to light and studied, causing many authorities in this field to abandon previously held opinions. One such opinion was that the Franciscan custody of the Holy Places in Palestine dated back to the visit of St. Francis to the Orient in 1219. ' That St. Francis visited the Holy Sepulchre is a pious tradition rather than historical fact, none of the contemporary documents make mention of it, we find it mentioned for the first time in 1320 a century later. The next step was to attach the beginning of the Franciscan custody of the Holy Places in Jerusalem and Bethlehem to the Treaty of 1229-1239 concluded between Fredrick II and AlKamel Muhammad, or to one of the other Treaties which 1.LEMMENS, L., De sancto Francisco Christum praedicante coram Sultano, in: Archivum Franciscanum Historicum, XIX (1926) 559-578 (Abbrev. AFH). 2.Cfr. also JACOPOZZI, N., Love sia avvenuta la visita di San Francesco d'Assisi al Sultano Malek al ¡íamel, in: Frate Francesco, II (1925) 379-393. 257 258THE SONS OF ST. FRANCIS IN THE HOLY LAND followed and 1242 3 was looked on as a very probable date for quite a while, only to yield later to 1309 which date in turn became untenable as new documents came to light. While we must admit that the second half of the XIIIth century is far from clear as far as Franciscan history in the Near East is concerned, still we are fortunate in having the testimony of a few Pilgrims which throws some light on this otherwise dark period. The little we do know of the XIII and XIV centuries makes us all the more anxious to know more and makes us wish that those Pilgrims had left us fuller accounts concerning the venerable sanctuaries of Palestine, especially as regards the details of the liturgy as carried out in those sanctuaries (as the Pilgrim Sylvia Eteria does for the IV century) and as regards the clergy and custodians who took care of the Sanctuaries of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Had those Pilgrims done so, how valuable would their writings not be to us today. But we are being unfair to the pious Pilgrims of the middleages who were interested in the spiritual benefits they could derive for their souls from a visit to the Holy Places rather than in giving posterity vivid accounts of what they saw and learned.4 Even FraNiccolö of Poggibonsi, who, as we shall see, left us the most explicit testimony concerning the Franciscans as custodians of the Sanctuary of Bethlehem (the subject of our studies in this article) even he gives us these facts as a side-line, his interest was not history but the spiritual edification of his readers. Fra Niccolb of Poggibonsi His Chronology The subject under discussion is the date of the official entry of the Franciscans as Custodians of the Basilica of Bethlehem . We have the testimony of a trustworthy eye witness, Fra Niccolb of Poggibonsi, who was present at this solemn 3.VAN DEN ÏYNGAERT, ?., in: La France Franciscaine, IV (1921) 52-71, 455. Cl!. KOIlLER, in Revue de l'Orient Latin, VIII, 450 has clearly proved that contemporary documents say nothing of Franciscans in Jerusalem at the time of Frederic II. In G BB II 290 there are no objective proofs. 4.ROEI1RIC11T...


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