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A period of decadence


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"O Christ, Lord God, we pray you, eternal king of the spirits; extend your protective arms over your church and upon your holy people" - (Hypollitus of Rome)

Jerusalem fell to Saladin's Army in 1188. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was closed and no one could officiate in it. In fact the pilgrim Titimar in 1217 noted that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the site of the Passion were always closed, without worship and without honour and that the doors were opened only to those pilgrims who paid well! The Christians obtained permission to use it only during the cease fire of 1192 and 1229. In 1244 many Christians were killed during the invasions of the Charismians and the building of the Holy Sepulchre was damaged.

A view of the sepulchral chamber

A view of the sepulchral chamber
large image (73k)

The Christian world protested strongly against the massacre and Sultan Ajub apologized in 1246 to Pope Innocent IV saying that everything was done without his knowledge. He also informed the Pope that he had handed the keys of the basilica to two Moslem families who were to open the doors of the basilica to the pilgrims who arrived at the site. These keepers of the keys of the Holy Sepulchre opened the church only on certain days and after receiving an adequate compensation. And the key keepers, alas, are still a reality today!
The pilgrims coming from all over the world, after paying heavy taxes, used to be let inside the church, offered a space and altar where they could celebrate their liturgy. This was the time when all around the Holy Sepulchre various colonies coming from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Armenia, Ethiopia, Syria, Greece and Georgia established themselves. The Georgian queen Tamara secured an agreement with the Sultan of Egypt, allowing the Georgian community to be exempted from taxes and live within the church of the Holy Sepulchre. They used to receive gifts and food through holes bored into the door of the basilica.

This is a very dark period in the history of this holy shrine. Unscrupulous public officials played games with the Christian willingness to get into this holy building and bring it back to life. Public auctions were held on multiple occasions! And the sanctuary gradually decayed. The wall mosaics crumbled and with them the whole structure started to give in.

The Façade of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre

The Façade of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre
medium sized image (111k) - large image (223k)



© Text prepared by John Abela ofm based on articles and research by Virgilio Corbo ofm, Michele Piccirillo ofm and Eugenio Alliata ofm
Hi-Res pictures prepared by Michael Olteanu - Other pictures prepared by John Abela ofm and Michael Olteanu
B&W pictures courtesy of SBF-Jerusalem Archives - A joint project betweeen the Franciscans and Christusrex

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Created / Updated Wednesday, December 26, 2001 at 20:31:27 by John Abela ofm
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