Updated: Tuesday, February 15, 2000 at 19:07
    in the
    Holy Land from the Crusade
        to the Custody of the Holy Places

    one thousand years
    of art and history
    in a great
    exhibition at Mlano

    Palazzo Reale
    17 february - 21 may 2000

    open all days except Mondays from 09.30 to 18.30
    Thursday from 09.30 to 22.30

    Exhibition coordinator: Michele Piccirllo
    (studium biblicum franciscanum- jerusalem)
    Organisers: Custody of the Holy Land, Regione Lombardia, Comune di Milano

Giacomo de Vitry, bishop of Acre and later Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, was a contemprary of St. Francis of Assisi. He bears witness to the saint's trip to Egypt and the encounter the saint had with the Sultan of Egypt, Melekel Kamel. There sems to be nothing strange in such an account had it not been that this takes place during the siege of Damietta (Egypt) by the Crusades. Francis' meeting with the Sultan was a revolutionary gesture of goodwill after almost two centuries of wars and battles between the christian and islamic armies for the control and rule of the Holy Land. Later franciscan sources state also that Francis travelled to the Holy Land itself.

In 1217 the first friars, led by Br Elijah, formed the "Province Beyond the Sea". We are certain though that the friars were present in the East before 1291 and they were living in Acre, Tyre, Sidon, Tripoli, Antioch and Jaffa (the friary and church here were built by St. Louis IX) and in Jerusalem at the Vth station of the Way of the Cross. The chronicles of the Order list the friars who were killed in the fall of Asdud (1265), that of Antioch and Jaffa (1268), Tripoli (1289) and Acre (1291 - here 14 friars were killed together with 64 Poor Clares).

History records how the friars in those difficult times had found a way to enter into dialogue with the moslems. Witness to this are decrees (called firmans) issued by the Moslem authorities and still preserved in the Archives of the Custody. These decrees explicitly grant protection to the friars living in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Curious enough they were issued by Bibars, Kalaun and Melek Naser, the three moslem sovereigns who had thrown out the Crusaders from the Holy Land!

The friars obtained, through the intervention and money of the king and queen of Naples (Roberto and Sancia d'Angiò), a friary on Mount Sion and prmission to officiate in the Sanctuaries. At this time we have also the Papal Bulls (1342) recognising the officila setting up of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

The Exhibition

The exhibition at Palazzo Reale wants to bring out this franciscan heritage which the friars have treasured during their uninterrupted presence there. It is also a tribute to the Christian world who has contributed (and is still contributing) for this continuous christian and franciscan presence at these most holy Christian Shrines. Most of the items exhibited are being showed for the first time outside their land of origin. Amongst them we find crusader material coming from the sanctuaries of Nazareth, Holy Sepulchre, Bethany, Bethlehem, Gethsemane. For the first time in europe are the over 300 pipes from the medieval pipe organ discovered in bethlehem together with 13 bells from the same period. Gifts sent our from the various nations of the world are also exhibited. All this wants to be a contemparary message to all of us and all those living in the Holy Land, being them Jews, Christans or Moslems that through dialogue and peaceful efforts a way of living together can be found. This is the Franciscan Meggase for this Great Jubilee that comes forth from this exhibition.

More information in italian is available in an article by Michele Piccirillo ofm

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