Period of Organization (1342-1517)

Vocations “come and follow me”

Period of Organization

Period of organization of the Custody

In order to bring together the mandate and legacy of the Crusades, the Province of the Holy Land had embarked upon the specific conquest of the holy places and was designated to represent the interests of the Catholic Church in the Middle East. Its juridical existence was recognized by both ecclesiastical and Muslim civil authorities.

In 1347, Franciscans established themselves as the officiates at the Basilica of the Grotto of the Nativity. In 1363, Giovanna, Queen of Naples and Sicily, obtained a firman (or edict) from the sultan of Egypt. By virtue of this firman, the Franciscans entered into possession of the Basilica and of the Tomb of the Virgin in the Valley of Josaphat. In 1375, from the convent of Bethlehem, the Franciscans also began working at the "Milk Grotto", situated near the Grotto of the Nativity of the Lord. In 1392, they obtained the right to officiate at the Grotto of Gethsemane, situated in the valley of Josaphat, a few meters from the Tomb of the Virgin, and in 1485, they readapted the Grotto of the Birth of St. John the Baptist in Ein Karem for worship.

With the increase of activity, the need was felt for adequate legislation. In 1377, the first Statutes of the Holy Land were approved. It developed the first prescriptions, briefly summarized in the Bull Gratias agimus, requiring that the number of religious serving in the Holy Land should not exceed twenty. As for their activities, in addition to taking care of religious worship in the shrines, the friars also had to provide for the European pilgrims who visited the holy places.

In 1414, the General Chapter of the Friars Minor was held in Lausanne. The Chapter, as in the previous General Assemblies, discussed the problems of the Holy Land, and realized that it was necessary to make this Custody more autonomous from the Province and increase the number of religious serving there. Sixteen years later, in 1430, it was established that the Custos of the Holy Land be elected by the General Chapter, a practice maintained for three centuries. Later, the Custos of the Holy Land was chosen by the Minister General and by his Council, a custom that has continued until today.
 In 1517, the Custody of the Holy Land, while still retaining its title, gained complete autonomy through its configuration as a Province, characterized as always by entirely special privileges. In conjunction with the progressive delineation of its juridical form, the Custody received particular faculties and authorizations in various areas from the Holy See, always with a view to a more dynamic presence of the Franciscans in the Holy Land. This meant that the friars were able to work more effectively, especially in the spiritual assistance of the pilgrims, and more so in ecumenical activity.
This had its first crowning achievement during the Council of Florence (1431-1443), in which reconciliation was reached between the separated Christians of the East and the Catholic Church. This reconciliation soon showed itself to be ephemeral, and for almost two centuries the Franciscans of the Holy Land represented virtually the only possibility "on the ground" for direct and authorized relations between the Catholic world and the separated Churches of the Near and Middle East. Relations with the Eastern Churches continued, even until today, adapting to the different times and situations, coupled with a number of other initiatives undertaken by the Holy See in order to revive contacts and the ecumenical spirit.

Although this special apostolate has been adequately researched, unfortunately it is not as well known as it deserves. Another relatively unknown activity in the historiography of the Franciscans in the Holy Land is that of spiritual assistance for the European merchants living in or passing through the main cities of Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, that developed mainly in the fifteenth century and afterward. In the second half of the sixteenth century, spiritual assistance progressed from being a seasonal activity, especially during Advent and Lent, to a more or less continuous one, until it took on a stable character in the seventeenth century with the establishment of fixed residences. The Franciscans, who first began as chaplains of the European Consuls of merchant colonies, remained as apostles at the service of all, "radiating the light of the Gospel" around their residences, which, little by little, took on the form of proper parishes with related works of various kinds.

The evangelization of the Holy Land, during particular historical periods, was also directed toward the faithful of the Muslim religion, in the form of both personal and collective evangelization. These efforts always brought fleeting results, and also led to the death of some friars. In 1391, four friars were martyred. These martyrs were canonized by Paul VI on June 21, 1970: Nikola Tavelić (Croatian), Stefano da Cuneo (Italian), Deodatus of Rodez and Pierre of Narbonne (French). Speaking of these martyrs in the speech given on the occasion of their canonization, the Pope stated that "we are in the presence of a paradoxical witness, a shocking witness, a vain witness, because it was not accepted immediately, but is supremely valuable, because it is validated by the gift of self."

However, the presence of the Franciscans in the Holy Land was primarily linked to the shrines and their care because, ultimately, all other activities were connected to this purpose and were considered as primary and of exclusive importance for the entire Church.
From the beginning of this period, which we have call the Period of Organization, the Franciscans worked to repair the shrines of the Holy Land that had fallen into ruin over time. In 1343, the Holy Cenacle, build in the era of the Crusades, was repaired. In 1479, under the Guardianship of Fr. Giovanni Tomacelli da Napoli, all of the support beams for the ceiling of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem were replaced. The completion of the project involved the assistance of the Republic of Venice, who donated the wood needed, the Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, who paid for the work and King Edward IV of England, who donated the lead used for roofing.
There are not many events recorded in this period. It is necessary to note that positive results were the outcome of complex and seemingly endless negotiations, often economically burdensome and always faced with unyielding tenacity by the Order.

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Events calendar


Vigil of Christmas. Bethlehem: 13.30 Entrance of the Archbishop & I Vespers - 16.00 Procession - 23.30 Office & 00.00 Mass - 1.45 Procession to the Grotto


Nativity of the Lord. Bethlehem (St. Catherine): 10.00 Mass Shepherds' Field (Greek & Catholic): 14.00 Pilgrimage


Feast St. Stephen, Protomartyr. St. Stephen: 16.00 Pilgrimage


Feast of the Holy Innocents. Bethlehem:10.00 Mass - 14.00 II Vespers (Vicar CTS)


Octave of Christmas. Beit Sahour: Holy Angels ad pastores

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