In 1229, the German emperor Frederick II led the Sixth Crusade to Jerusalem. He persuaded the Ayyubid Sultan Al-Kamil to allow him to be crowned “King of Jerusalem” as part of a peace treaty, and for a brief moment, Frederick might have actually believed he ruled the city.
The reality was that Al-Kamil did not take his treaty with Frederick seriously. Not only that, but Frederick had been excommunicated by the pope so the Latin Patriarch did not even attend the crowning. As soon as Frederick was gone, Al-Kamil simply disregarded all of the stipulations of the treaty and returned to life as it had been before his arrival.
Al-Kamil’s family would have to tend to its own issues. His successor As-Salih Ayyub, fearing the soldiers of his own Kurdish relatives, turned for protection to a special slave army known as the Mamluks. The Mamluks overthrew the Ayyubids in 1250, and they took control of Jerusalem as part of their territory. They controlled the city until 1517.
In 1520, a young, intelligent and ambitious man named Suleiman became the Sultan of the Ottoman Turks. His father had united much of the Muslim world under Ottoman rule, including Jerusalem. Suleiman took the opportunity to restore Jerusalem’s significance.
Suleiman envisioned Jerusalem as a place of peace for Muslims, Jews and Christians. He opened the gates of his newly walled city to all forms of Christians. When French king sent a request that all the churches that had been converted to mosques be returned to the Christians, Suleiman very diplomatically stated that Sharia law forbid this while assuring Louis that all existing Christian sites would be respected.
In 1536, Suleiman’s builders began work on new walls for Jerusalem. He ensured that all of the Christian holy sites, including the Church of the Resurrection, were inside the walls. Although his motivations are unknown, it was clear that Suleiman understood the necessity of protecting the city and its sites. When he discovered that the builders had failed to include Mount Zion, which had a number of Christian holy sites, he had them executed.
Because Suleiman was attempting to protect all religions, he had to allow all forms of Christianity access to the city. This meant that Greek Orthodox and Franciscans would have to co-exist and share the Church of the Resurrection. This was an uneasy situation. The Franciscans controlled the Church. All of the masses were said by Franciscan friars, and only the Franciscans remained in the Church year-round.
But the Franciscans were a mendicant order. Their financing and supplies came almost exclusively from western Europe. The Orthodox, on the other hand, had considerable experience dealing with the Ottoman Turks and other Muslims.
Over the next two hundred years, the Franciscans carried out a number of projects in the Church. They rebuilt the Edicule – a small building inside the Anastasis which housed the remains of the actual tomb of Jesus. They continued on as best they could, rotating teams of ten men inside the Church every three months. The doors were kept locked except during Holy Week, so these men lived lives of considerable discomfort.
They held on until 1757 when, through a carefully orchestrated coup, the Orthodox expelled them. Bribing the local kadi (judge) to support them, over a thousand Orthodox clergy and laity descended on the Church on Palm Sunday. The friars barricaded themselves inside the Church, but the mob broke through and physically hauled them from the Church. The Franciscan Custodian protested, as did the French king Louis XV, but the Orthodox had spared no expense in bribes up and down the bureaucracy.
The Franciscans were still permitted inside the Church, but they no longer controlled it. This honor passed to the Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
The Ottoman central authority, the Sublime Porte, issued an order known as the Status Quo, which established a division of the Church among six groups: the Franciscans, the Greek Orthodox, the Syriac Orthodox, Armenians, the Coptics, and the Ethiopians. Everything, down to the number and locations of candles was established.
No end of controversy has broken out because of the Status Quo. Perhaps the most remarkable of all of these controversies erupted in 1852. The ruler of France, Napoleon III, demanded that the Latins be allowed to repair the secondary dome (or cupola) that had been built by the Crusaders back in the 1100’s. The Turks initially seemed in favor of the idea, but the Russians threatened to invade the Ottoman empire if they granted this right to the Latins. They understood that under Turkish law, if someone repairs a structure, it becomes theirs. The Porte began discussing what to do, and the impatient Russian Czar Nicholas I invaded Ottoman territories.
The French were then put in a difficult position. Together with the English, they feared that if the Russians defeated the Turks, they would be in a position to take much of Eastern Europe, so they declared war on the Russians and found themselves allies. They managed to stop the Russians, and the Status Quo was then codified into international law as part of the Treaty of Paris in 1856. The war they fought is known as the Crimean War, and among other things it gave us Florence Nightingale and the Tennyson poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade”.
Ironically, even as the Russians were invading Ottoman territories, the Porte had drafted a resolution that affirmed the 1757 Status Quo and denied the French request. Since the Treaty of Paris then affirmed the Porte’s decision, the war basically accomplished nothing.
During all of this, the Church itself was repeatedly damaged and patched by fires and earthquakes. In 1847, the Roman See established a Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem which had been trying to foster cooperation among the competing sects.
With the Ottoman empire on the wain and the 20th century dawning, the Church of the Resurrection was crumbling.
And would continue to do so into the 21st century. But there is hope, and that will be the subject of my next post.