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FRANCISCANS, Roman Catholic Order. The presence in the Middle East of the Franciscan Friars, the Order founded by Francis of Assisi (Italy), officially approved by the Pope in 1221, started in the same year. The province of Terrae Sanctae (the Holy Land), or Siriae or the Promised Land, was founded in the year 1217. The first provincial or superior was Brother Elia from Assisi. In the year 1219 the founder himself visited the region in order to preach the Gospel to the Muslims, seen as brothers and not enemies. The mission resulted in a meeting with the sultan of Egypt, Malik al-Kamil, who was surprised by his unusual behavior. The Franciscan Province of the East extended to Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, and the Holy Land. Before the taking over of Acre (on May 18, 1291), Franciscan friaries were present at Acre, Sidon, Antioch, Tripoli, Jaffa, and Jerusalem.

From Cyprus, where they took refuge at the end of the Latin Kingdom, the Franciscans started planning a return to Jerusalem, given the good political relations between the Christian governments and the Mamluk sultans of Egypt. Around the year 1333 the French friar Roger Guerin succeeded in buying the Cenacle on Mount Zion and some land to build a monastery nearby for the friars, using funds provided by the king and queen of Naples. With two papal bullae, Gratias Agimus and Nuper Carissimae, dated in Avignon, November 21, 1342, Pope Clement VI approved and created the new entity which would be known as the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land (Custodia Terrae Sanctae).

The friars, coming from any of the Order's provinces, under the jurisdiction of the father guardian (superior) of the monastery on Mount Zion, were present in Jerusalem, in the Cenacle, in the church of the Holy Sepulcher, and in the Basilica of the Nativity at Bethlehem. Their principal activity was to ensure liturgical life in these Christian sanctuaries and to give spiritual assistance to the pilgrims coming from the West, to European merchants resident or passing through the main cities of Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon, and to have a direct and authorized relation with the Christian Oriental communities.

The monastery on Mount Zion was used by Brother Alberto da Sarteano for his papal mission for the union of the Oriental Christians (Greeks, Copts, and Ethiopians) with Rome during the Council of Florence (1440). For the same reason the party guided by Brother Giovanni di Calabria halted in Jerusalem on his way to meet the Christian Negus of Ethiopia (1482).

In 1551 the Friars were expelled by the Turkish Muslim Authority from the Cenacle and from their adjoining monastery. However, they were granted permission to purchase a Georgian monastery of nuns in the northwest quarter of the city, which became the new center of the Custody in Jerusalem and developed into the Latin Convent of Saint Savior (known as Dayr al-Latin).

In 1620 the Franciscans received in Galilee, from Fakhr ed-Din, the Druze amir of Sidon, Mount Tabor and the venerated Grotto of the Annunciation in Nazareth. In the following year they could partly rebuild the church of St. John the Baptist at *Ein Kerem on the mountain of Judea, where they opened a new friary.

New churches and monasteries were built in various, already venerated sites in the 19th century above the ruins of an older church: the Chapel of the Flagellation along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem in 1838; a chapel at Emmaus-Qubeibah in 1872; the church at Cana (Kefer Kanna) in 1880, and a chapel in the village of Naim; a chapel at Bethfage in 1883, and a chapel at the "Dominus Flevit" in 1891, both on The Mount of Olives.

New basilicas were built at Emmaus-Qubeibah in 1901 and at Nazareth – the so-called Church of Nutrition – in 1914; the Basilica of the Agony at Gethsemane in 1919–24; the Basilica of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor in 1921–24, followed by the Chapel of the Good Shepherd in Jericho in 1924; the chapel on the west bank of the Jordan River in 1934; the Chapel of Primacy at Tabgha on the shore of the Sea of Galilee; the Church of the Visitation at Ein Keren in 1938–40; a new church at Bethany in 1952–54; a chapel in the Shepherds Field outside the village of Beit Sahur-Bethlehem; and a new chapel at "Dominus Flevit" in 1955. The new great Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth started in 1955 was consecrated in 1969. The Memorial of Saint Peter at Capernaum was completed in 1990. In Transjordan, the Memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo is managed by the Franciscans.

Historically, the Franciscan presence in the Holy Land resulted in a continuity with the keeping and recording of local Christian traditions. Over the centuries, in fact, the Franciscans published several important books in different languages supplying, revising, and updating a wealth of information useful for the guidance of pilgrims, as a result of first-hand experiences.

During the long period which officially started in the year 1342, they functioned as custodians of the Christian shrines on behalf of the Catholic Church, guides of the Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land, and consequently as authors of many publications about Palestinian subjects written with the intention of improving the knowledge of the Holy Land among the Christians of Europe.

Works such as Il Libro d'Oltramare ("A Voyage beyond the Seas") by Fra Niccolò da Poggibonsi, published in 1346; Trattato di Terra Santa ("Treatise on the Holy Land") by Fr. Francesco Suriano, written in 1485; Piante dei Sacri Edifici ("Plans of the Sacred Edifices of the Holy Land) by Fr. Bernardino Amico, which came out in 1609; and the work in two volumes of Fr. Francesco Quaresmi, Elucidatio Terrae Sanctae ("The Illustration of the Holy Land"), which appeared in 1626, bear witness to this activity.

The restoration and the rebuilding of the sanctuaries owned by the Custody of the Holy Land during the last century resulted in the archaeological exploration of the sites and their occupational history. The scientific work was entrusted to the archaeologists of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum (SBF), an institute founded in Jerusalem in 1923.

As a scientific institution, the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum is closely related to the history of the Franciscan presence in the Holy Land. It was officially founded as a continuation of the work done by the Franciscan Fathers during the previous centuries. The Studium Biblicum Franciscanum is today a Roman Catholic faculty of biblical and archaeological studies in the Holy Land sponsored by the Franciscan Custody of Terrasanta. It is located in the Old City of Jerusalem, in the Flagellation monastery at the Second Station of the Via Dolorosa.

As a research center, the SBF specializes in the rediscovery and exploration of New Testament sites, as well as in the study of the local early Christian Church in the Holy Land, by means of both literary sources and excavations.

Reports on excavations are published annually in the review Liber Annuus and in the series Collectio Maior and Collectio Minor. Exegetical studies on the Bible are published in the series Analecta. The archaeological collections of the SBF are illustrated in the series Museum.

As a learning center, the SBF is presently authorized to confer pontifical academic degrees of Baccalaureate, Licentiate, and Doctorate in Biblical Sciences and Archaeology.

Added to the SBF is an archaeological museum opened in 1902 in the monastery of Saint Saviour. This original nucleus of the museum was transferred to the Monastery of the Flagellation in 1931. Findings from the SBF excavations, along with liturgical Latin codices of the 14th–15th centuries, a treasure trove of liturgical medieval objects from the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and the 18th century pots of the pharmacy of the Franciscan monastery of Saint Saviour are displayed in the museum. The collection includes a numismatic section specializing in the city-coins of Palestine, Decapolis, and Provincia Arabia.

As a center of archaeological research, therefore, the Studium Biblicum specializes in the study of the Christian presence in the Holy Land in the sanctuaries of the Late Roman, Byzantine, and Crusader periods. Historically important for the geography of the Gospel are the discoveries of the localities of Nazareth, Capharnaum, Magdala, and Bethany.

The excavations in Nazareth, started by Fr. Prosper Viaud at the beginning of the 20th century, were resumed by Fr. Bellarmino Bagatti in 1954. Along with the discovery of the ancient village, he found the first signs of the Christian presence as evidenced by the Christian graffiti scratched on plaster found under the Crusader and Byzantine Basilica of the Annunciation.

At Capharnaum, the excavations started by Fr. Gaudenzio Orfali in the synagogue in 1921 were taken up again in 1968 and have been continued into the 21st century by Frs. Virgilio Corbo and Stanislao Loffreda. They have discovered among the ruins of the houses of the ancient village the insula sacra (the sacred insula) with the domus-ecclesia (house-church) of St. Peter under the Byzantine octagonal basilica. At the same time, they have unearthed under the Jewish synagogue, structures dating to the Late Roman period.

For the first century, which is the setting of the New Testament, one may mention the excavations of the Herodion palace near Bethlehem. This work was carried out by Fr. V. Corbo during the years 1962–67. The same archaeologist directed the excavations of the Herodian fortress of Machaerous in Jordan, in which, according to Josephus Flavius, *John the Baptist was jailed and murdered.

One of the main excavation and restoration projects undertaken by the Institute is the one at Mount Nebo in Jordan. The project started in 1933 under the direction of Fr. Sylvester Saller. The work was focused mainly on the Memorial Church of Moses, Prophet and Man of God. This memorial was built by the Christians of the region in the fourth century on the western peak of Siyagha. Around it a monastery developed in the Byzantine period.

Excavations were expanded to the nearby ruins of Khirbet el-Mukhayyat on the southern peak of Mount Nebo, where the Iron Age fortress and the Roman-Byzantine village identified with Nebo are located. Since 1984, the Studium has been excavating two Byzantine churches in the 'Uyoun Mousa valley, north of the mountain. At the same time, the Studium is cooperating with the Jordanian Department of Antiquities in excavating several monuments of the city of Madaba, such as the Church of the Virgin, the Hippolythus Hall, the Cathedral, and the Burnt Palace.

In the summer of 1986 work started at Umm er-Rasas, important ruins located in the steppe 20 miles (30 km.) southeast of Madaba, with the rediscovery of the ancient name of the ruins, Kastron Mefaa, in the inscriptions in the rich mosaic floor of the Church of St. Stephen built in the Umayyad period, with the biblical implications of this discovery. Moreover, a city plan of Kastron Mefaa was found along with these inscriptions. In the summer of 1989 a second plan of the city of Kastron Mefaa depicted in the mosaic floor of the church of the Lions was unearthed.

At Umm er-Rasas, as at Mount Nebo, Madaba, and other sites of the Holy Land, archaeological and historical research in the Roman-Byzantine and Arab periods (the main field of the scientific interest of the Studium) has proven to have deep historical implications with regard to the biblical world of both the Old and the New Testament, based on the continuity of life in the same land by the same populations, Jews, Christians, and Muslims.


G. Golubovich, Biblioteca Bio-Bibliografica della Terra Santa e dell'Oriente Francescano, vol. 1–14 (1906–33); A.V.V., The Custody of the Holy Land (1979); M. Piccirillo (ed.), La Custodia di Terra Santa e l'Europa (1983); B. Bagatti (ed.), Studium Biblicum Franciscanum. Nel 50° della fondazione (1923–1973) (1973); B. Bagatti, Il Museo della Flagellazione in Gerusalemme (1939); M. Piccirillo, Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Museum (1983). The principal scientific publication produced by the Franciscan Printing Press, Liber Annuus, was founded in 1950. In regard to books, the Collectio Maior has now reached 34 titles; the Collectio Minor 34 titles; see also the series Analecta with 29 titles and Museum with 8 titles.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.