Jerusalem in 1896 | Jews, Muslims, Christians living under the Ottomans
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the holiest and most special sites in Christianity. Located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, the church is home to two of the holiest sites in Christianity, the site where Jesus was crucified, known as Calvary, and the tomb where Jesus was buried and then resurrected. Today, the tomb is enclosed by a shrine called the Aedicula. The final four Stations of the Cross, or Via Dolorosa, are also located inside the church.
Procession on the parvis of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre headed by Kawas (Ottoman guards).
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The protectorate began to assume a contractual form in the sixteenth century, in the treaties concluded between the kings of France and the Ottoman Sultans, which are historically known as Capitulations. At first, this name designated the commercial agreement conceded by the Sublime Porte to Latin merchants (first to the Italians), and arose from the fact that the articles of these agreements were called capitoli ('chapters' in the Italian redaction); the term does not have the same humiliating meaning as in military parlance (conceding utter defeat), but a similar neutral etymology as the Carolingian Capitularia.
Francis I was the first king of France who sought an alliance with Turkey. He was urged to this, not by the spirit of the Crusaders, but entirely by the desire to break into Europe the dominating power of the imperial Habsburg House of Austria. By compelling Austria to spend its forces in defence against the Turks in the East, he hoped to weaken it and render it unable to increase or even maintain its power in the West.
The next French kings down to Louis XV followed the same policy, which was as a matter of fact favourable to Christianity in the Levant, seeking by their zeal in defending Christian interests at the Sublime Porte (Ottoman government), to extenuate their alliance with non-Christians, which was a source of scandal even in France. As early as 1528, Francis I had appealed to Suleiman the Magnificent to restore to the Christians of Jerusalem a church that the Turks had converted into a mosque. The Sultan refused the plea that his religion would not permit alteration of the purpose of a mosque, but he promised to maintain the Christians in possession of all the other places occupied by them and to defend them against all oppression.
However, religion was not the object of a formal convention between France and Turkey prior to 1604, when Henry IV of France secured from Ahmad I the insertion, in the capitulations of 20 May, of two clauses relative to the protection of pilgrims and of the religious in charge of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The following are the relevant clauses of the treaty: "Article IV. We also desire and command that the subjects of the said Emperor of France, and those of the princes who are his friends and allies, may be free to visit the Holy Places of Jerusalem, and no one shall attempt to prevent them nor do them injury"; "Article V. Moreover, for the honour and friendship of this Emperor, we desire that the religious living in Jerusalem and serving the church of Comane the Resurrection may dwell there, come and go without let or hindrance, and be well received, protected, assisted, and helped in consideration of the above." It is noteworthy that the same advantages are stipulated for the French and for the friends and allies of France, but for the latter in consideration of, and at the recommendation of France.
The result of this friendship was the development of the Catholic missions, which began to flourish through the assistance of Henry IV Bourbon and his son Louis XIII Bourbon and through the zeal of the French missionaries. Before the middle of the seventeenth century, various religious orders (Capuchin, Carmelite, Dominican, Franciscan and Jesuit) were established, as chaplains of the French ambassadors and consuls, in major Ottoman cities (Istanbul, Alexandria, Smyrna, Aleppo, Damascus, etc.), Lebanon and the islands of the Aegean Archipelago. They assembled the Catholics to instruct and confirm them in the Catholic faith, opened schools to which flocked the children of all rites, relieved the spiritual and corporal miseries of the Christians in the Turkish prisons, and nursed the pest-stricken, which the last office made many martyrs of charity.
During the reign of Louis XIV, the missionaries multiplied and extended the field of their activities: the Sun King gave them at once material and moral support, which the prestige of his victories and conquests rendered irresistible at the Porte. Thanks to him, the often precarious tolerance, on which the existence of the missions had previously depended, was officially recognized in 1673, when on 5 June, Mehmed IV not only confirmed the earlier capitulations guaranteeing the safety of pilgrims and the religious guardians of the Holy Sepulchre but signed four new articles, all beneficial to the missionaries. The first decreed in a general manner "that all bishops or other religious of the Latin sect (CFR. Millet (Ottoman Empire)) who are subjects of France, whatever their condition, shall be throughout our empire as they have been hitherto, and may there perform their functions, and no one shall trouble or hinder them"; the others secure the tranquil possession of their churches, explicitly to the Jesuits and Capuchins, and in general "to the French at Smyrna, Saïd, Alexandria, and in all other ports of the Ottoman Empire".
The reign of Louis XIV marked the apogee of the French Protectorate in the East, for not only the Latin missionaries of all nationalities, but also the heads of all Catholic communities, regardless of rite or nationality, appealed to the king, and at the recommendation of his ambassadors and consuls to the Porte and the pashas, obtained justice and protection from their enemies. Though the missionaries were sometimes on such amicable terms with the non-Catholic clergy that the latter authorized them to preach in their churches, they usually experienced a lively hostility from that quarter. On several occasions, the Greek and Armenian Non-Uniate Patriarchs, displeased at seeing a great portion of their flocks abandon them for the Roman priests, on various pretexts persuaded the Turkish government to forbid all propaganda by the latter, but representatives of Louis XIV successfully opposed this ill will.
At the beginning of the reign of Louis XV, the preponderance of French influence with the Porte was also manifested in the authority granted the Franciscans, who were protégés of France, to repair the dome of the Holy Sepulchre: this meant the recognition of their right of proprietorship in the Holy Sepulchre as superior to the claims of the Greeks and the Armenians.
In 1723 the Non-Uniate Patriarchs succeeded in obtaining from the Sultan a "command" forbidding his Christian subjects to embrace the Roman religion, and the Latin religion o hold any communication with the Greeks, Armenians and Syrians, on the pretext of instructing them. French diplomacy sought, long in vain, to have this measure revoked. At last, as a reward for the services rendered to Turkey during its wars with Russia and Austria (1736–1739), the French succeeded in 1740 in securing the renewal of the capitulations, with additions which explicitly confirmed the right of the French Protectorate, and at least implicitly guaranteed the liberty of the Catholic apostolate. By the eighty-seventh of the articles signed on 28 May 1740, Sultan Mahmud I declared: "... The bishops and religious subjects to the Emperor of France living in my empire shall be protected while they confine themselves to the exercise of their office, and no one may prevent them from practising their rite according to their custom in the churches in their possession, as well as in the other places they inhabit; and, when our tributary subjects and the French hold intercourse for purposes of selling, buying, and other business, no one may molest them for this sake in violation of the sacred laws."
In subsequent treaties between France and Turkey, the capitulations were not repeated verbatim, but they are recalled and confirmed (e. g. in 1802 and 1838). The various regimes which succeeded the monarchy of Louis IX of France and of Louis XIV all maintained in law, and in fact, the ancient privilege of France in the protection of the missionaries and Christian communities of the Orient. The expedition in 1860 sent by Emperor Napoleon III to put a stop to the massacre of the Maronites was in harmony with the ancient rôle of France,, and would have been more so if its work of justice had been more complete.