A difficult period

Jerusalem - Sebastian Munster, 1550

The victory of Saladin and his army over the Crusader forces which took place in the summer of 1187 allowed the Ayyubid ruler to triumphantly enter Jerusalem on 2 October of that year.

The reconquest of Jerusalem in 1229 by Frederick II lasted only for a decade, years in which religious services were renewed within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Access to the sanctuary subsequently became increasingly difficult, particularly for pilgrims undertaking the holy journey who found themselves obliged to pay large sums into the Sultan’s coffers and frequently were themselves at risk for their lives.

In 1244 the Khwarezmids, a people of Iranian descent who came from what is today Uzbekistan, captured and pillaged Jerusalem, which had been ceded to Frederick II by the Ayyubid Sultan al-Malik al-Kāmil under an agreement that goes under the name of the Sixth Crusade. The assault and pillage of Jerusalem led to the death and removal of Christians while the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was once again damaged, with the tomb of the king destroyed.

Faced with the protests that news of this profanation produced throughout the Christian world, the Sultan Ayyub in 1246 hastened to apologize to Pope Innocent IV, claiming that the devastation had been carried out irresponsibly without his knowledge, and that once the damages were repaired the keys would be entrusted to two Muslim families so that the church would be opened whenever pilgrims arrived. However, these guardians of the keys opened the church only on certain days, and not before they had received an adequate compensation. 

From 1291 to 1517 the city was in the hands of the Mamelukes. By virtue of their conquest, the Mamelukes considered themselves to be the legal owners of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the presence of the Christian community was viewed as a revocable concession and privilege dependent upon the prevailing political interests and the fees paid.
The internal areas within the church were assigned to individual religious communities, and altars and chapels were created with attached internal apartments, making use of all possible space within the galleries, corridors and even between the columns themselves.

Pilgrims were numerous in the 14th century, especially from the Middle East: Nestorians from Mesopotamia, Monophysites from Egypt, Armenia, Ethiopia and Syria, Greeks from the Byzantine empire and Georgia.
Upon arrival in Jerusalem they were lodged in colonies of monks and priests of their coreligionists that had been established in humble residences in the Parvis (external courtyard) or adjacent to the church. 

Only the Georgians, as a result of an agreement obtained by the Georgian Queen Tamara from the Egyptian Sultan, were exempt from the fees and were authorized to live in the interior, receiving offerings and food through holes that had been cut out of the door of the Sanctuary. All of the other pilgrims were obliged to disburse a considerable sum, approximately 80 gold francs.

Pilgrims also flocked from the West, and the Dominicans Burcardo da Monte Sion in 1283 and Riccoldo da Monte Croce in 1294 told of having been welcomed by Eastern clergymen and of have freely visited “all of the pious places and celebrated and preached to pilgrims from [their] homeland”.

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