Covaci, Franciscans & Eastern Christians at the Holy Sepulchre

Negotiating Orthodoxy through Ritual: Franciscans and Eastern Christians at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Fifteenth Century

Valentina Covaci (Amsterdam)

Recently, Christopher MacEvitt has described the forced and uneasy cohabitation of various Christian denominations in the Holy Land as “rough tolerance”. He emphasized that the encounter of Western and Eastern Christianities at the time of the Crusades was marred by mutual ignorance of their respective theological traditions and tolerance restricted by the assumption of Latin priority in the organization of the new polity. This forced cohabitation continued after the settlement of the Custodia Terrae Sanctae in the fourteenth century, which made the Franciscans the only accepted Latin presence in the Holy Land. In this paper I intend to address negotiating by means of rituals which characterized the cohabitation of Franciscans, Orthodox Greeks, Syrians, Copts and Ethiopians in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. I will focus specifically on the usage of ritual space, namely of the Anastasis, and of ritual objects, which were instrumental in either defending Franciscan orthodoxy or in denouncing the heterodoxy of Eastern “schismatics”. For instance, a German friar, pilgrim to Jerusalem in 1483, denounced the ritual cleansing of the altars performed by the Greek Orthodox after the Latins had celebrated on them. Equally, ritual objects such as the Jacobite usage of a horn,  reminiscent of the Jewish shofar, to summon the faithful to liturgy, were denounced by the friars as a proof of their heterodoxy.  In the fifteenth century the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was a space of negotiated religious and ethnic identities. Much of this negotiation was done through ritual. This paper will discuss the structuring power of ritual in the context of the Anastasis.