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Emet m'Tsiyon

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Franciscan Monks in Jerusalem under the Mamluks (circa 1475-1518)

The Jews were low man on the totem pole, on the bottom rung of the social ladder, in Mamluk Jerusalem, as the monk Francesco Suriano makes clear. However, the Christian status was not an enviable one. In his preface to Suriano's account of late Mamluk Jerusalem and Christian affairs there, Fr. Bellarmino Bagatti writes in the mid-20th century:

"The presence of these Europeans was objected to by overzealous Moslems and afforded an opportunity for those desirous of loot. Emboldened by the meekness of the Friars, many Moslems dared to enter the rooms of the convent on Mt Sion [outside the Zion Gate of today] and remove what pleased them, to enter the kitchen and eat what they liked and to tease them [the monks] by emptying on the ground the wine which the Friars had with difficulty procured. This was the normal state of affairs, one might say, under the Mamluks. There was a let up for a while as Suriano reports."

[In the years 1467-1472, two leading Mamluks were in banishment in Jerusalem, one of them Qait Bey.]

"The Friars treated them with good food and sympathy. When these reached the highest offices [that is, returned to favor in Cairo, the Mamluk capital], the first became Sultan, the second [his] majordomo, they did not forget the friars and protected them. This really meant that they were not beaten, nor thrown into prison. It did not extend so far as to repress the greed of the pashas and Arab Chiefs when pilgrims arrived, and during these years the pilgrims continued to suffer. Suriano regarded the years of his first Guardianship (1493-1496) as happy when compared with those of his second (1513-15) which were rendered more difficult in the absence of this protection " [previously afforded by Qait Bey and his majordomo]. [p 4]

We bear in mind that the Jews were constantly exploited and humiliated more than the Christians, as Suriano testifies for the late Mamluk period, and others attest for the 19th century.
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Coming soon: A heartwarming tale of how the mighty American taxpayer showed his kindness toward Arabia's kings by making them richer than rich.


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