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October 17, 2012October 17, 2012  0 comments  Christian Communities

History of the Franciscan Order


The order of Franciscan Friars was initiated by Francis of Assisi and officially accepted by the Pope Innocent III in 1210.

Francis, born in 1181 and baptized as Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone, was a son of a wealthy cloth merchant of Assisi in Italy and a French mother. The boy was commonly called Francesco (“Frenchman”) likely due to his French language skills.

St. Francis Feast Bethlehem Travelujah

His early days were fairly typical, and he was raised in an affluent family.  It is said that one day Francis Francis heard a sermon on the 10th chapter of Gospel of Matthew and was quite moved. This chapter discusses the story where  Christ gives His disciples the authority to heal and proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven and to not take any wealth with them for their way: Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts; no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff […]” (Matt. 10:9-10) After that, Francis decided to leave behind his life of means and he became a beggar.

Wearing a rough garment and with no shoes, Francis started to preach repentance. Soon he was joined by his followers. However, he knew that without receiving a special acceptance from the Pope he could not work on a larger scale and, in fact, he could be accused for heresy.

Acts of Francis were accepted by the Pope and this enabled Francis to establish the Order of Franciscan Brothers for monastic men and Order of Poor Clares for nuns. He also formed the Third Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance for lay members who wished to carry the principles of the Franciscan way of life.

Francis of Assisi died in 1226 and was pronounced a saint in 1228 by Pope Gregory IX.

The Franciscans in the Holy Land

In 1212, St. Francis set out for Jerusalem, but due to a heavy storm his ship was wrecked, and forced him to return to Italy. In 1219, the friar again tried to reach the Middle East. This time his travel was successful. After visiting Egypt, St. Francis arrived in the Holy Land. During his pilgrimage, the brother visited and preached within the sacred sites.

St. Francis Feast Bethlehem Travelujah

The Franciscan presence in the Holy Land had initially begun a couple years earlier, in 1217, with the Brother Elias, the Vicar of St. Francis, as Minister to Acre.  By 1229, the Francisans lived in a small house near the 5th station of the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem and in 1272, the sultan Baibars let the friars to settle in the Cenacle, which is also called the Upper Room, on Mount Zion. Latter, in 1309, they settled in the Holy Sepulchre and in Bethlehem.

The Franciscan presence in the Holy Land received an official status from the Pope Clement VI in 1342 and despite the various obstacles through the centuries, the Franciscan presence has continuously remained in the Holy Land through the present day.

The Franciscans care for many Catholic monasteries in the Holy Land such as Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem and Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth to name just a few.

Custody of the Holy Land

The Custos of the Holy Land is an officer of the Franciscan order, and he is appointed by the General Definitorium of Friars Minor, with the approval of the Vatican. He plays the function as head of the Franciscans in the Holy Land.

To learn more about the Custody of the Holy Land check their official website - www.custodia.org . Franciscan Media Center could be also a great source of information about their activities for the local Catholic community – visit their website at: www.fmc-terrasanta.org/en .

Feast of St. Francis

Saint Francis’s Feast comes on 4th of October.  However, this year, the solemn celebrations in Bethlehem’s St. Catherine’s Church was moved to the first Sunday after the feast.

St. Francis Feast Bethlehem Travelujah

It was a special day for new members of Bethlehem’s Third Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance, who help the Franciscan Brothers serving within St. Catherine’s Church. During the mass they were formally accepted into the brotherhood after giving a special promise to follow the principals of St. Francis’ life in front of God. As a sign of membership, they received symbolic wooden crosses, which they are to wear on every future meeting of the Third Order.

After the mass  all the members of the congregation brought special gifts for the church: a Holy Communion set in a carved wooden holder, a handmade icon of St. Francis, a beautifully decorated candle, and a bouquet of fresh flowers. These symbolical gifts decorated the altar.

The ceremony was followed by a treat in the building of the Franciscan Froars, prepared for all the people gathered in the church.

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Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.



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