The Franciscan Order was founded in the 13th century by St. Francis of Assisi, who preached simplicity, poverty and the performance of charity.  In 1219 St. Francis visited the Holy Land, and since then Franciscan monks have been following in his footsteps, visiting the holy sites despite difficult conditions and hostile Muslim rule.



The Franciscan Monastery of San Salvador During Christmas

Photo: Ron Peled

Thanks to their tenacious residence in the Holy Land following the fall of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1187, the Franciscans were appointed by the Pope to serve as Di Custodia Terra Sancta (the Custodians of the Holy Land) on behalf of Christianity, and to preserve the interests of the Catholic Church in the East.  The keystone of the monastery gate bears the symbol of the Custodia Terra Sancta.  The Franciscans adopted the symbol of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem:  a large cross with four small crosses in each corner.



Jerusalem During Christmas

Photo: Ron Peled

The Franciscan coat of arms has two arms crossed against the background of a simple cross, with the Holy Spirit depicted as a dove.  The right unclothed arm of Christ passes over the left arm of Francis, which is clothed in a sleeve. Both hands bear the wound mark of a nail. The wound mark in the hand of Christ (the exposed hand) recalls His crucifixion; the wound mark in the hand of Francis (the hand clothed in the sleeve) recalls his having been given the stigmata.



San Salvador Basilica

Photo: Ron Peled

For hundreds of years the primary role of the Franciscans has been to house the Catholic pilgrims to Jerusalem and see to their welfare.  The St. Salvador Monastery – the Sacred Savior, in Spanish – is the center of the Franciscan Order in the Holy Land and the entire Middle East.  The Franciscans have resided on this site since the 16th century, since they were evicted by the Muslim rulers of Jerusalem from their residence on Mt. Zion. 

The site is extensive, with an active publishing house, a conservatory, workshops and of course, the offices of the Custodia Terra Sancta.  Entrance into the compound and the monastery is prohibited, but we can visit the magnificent church whose construction was completed in the 19th century.



San Salvador Basilica

Photo: Ron Peled

The Franciscan monks wear sandals and simple brown robes, and around their waist they tie a rope with three knots indicating the three vows of the Franciscan order:  obedience, poverty and chastity.