The love that Francis brought in the East, was the love to Christ and to the places from him sanctified:
places that he wanted to redeem from the hands of the infidels and give them back to Christian worship,
to generate a vibration within feelings of a more vivid and profound recognition of faith. But the love
that Francis had for his Lord was not separated from that of creatures made in his image and for which
He, the Son of God had spread his blood. This second love, in him no less strong than the first, also
pushed him to the East bringing Jesus back to the souls who had abandoned him or who did not yet
know him. The ideal of the Founder, were passed in heredity to the sons, who tried to work in both
fields with the same zeal of their Father who had preceded them.
Unfortunately, their apostolate had to be almost exclusively limited to the conservation of the
Faith in the few Catholics who lived in the Middle East. Later it was then possible to begin a regular
apostolate to bring the schismatic back to the church in Rome.
Both in one case or another, the Franciscans understood that it was necessary above all to carry
out their work among the children, docile and susceptible of receiving in their spirit religious and moral
Therefore, one of the means of apostolate used by the Franciscans was the institution of the
schools: institution that began very humbly, taken. in progress of time, remarkable developments, so
much so that the Custody of the Holy Land is placed in a prominent position on this point.
For the sake of obligation, we are obliged to make it known that for the first part of this article
we have almost exclusively used the study made on “Diarium Terrae Senctee"(Years 1909-1910), "De
scholis Terrae Sanctae" the most exhaustive on the subject. This study was the work of the P.
Nazzareno lacopozzi former Custos of the Holy Land.
It is absolutely impossible for lack of documents (often destroyed or burned by the infidels
during their raids in the convents of the Custody) to have news about the establishment of schools in
the Custody of the Holy Land in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries.
The first eyewitness, known, gives us the news of the existence of a school and a certain
Giovanni Cotwyuk from Utrech, who visited Palestine in the year 1598. In his "linerarium Hierosolymita,
mm et Syriacum" he writes: "Christiani (Bethlehem) Graecum observant ritum, pauci Latinum: omnes
tamen ltalicam callent linguam, quam Francam appellant, et a pueris ediscunt. Seniores Minoritis et
Peregrinis Occi lentalibus lnterpretum loco serviunt: filios idctrco ltalica lingua in Minoritis studiose
curant, ne umquam deficiant, qui Monasterij negotijs inserviant: cui equidem (ut to Monachis
accepimus) diligentem et lldelem hactenus navarunt operam et studium".
One of the major concerns that the Franciscans had in Palestine from the beginning was the one
that the western pilgrims could find during their visit to the Sanctuaries every comfort. For this reason
they made their Christians learn the Italian language which, at that time, was considered in the East as
the language of all Westerners, so that they could serve themselves and then to the pilgrims. From the
words of Giovanni Cotwyck one could argue that all Christians of Bethlehem, latins and greeks, knew,
in 1598,
the Italian language that they had learned since childhood at the school of the Franciscans; school that
must have existed for at least fifty years. Indeed, from the fact that the old men of the village wanted
the tradition of knowing the Italian language to be preserved, to render servants to the convent and to
make themselves useful to the pilgrims. it can be deduced that it is an office that the Betlemitans were
almost hereditary and thus for several generations, so it could be said that the school of Bethlehem
existed from the beginning of the XVI century if not even in the fifteenth century.
Anyway, apart from assumptions and hypothesis, it is clear that in the year 1596 the Franciscans
were teaching the young children in Bethlehem
But, besides the school in Bethlehem, there were others during the sixteenth century? It is not
possible to state it for the fact that there are no documents in this regard.
Some writers, based themselves on a report of Villamon (Les Voyages du Seigneur) in which it
is said: "Mais aussi tost ils retournerent, amenant avec eux a Chrestien de la ceinture nomuw Maousso,
qui estoit de Rama et parlait bon ltalien, ofrant de venir nous conduire en la compagne de l 'Atalla, par
ce qu'il avoit la langue italienne plus a commandement," they deduced that there was also a school in
Ramleh that was kept from the Franciscan by their side, but it was a too large as a conclusion for the
premises." Probably the Minor friars had made Christians come from Bethlehem that were aware of
the Italian language to lend their service to the nursery for the pilgrims which they supposed were in
Ramleh: very necessary thing is to keep in mind that at that time Ramleh was the venue of a civil
governor which every pilgrimage was to announce his arrival at the port of Giaffa and request that it be
Others thought, but without no reason, that there should also be a school at the Convent of St.
Salvatore in Jerusalem. But it is not possible to admit it for the very fact that It adds that in the sixteenth
century there was no Catholic family in Jerusalem (I). However, not much time passed that the
Franciscans opened a school in Jerusalem and Nazareth
Rather according to what F. Pietro Verniero di Montepiloso tells us in his "Croniche ovvero
Annaloi di Terra Santa", already before 1631 a school for children in Aleppo existed: "It is necessary (to
buy a house outside the city of Aleppo) to keep the school of the children as it is one of the services
most desired by us, the Holy Congregation and necessary to make the Christian doctrine:
Which has been made well since now in our churches, keeping present the Guardian of Aleppo
that erected the school of that doctrine, where 164 children take part in without adults as for the
distance as many don’t come, as many that will come as having taken place in Giudeca (Gidaide): as of
now to reach the church it is more convenient to go through the Turkish Bazars, although a bit
uncomfortable, yet gives opportunity in studying in school and taking part of the Christian doctrine, a
necessary place in which we hope that if you walk well through you will succeed one of the most
necessary and important collogues within the Roman Church.
Compared from F. Custos Diego da S. Severino, the house in question was immediately informed
of the l’ Baiolo of Venice in Constantinople to make it possible to obtain from the Gran Visir an
endorsement in favor of the house and the Franciscans that had to live in it order to be able to celebrate
their Messa, divine offices, and other activities as teaching their children the Christian Doctrine. A lot
of work for the Baiolo to the point that he managed to receive an endorsement in which, through
various things, he permitted all his brothers to freely practice their spiritual duties within schools. (Book
VII, cap. 25, p. 200-201) Therefore within the existing school, in its interior of the city before 1631
another one was added within the Christian suburb of Aleppo, known as Gidaide.
In the general chapter celebrated at Toledo in 1645 the following was established, “Decernitur
deinde, quod puerr filii interprcturn. et a]n qui m Hterosohma, Bethlehem et Nazareth mserviunt
Monasterils doce- antur et mrruantur in docrrtna Chnsncnn, quousque novcm annos attigerint postea
tamen suis parentibus relmquantur" in addition to, "Hts vcro pueris detnr hora meridiana modcrnlum
ah- mentum ad eorum sustentationem : m vespera tamcn in dornos patcrnas remittantur coenarur!"
It can be thought that the General Chapter hasn’t imposed the custos to erect the schools of
Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth but that it has simply summoned thoose who already were involved
within the schools in the following three cities: Mostly in determining until what age did students
participate in school and whether lunch should be incorporated by the school itself. The following helps
deduce that in fact the schools were already present before 1645.
At the end of the XVI century and in the following one, the Custos increased significantly its
number of convents by either building new ones or restructuring those destroyed. Therefore, at the
start of 1582 till 1698 they have been inaugurated and opened following chronological order, with
convents of Tripoli di Syria, Alessandria di Syria, Nicosia, Larnaca, Nazareth, Acri, Sidone, S. Giovanni,
Aleppo, Harissa, Rosseto, Alessandria of Egypt, Gran Cairo, Damascus, Fakum, Damiata, Old Cairo. A
century had just passed by in which in a documented relation F. Gonzaga talked of only six convents of
the Custos when F. Custos Francesco Da S. Floro writing in 1699 documented a total of twenty
two convents.
As the number of convents increased slowly so did the number of schools. From the same
documentations, apparently, the number of schools had also grown to twenty of which: six in Palestine,
Six in Syria, two in the island of Cyprus, five in Egypt, and one in Constantinople, with a total of 188
students. It will certainly not be proponent to report internally the part of this report by F. Custos in
which we talk about the schools, the teachers who directed them and the number of students. From
which we can form an idea of how much already in this period the Franciscans operated with success
in the field of scholastic activities.
Schools that are maintained within the H. Custos and number of
Scholars that are fed and taught with faith from ages of 6 to 12.
Jerusalem (S. Salvatore)
School teacher: Father Antonio di S. Pietro: Scholars 30.
School teacher: Father Francesco of Mari Jesus: Scholars 35.
San Giovanni
School teacher: Father Antonio da Terni: Scholars 11.
Rama (Ramleh of Palestine)
School teacher: Father Agostino da Montefortino: Scholars 5.
S. Giovanni D’Acri
School teacher: Father Dionisio da Cutri: Scholars 5.
School teacher: Father Mattia of Naples: Scholars 10.
School teacher: Father Nicolo Poisson: Scholars 11.
School teacher: Father Girolamo da Trapani: Scholars 10.
The school is newly established, but the order of the Sacred Congregation
is awaited, which for the time had turned it into a point of information.
School teacher: Father Apollinare of Nativity;
Scholars 2.
School teacher: Father Vincenzo Pleino:
Scholars 9.
Scandarona (Alessandretta)
School teacher: Father Lodovico da Rossano;
Scholars 3.
School teacher: Father Thomas of England;
Scholar 0.
Cyprus Arnica
School teacher: Father Giuseppe di Sternatia:
Scholars 10.
School teacher: Father Antonio di Geraci;
Scholars 4.
Hospitality has recently been retaken, School teacher:
Father Giovanni Benedetto Spagnolo: Scholars 0.
School teacher: Father Stefano of Naples: Scholars 0.
Mission and hospitality have been renewed six months ago.
School teacher: Father Daniele Pellen: Scholars 0.
Cairo Veccrio
School teacher: Father Filippo da Villafranca: Scholars 0.
Gran Cairo
School teacher: Father Massimo da Campotorto: Scholars 25.
School teacher: Father Giovanni Battista della Fratta, Scholars 7.
Therefore, wherever the Franciscans have established themselves excluding the Convents of the
Holy Sepulcher and Hospice of Tripoli di Syria they have managed to establish schools for the children.
It is unfortunate that because of the lack of documentations it is impossible for the majority to
understand when these schools have opened exactly and how much sweat and tears they have cost.
To us it is sufficient knowing just the existence of these works: as all the rest is written in the book of
From the above documentation, there is a conclusion that can be reached through logic as for
Constantinople, Damiata, Rossetto, Alexandria, and Old Cairo after the assignment of teacher to these
schools the number of scholars indicated was 0. This helps us understand that the number of Catholics
probably was very low to the point of not having children that could participate in the school. This is a
significant fact as it demonstrates that the Custos maintained a school efficient even though there
weren’t children probably because it had become a routine to have schools to run near the Convents
as soon or later it would be useful in completing its instructive and beneficial mission.
In a letter of S. Congregation of Propaganda Fide to F. Custos it reads: “It reminds V.P.
to preserve and increase the schools and teach everyone the Latin language, thus importing greatly
propaganda of the holy faith and condition these areas with this language, as it facilitates the
communication of costs between the church and Romans, as well as being able to help these
populations easily by supplementing good books and good teachers.” The expression “to preserve”
allows us to deduce that some of the churches held by the Franciscans were neglected enough;
However, we must not forget that in this century most of the attention and intervention from the
superiors and brothers of the Custos aimed at preserving and retrieving holy sites therefore inevitably
in front of such importance all the other works passed as their second plan and intervention. In fact, as
soon as the struggle for sanctuaries decreased the superiors turned their attention to the re-
organization of Schools education.
In September 1692, the S. Congregation of Propaganda gave, in its Decree concerning the
Mission of Egypt, saying: "In super S. Cong r. Decrevit quod Guardianus (S. Montis Sion) provideat etiam
In illis partibus de duobus ludimagistris pro erudienda Iuventute in pietate, et litteris..” To which invite
the Reverend Father Custos Giovan Battista d'Atina responded to the S. Congregation, about a year
later: "It is inefficient not to be found that in Cairo New from five or six children, and are not even totally
capable of rudiments: I have assigned two P.P. Missionaries for Masters with this scope, who will also
be able to serve for the sacred missions." On the 28th of October 1693, he announced that he had
already opened a school at the New Cairo and that he was had five scholars under his guidance.
In the above report, of F. Custodian Francesco da S. Floro, written in 1699, which results
annexed to the hospice of Harissa, a school. For as how much it regards his foundation it is possible to
retrieving the following news from documents of that time. The prince of the Maronite’s, Hoson al-
Khazen, with his letter (written in Italian) implored the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda to open a
Hospice at Harissa a "college" (2) in which ten young Maronite could be instructed from the Franciscan
fathers. The S. Congregation participated in this desire to F. Custos, who immediately
undertook to do the work. On the 25 April 1698, he could write: "In the visit to the Convent issued by
myself on the Conv. D'Arissa, situated on Monte Lebanon, finding great ignorance in the poor Catholics
that are there. And to instruct them, I have established the schools that will teach the fundamentals of
our Faith in the Italian language, and we will observe this structure, from the age of 6 till the age of 12,
in which time they will read, and the importance as a job of spiritual health, to daily food to maintain
the applied concentration, without digression ".
As a conclusion to this period of history it will not be out of context to refer to contemporary
testimonies on the current schools of Jerusalem and of Bethlehem.
II Reccolletto F. Bernardo Surio that was in Palestine in the years 1644-1647 writes: '"Nos Reli
gieux enseignent leurs enfants {to the sons from Bethlehem) la Foy Catholique et les sciences et'
succedent a leurs Parens en 'Office de Truchemens quand’ils viennent a mourir, ce qu'il leur est fort
proflitable, tant pour le corps que l'ame".
The F. Antonio de Castillo, who was Guardian of the convent of Bethlehem, narrates: "All the
days that serve in the Convent and more than twenty children sons of interpreters (to which we gave
the teachings after having recited all the religious works in the Chapel of S. Catherina, the religious
interpretations, to read and write and we teach them about the things of faith and how it would be like
to live as Christians and speak the Italian language) we start by singing antiphons and hymns, etc..".
On the school in Jerusalem you have these news of the Cavaliere D'Arvieux {1600): "The children
of Christians learn the song and the music, there are religious who are destined to teach them these
things, others teach them to read and write in Latin and Italian, and others taken on Catechism": and
further on adds that: “It is un imaginable how much the Holy Land needs sustainability and help in
maintaining the large number of religious people and Christian families that choose to educate their
children in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and many other sites.
The testimony of Jesuit P. Nau is mostly interesting as having lived in the holy land in the year 1674. As
in his story “Voyage nouveau de le Terra Sainte” he refers to a beautiful praise on the Franciscans and
their scholars in Bethlehem: “They teach for the love of God thirty or forty children in the Catholics of
Bethlehem, to whom they teach to speak Italian and to read. These children attend the whole Divine
Office. that is said during the day, with an admirable modesty. In the evening, when the Greeks open
the Grotto of the Nativity of the Savior. They go two by two with the religious brothers; and after having
made their little devotions, they go, always two by two, to humbly plant this holy land and return to
the convent in the same order as they still observe in the evening when they return to their homes".
We have seen how, in the previous century, schools were already numerous and, one can
believe it. well organized for which it would be obvious to think that in the years that follow they took
an even greater development. Unfortunately, it was not so. The causes? Very clear: the political
conditions of the country the vicissitudes of the S. Custody and the interference, healthy but violent, of
the plague.
As soon as the Franciscans had heard that the plague had broken out in the country, they took
the necessary measures so that the disease would limit the number of victims. The important
precaution was certainly to close the schools to avoid that the infection could easily spread among the
children (3).
No less unhappy were, in this respect, the wars and the continuous revolutions that bloodied
Palestine. It would be a good idea to remember the wars of Osman Pascia governor of Damascus, the
revolts of Ali Bet and his expedition to Syria, led in alliance with Daher Omar, who placed fire and steel
on Palestine and Syria. The expedition of Napoleon had consequence that the Franciscans and the gold
houses were the object of fines, harassment, and theft carried out by the natives in hate to the invader
as compensation for the damages suffered. No less tenacious and disastrous were the expeditions to
Syria and Palestine of Muhammed Ali and of his father Ibrahim Peseta for more than seven years.
To all this is added the fact that in those years the houses of the S. Custody were desolately
empty; Europe itself sailed in bad waters and naturally could not think of sending offers: in the East,
the Franciscans were in great financial distress (4).
Another circumstance, which helps us better understand why the schools of the Holy Land could
not flourish as it would be desired, should not be forgotten. At this time, under the Turkish government,
at least in the countries where the Franciscans worked, no liberal art were cultivated: moreover, all the
public offices and clusters were rigorously: interdicted to the Christians, and commerce was almost
exclusively practiced by the occident. It was therefore necessary for the Christian residents in the east
to learn some trade that could give them the means of earning their lives (5). The school could not have
great development because all the practical purposes were lacking simple, moral, and religious unity.
Despite the fact, the Franciscans attempted at any cost of great sacrifices and well
understanding the importance, they did their utmost to keep their schools. P. Custody Adrea
da Montoro wrote on the 14 November 1730 to the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide: "In Egypt
it is possible to do great good, as the Greeks, Cofti, and Armenian have all the liberty to embrace all
that they want to bring themselves to that church as they like without fear of persecution… unlike in
Syria and Palestine were if such liberty was embraced despite the Turks everyone would be Catholic…
and therefore it seemed to me expedient to open public schools for all the convents and hospices of
this their Custody, so that with the teaching of the holy doctrines with time results could be earned
through our Mother Church sons, who at present cannot assemble themselves without parents "But
apparently this wishful thinking of the Custodian did not have a practical realization, in fact in the PP
Custodians that followed they did not speak to non-academic pupils who didn’t part take in the school
of the Custody, in particular that wouldn’t have failed to make it stand out because of its importance.
In 1687, the Custos of P. Pier Marino which noted in a letter to the S. Congregation of
Propaganda Fide: “Not one nor the other of the convents of (Jerusalem and Bethlehem) … School for
children is held, to which besides the humane letters and our language, or rather the Gregorian chant
even the principles of faith are taught giving back to some of the schismatic nations, to whom the
charity is made to feed him to appease him to embrace our Catholic faith".
Based on the documents which the non-Catholics hold, as such and not as catechumens, they
began to attend the schools of the Holy Land in a stable manner only at the beginning of the nineteenth
century. In a Discretional Act on February 20, 1809, in response to the wish expressed by some non-
Catholic parents of Bethlehem to be able to send their children to the school of the Holy Land. As it is
established "that the schismatic Greek children went to our school of Bethlehem when they showed
constant desire themselves, and their instances are replicated through their parents, but they do not
admit without the license of the P. Custodian, and with a promise to observe the wise customs,
and the customary practices in the Latin Catholic School for all the time that they want to attend it,
lending the expected obedience and respect to the Masters, and keeping them out if unwilling to, as to
avoid further inconveniences.
In about 1740 the Franciscans with prudence, began another work that magnificently completed the
elementary education received in schools and presented a practical purpose. In the convent of S.
Salvatore there was a school of arts and crafts for young people to learn an art necessary to earn their
lives. However, it seems that already in the years 1727 and 1730, some young people attended the
Fabro-liqnaria workshop as apprentices. Giovanni Mariti, in his "History of the Present State of the City,
of Jerusalem" writes: "Among the Latin Christians there are excellent magnani (locksmiths), and good
woodjuoli (Carpenter) and stipettii, but their ability must repeat it from the care that had some of them
Religious Franciscan of the Holy Land, under whose direction they have been several years "and further
adds:" The magnani and I legnajoli who are among those religious are always perfect teachers in their
arts ... They make good students even among people of the country pulling forward those little boys
who leave the schools of the Convent ". From a Discretional Act of 1803 it is inferred that a certain
Borther Geminiano was directing the shoe factory to which several apprentices worked. Little by little
the beneficial institution of the school of arts and crafts grew in importance (6).
From the reports of five Rev. P.P. Custodians get valuable information about the school
organization in the eighteenth century. In these reports the state of the Mission of the Holy Land and
of the Sanctuaries was communicated to the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide and were made
known, with extra care, of all the works of the S. Custody: conversions, abjurations, prisoners ransom,
From the report of P. Giacomo da Lucca (1727) we have 10 schools in the Holy Land (Jerusalem,
Bethlehem, S. Giovanni, Ramleh, Nazareth, Tolemarde, Aleppo, Larnaca, Alexandria, New Cairo) with a
total of 168 students.
In that of P. Pietro da Luri (1730) there were 11 schools (Jerusalem, Bethlehem, S. Giovanni,
Ramleh, Jaffa, Nazareth, Tolemaide, Aleppo, Larnaca, Alexandria, New Cairo) with a total of 219
P. Andrea da Montoro names in the South report (l73l) 11 schools (Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, S.
Giovanni, Ramleh, Jaffa, Tolemaide, Aleppo, Damascus, Larnaca, New Cairo) with a total of 333
students. The same Father Custos in a letter of 1730, after communicating to the Sacred Congregation
of Propaganda that an English pseudo-missionary goes around Palestine spreading religious books and
pamphlets in Arabic and English, deceiving many Catholics. He continues saying. " Moreover, having
recognized an uncommon weakness in what is reconciled to the holy faith, and that at every chance
they prevail over the fear of losing the habit and being sent into exile, I have opened for all those
convents and hospices public schools for the education of students, soaked in the Gospel doctrine are
more constant "
In 1747 P. Desiderio da Casabasciana lists 7 (Jerusalem, Bethlehem, S.ò Giovanni, Nazareth,
Damascus, Aleppo, Larnaca) with a total of 309 students.
In his report, Fr. Paolo da Piacenza (1764) tells us about seven schools (Jerusalem, Barthelme,
S. Giovanni, Ramleh, Nazareth, Damascus and Aleppo) with a total of 354 alumni,
From 1764 to 1840 there are about fifty Discretional Acts concerning schools; of these twenty-
three Acts concern the school of Jerusalem, twenty-two that of Bethlehem, six of Nazareth, two of
Damascus, one of Larnarn, and one of Jaffa. It cannot be inferred, however, that since there were no
Discretional Acts referring to the other schools of the Custody, these had been closed and abandoned.
It must be remembered that the Superiors of the convents of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth
certainly did not have time to personally deal with the progress of the open schools in their respective
convents; of these the P. Custody took immediate care with his Decretory. The other schools,
on the contrary, were dropping all over the local Superior who was directly concerned with their
maintenance and operation. The Father Custos and his Decretory simply intervened when it came to
opening a new school, or when there were questions of a certain importance to be resolved, as noted
in the Discretional Acts of those years.
Worthy of being mentioned is the open school in Constantinople. It was customary for the
Franciscans to send a certain number of boys to Constantinople to learn the Turkish language to be able
to then disengage in the office of interpreters in the relations and business that the Custody had to deal
with the civil government. It seems that such a use goes back at least to the year 1729 as it can be
deduced from a Discretional Act bearing this date. It says: "It is a question of sending to Constantinople
scholars to study the Turkish language and be able to serve Turcimano Giorgio, son of Giovanni, the
brother of Mansur of Bethlehem." We write to the Pre-Commissar to provide him with housing, clothes,
and money to pay a teacher at the expense of the Holy Land. " In the letter sent to the Commissioner
of Constantinople, where it is mentioned in document, that several other young men were appointed
and who had previously been sent to Constantinople for the same purpose.
It seems that in this period the schools of the Holy Land were a little bit down especially in Egypt.
Cardinal Mario Matteo, in exposing the state of the Custody in the year 1836, speaking of Egypt said:
"Furthermore, while the Methodists have their schools, the religious do not have them or, if they have
them, they are mostly poorly regulated and assisted.
In a document dated 1839 there is talk of the existence of six schools in Palestine (Jerusalem,
Bethlehem, St. John, Jaffa, Tolemaide). Nazareth), one in Syria (Damascus), one in Egypt (Greater
Cairo). All the other schools had been closed? We can think that the schools of the Custody, from the
year 1764 to the year 1839, have followed the ups and downs of the political situation, of the plagues
and of the various kinds of diffusion for which the local superiors opened or closed the school entrusted
to them. that the circumstances were favorable or not. This supposition could very well explain why
not all the schools are named in all the Discretion Acts: their momentary opening or closing depended
solely on the local superior.
According to the very clear author of "De Scholis Terrae Sanctae" (Diarium Terrae Sanctae, 1908-
09) it could be said that during this period of time: a) the schools of Damiata, Constantinople, Old Cairo
did not exist; b) those of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth always were in splendor. c) those of St. John,
Jaffa, Tolemaide. Damascus, Gran Cairo, Larnaca developed their activity occasionally according to
circumstances that allowed it: d) all the others. little by little, then disappeared.
In the reports left to us by the two pilgrims between John of Jesus Christ (1817) and Father
Geramb (1831-1833) it is said that the Franciscans of the Custody had an open school in all their
convents (7). These statements could be a denial to what has been said above. It must be remembered,
however, that when the two pilgrims were in the Holy Land, war and revolutions raged in the country
for which the news they reported, and which certainly had been learned from the mouths of the
religious, could not be controlled due to lack of news, impossible to have there being no great comfort
and possibility of communication in a country at war.
Unfortunately, we must admit that throughout this period the schools were quite declining, so
it should not amaze all that we have said above. Since, however, political conditions in Egypt were
better, as the superiors of the Custody immediately took advantage to increase their schools. This is
clear evidence demonstrated from a letter by the Prefect of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide dated
March 2, 1839. "I received the letter of V.P. in January 16, and I must greatly praise the zeal shown by
her in the sight of Egypt, especially for what concerns the schools, which I cannot recommend enough,
so that Youth does not come elsewhere imbued with perverse doctrines of others".
About this period, as far as schools are concerned, we have testimonies of very interesting
contemporaries, but that would be too long to report. We will limit ourselves to this one by Giovanni
Mariti (1767) referring to the school in Jerusalem: "Evvo still {in the Convent of S. Salvatore] a Master
for the small children of the Latin Christians of the City, to whom they teach to read Latin, and to write
and read Italian. They teach in the duties of religion, in the still song, and in the music still according to
their capacity. They are daily forty or fifty, and every morning they remain to dine in the Convent, and
do not leave for their houses if not the day after they complete. They use religion to keep them close
to their influence until they are 12 years of age. "I observed that these boys are always serious and
tolerant in spirit, and they are not capable of doing as those of our countries of this age. They learn all
with great ease, and do not escape the fatigue as very few dispelled, since in those parts there are also
minor amusements and childish pastimes. Such charity used by those religious Fathers, who are
advantageous to those little boys and their parents, then produce a comfortable friar themselves, and
especially for the service of the choir. From those of better character and ability come out good
Dragoman and honest people for the market, finding themselves also today scattered around Europe.
About through half of the nineteenth century the S. Custody in a period of greater tranquility which
allowed a greater development both in the internal government of the Custody and in its various
external works, favored, these, even by the almost ending of the continuous plagues that claimed
victims and had arrested works. Unfortunately, however, the financial constraints were always insistent
as pointed out to the Commissioner of the Holy Land in Vindobona the Venet Discretions of April 1848:
"There were times or times that this Mission was rescued by annual alms of France, Portugal and Spain;
Although it is necessary to confess this, some weak ones offered by Spain, but none at all from France
and Portugal, result in the Custody of the Mission being often reduced to the extremes of embarrasses
because of the costly maintenance of all churches and schools, convents, teachers, the poor and
foreigners, despite the fact that it is possible to restrict its own needs. It is only necessary to cast a
superficial glance on the circumstances of the Catholic countries in Europe to be convinced that the
needs of religion and education in the present they increase from year to year as the relief diminishes."
Despite this, the Franciscans, always hoping for Providence, undertake repair work on their
buildings, churches and convents damaged by the weather and by time. Their greatest care, however,
was addressed to schools, both in repairing what was lost, and in opening new buildings for the
education of youth. They were also pushed to this by the benign Constitution or Khat-Sherif of the
Sultana Abd-ul-Megid, solemnly proclaimed in the Gulhane plain near the garden of the imperial palace
of Top-Kapu.
Although in this Constitution there is no mention of schools and teaching, certain principles of
freedom were established which the Franciscans immediately took advantage of to improve their
teaching methods and to make their schools private. At this step, the bold Sublime Porta, which was
tacitly approved as we can deduct from the "News of the Holy Land Mission" of the year 1849, reads:
"The literary establishments not only find no opposition to the Sublime. But they are approved by her,
and if they have a beneficial influence on the cultivation and the civilization of the Grand Sultan's
subjects, I even take great noble protection without regard to nationality or religion. The proof is made
by the Christian schools and the printing works last days on the Turkish territory, as well as the rescript
issued lately in the name of the Turkish emperor Abdul-Mescid from the Sublime Porta to a Catholic
convent ". We also draw from the official report that Fr. Paolo Antonio da Moretta, inspector of the
schools of the Custody · '"Currently, culture can be promoted in this country without impediments".
Another precious testimony is found in the report written by Fr. Sebastiano Frotschner on 1847 and
sent to the Commissioner of the Holy Land in Vienna: "The institutes of education and culture are in
the East the problem of present times, as well as the intelligent Grand Sultan himself insists that in all
the towns and villages, even among Muslims, primary schools are established, if they did not exist, and
could therefore consider us several previous limitations on the part of the Catholic schools regarding
public schools, However, I observe more and more that on the other side incredible obstacles arise
every time it is a piece of land for a school building "(8).
The Custody didn’t waste time and when finding the suitable authority willing to help it began
to implement all their attention to cure the organization of schools.
In the "Relatio secretarii P. Joannis Bapt. de Terra Sancta "(1842), published by Fr. Leonardo
Lemmens, among other news we read:" The following (the new Custodian P. Cherubino da Cori) has
been waited in June 1841 on arrival in the City, where he immediately put his hand to the cure of the
catholic Christianity, which welcomed and honored it with the greatest possible acclamation. But his
first concerns were aimed at the correct education of children and girls, decreeing a new order of public
education to this end. He first threw down the foundations in Jerusalem and had a happy outcome: and
those Christian walkers and travelers greatly praised the institutor. Here, however, the Custodian is not
arrested, but he is committed to all things, so that these works of charity may be extended to all the
convents of Palestine. And to carry out this excellent division efficiently, he himself brought himself in
person, so that without delay he could put himself to work both necessarily and usefully... I left the Holy
Land for some time going to Cyprus ... He heard with repulsion, that for lack of means the children went
to take lessons from the Methodists, who opened the door to avoid serious inconveniences and placed
schools for male and female sexes to share".
Meanwhile the school institution of the Custody was enriched with a new branch: which was
schools for girls. A strong desire was perceived for girls to receive a religious, moral and literary
instruction adapted to their conditions. The year 1841, with the decree of the Ven.le Decretory of the
Holy Land, the first school for children was then opened in Jerusalem: the following year in Nazareth
and in Bethlehem and, before 1844, in Acri.
Meanwhile, the Reverend Father General, preceding the Intentions of the Supreme Pontiff Pius
IX, communicated to the Custos his wish that the schools should increase especially those for boys and
girls. In the Decretory Acts under the date of February 17, 1812 we read: " P. Custos, after having
expressed some letters of the Rev. General P. regarding the benefit and honor of the Holy Land, as
would be the public establishments of schools of children and girls, and because there are more and
more rumors of Rome’s involvement over Palestine, so the General wants that the R. P. Custody let him
know what is evil and what is good to remedy the one and favor the other". While these decisions were
being made, the Decretory of the Holy Land provided for the opening of two new schools: one in Beit-
Jala and the other in Beit-Sahur, two villages near Bethlehem and instructed a local Christian to teach
in these schools. which, on May 3, 1842, was associated with Fr. Umiliano Corsini and Fr. Darran: the
first teacher in Beit-Jala and the second in Beit-Sahur.
The Rev. Fr. General in agreement with the Custodian, established to appoint a clergyman who
had the office to re-establish and increase the educational system of the Custody. The same Minister
General charged this office with Fr. Paolo Antonio da Moretta, illustrious son of the Piedmont province
of S. Tommaso.
At the end of 1814 or at the beginning of 1845, Father Peretti, with his companion Fr. Lorenzo
Jourdan da Fenestrelle (Turin) reached Jerusalem carrying a letter from the Minister General in which,
in addition to a beautiful eulogy of the virtues and qualities of the P Peretti, made a clear exposition of
the offices committed to him. "The same R.P. Paolo Antonio that is coasted with many faculties of which
mine and apostolic, as it will appear in the licenses that will present ... as in essence it comes as a French
Penitentiary, Director of Schools and public education, and consequently Prefect of all the other
Masters subordinates, who will have to submit to it as regarding the methods of teaching".
A year later, Pope Pius IX sent a decree to the Custody whose main topic is that of schools:
“…nonnullas tamen regulas censemus decernendas circa scholarum disciplinam, quas aucto iis in
regionibus Christianorum numero, necessarias, omnino esse intelligimus. Volumus itaque ut
Guardianus, ac Discretorium nedum scholas pro utriusque sexus juvenibus constitutas omni ope
servandas curent, sed vero etiam novas instituant. ita ut in qualibet Sacrae Custodiae Paroecia, ubi
plurimi degunt fideles, duae sint scholae una pro pueris, altera pro puellis, in quibus praeter Christianae
fidei rudimenta, humanarum etiam litterarum ac doctrinarum elementa tradantur, quemadmodum
praedicto Guardiano videatur. Volumus etiam, ut idem Guardianus curet, ut in minoribus pagis aliquis
Reliqrosis Fratribus pueros instituant. Mandamus praeterea ut puerorum scholae a probrs dicti Ordinis
Fratribus regantur, qui, ut suo muneri satisfaciant, vacationem hebebunt officiorum, quae die sabati
Religiosae Familiae desiqnari solent. Custos vero, ac Discretorium scholas puellarum piis magistris
committent, quae vel ex Catholicis ipsis natinibus ibi commorantibus eligantur, vel ex Europa
advocentur, iisdemque Scholis prudentem, ac probum Religiosum virum advigilare jubemus.
Thus, behind the invitation of the Supreme Pontiff and under the vigilant care of Fr. Paolo
Antonio Peretti, an era of prosperity was opening for the Schools of the Holy Custody.
It is not clear how the Anglican bishop Gobat was able to report that when he visited the Holy
Land in 1847, he found only one school in Jerusalem attended by 20 students. While already in 1835,
Father Custody Perpetuo Guasco numbered 4 institutions with 139 disciples and many more even in
the canonical Mislim (Les Saints Lieux, Vol II, 1848). Moreover, other documents mentioned above
(1841-1846) clearly demonstrate that in those years the number of schools was increasing, the
education improved and even the schools were thought up.
In 1856, the Custody opened a great school in Alexandria of Egypt and when, in the same year,
the Brothers of the Christian Schools arrived in that city, the Custody entrusted them with the
teaching in its school, to which, in 1853, it was given the name of College of Terra Santa as still today
it can be seen from the inscription on the entrance door. In 1854, this College already counted a
beautiful number of 400 boys.
In 1848, the Franciscans of the Custody invited in Palestine the Sisters of St. Joseph of the
Apparition who took over the women's school in Jerusalem and Jaffa. Which in 1853 opened a school
in Bethlehem which was then passed in 1894 under the direction and control of the Custody that
provided in the years 1902 and 1939 to enlarge and make the building more suitable.
In 1852, the foundation of elementary schools in Tripoli Marina {Lebanon} was founded. Since
the number of boys attending the male school in Jerusalem was constantly on the rise, the
Franciscans thought of entrusting it to the care of the Brothers of the Christian Schools while they
opened another in their orphanage. Only twelve years later however, it was necessary to separate the
school from the external students (greatly increased) from the orphanage for which there were two
male schools in Jerusalem that of the Holy Land and that entrusted to the Brothers of the Christian
In 1861, a male school opened in Ramleh and one for women opened in 1873. In addition, to
the year 1878, where schools opened in the missions of Armenia Minor.
The Reverend Father Guido da Cortona entrusted the direction of the Franciscan Missionary
Sisters of Egypt with the direction of the female laboratory opened by Fr. Bernardino da Fermo, priest
of S. Salvatore in 1871. These arrived in Jerusalem in 1885 and immediately a female orphanage was
joined to the laboratory.
From official documents of the nineteenth century, which we report, we can get an idea of the
wonderful development that the Schools of the Custody that took place during this period:
Above chart demonstrates in the first data the Conditions of Schools managed by the Holy Land
supplying information of amount of schools (feminine and masculine), the number of teachers, and
the number of students. The second data instead shows the amount of expenses that the schools had
with teachers and supplies (books, uniform, and food).
Report on the current state of the Holy Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, made by M.R.P.
Cipriano Verdiani secretary of the General view in Palestine, 1893: "... towards the middle of the current
century, granted by the local government a bit of freedom. The appropriate time was given to open
elementary schools that were more complete and organized, at the end to provide more extensively to
the civil education of the Eastern Catholic youth of both sexes: and the Sacred Custody has decided,
even after the excitement it had from Rome, to add to its many tasks the task of the school. This decision
was providential and truly blessed by God, because in a few years the Sacred Custody could open the
male and female elementary school in almost all the main towns and villages, where there was a
Franciscan convent or hospice, subject to its jurisdiction. The female schools were entrusted to the
Sisters of St Joseph of the apparition and part to the Franciscan Tertiary Sisters, who presently keep
them in good as a rule and very flourishing. Of the male schools then the Sacred Custody gave some to
the Freres, a religious French institute, all dedicated to the education of youth, and retained for itself
some others, which later increased in number due to the new foundations.
In the male schools, directed immediately by the Franciscan friars, beyond the Catechism the
following subjects are taught: Arabic, Italian and French, English and Turkish languages: Arithmetic,
Geography, Drawing, Sacred History, Roman History, Elements of Natural History and Music with some
Gymnastic and Declamation exercises. The teaching of these subjects is approximately high depending
on the class to which the youngsters belong.
In the Women's Schools directed by the Sisters, yet under the dependence of the Sacred Custody,
teaching embraces the Catechism, the Arabic, Italian and French languages, Arithmetic, Sacred History,
Roman History, Geography, the first rudiments of Natural History, with some exercises of Singing,
Gymnastics and Declamation. The teaching of the mentioned subjects is proportionate, as we have said
of the male schools, to the diversity of the classes.
Likewise, according to the age of the girls, they are taught, the female works, which are not
limited only to the most common tasks of the house, but extend to sewing, ironing, knitting, making
flowers, at work d'uncinello, at the work of canvas in wool, with the embroidery in white and in colors.
with silk, pearls, silver and gold over each fabric quality.
The male and female Orphanages are to be added to the previously mentioned schools. The first
is directed immediately by the Franciscans, and the second by the Franciscan Tertiary Sisters with
dependence on the Sacred Custody. Both are then kept totally with the alms of the Holy Land. The
instruction given to the orphans and the orphans is identical to that of the relative Franciscan schools
One cannot fail to be impressed by the great effort made in this field by the Custody of the Holy Land.
The Franciscans have done their utmost not paying any attention to hard work and not taking care of
the enormous expenses: in this way, they prepared a very fertile ground for all the Congregations that
in large numbers, towards the end of the nineteenth century, came to Palestine. The Custody of the
Holy Land tried to keep its primacy intact even in schools while never hampering to the work of others;
indeed, almost all the new Congregations that came to Palestine found effective help in the Custody:
moral help and financial help.
When World War I ceased and Palestine passed under the British mandate, elementary education
became one of the most troublesome problems and the inevitable competition between the old schools
of the Custody and the new ones established by the government as well as by other confessions that
entered a noble race that brought an immediate result of a more modern reorganization in school
programs and to the creation of new buildings more suited to new needs. The Holy Land also in this
race succeeded in keeping its flag and its tradition so deserving high. Since then, there has been an
interrupted series of new school foundations in Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Cyprus. In 1923, a
women's school opened in Limassol (Cyprus), in 1929, following the desire of the Holy See, the Holy
Land bought the (Patriarchal University of Jerusalem) founded by the Opera Cardinal Ferrari, which was
later called" College of Earth Santa ", unfortunately due to the war events between Arabs and Jews, the
College had to close its doors to reopen them as the Jewish University, in 1933 a modern male school
was built in Jaffa, in 1946 the College of Freres was purchased in Lattachia.
In 1947, as the old college that was founded in 1859 no longer met the needs of the time and the
ever-increasing number of students, the construction of a new Aleppo College began.
Finally, in 1948 the new College of the Holy Land was opened in Amman: the first work of the Holy
Custody in the Hashemite Kingdom
About the scholastic programs, it must not be forgotten that the Custody has followed for obvious
reasons, to the government programs of the different countries reserving the inclusion of those
subjects that most correspond to its didactic purposes.
From the last statistics of 1950 the situation of the schools in the Custody of the Holy Land was as
The result and the fruits of this scholastic apostolate which lasted for centuries are as never reassuring.
Even if we exclude from our field and from our nature here an exposition of these results and fruits, let
us simply conclude with a vote: that the Custody continues in its march without arrests, that the flag of
the Holy Land will continue to wave high on the Franciscan schools of the Middle East for the glory of
God, for the good of the young generations and for the glory of the Seraphic Order.