The Crusader period

Reconstruction of the crusader convent- B.Bagatti

This marked the beginning of a new phase in the history of the Holy Land. Due to the difficult living conditions in the territories of Bethlehem, the Christians requested aid from Godfrey de Bouillon who was staying in Emmaus. The arrival of the Crusaders aggravated the relations between Muslims and Christians, who were hoping that the town would be liberated by the Crusaders. In fact, a group of knights led by Tancred captured the town, which from that point began its golden age. Relations with Europe intensified through both commercial exchanges and pilgrimages. The Crusaders also gave a new look to the town by building a monastery for the Augustinian canons – where today the Franciscan convent is located − to whom liturgical services in the church and the welcoming of pilgrims were entrusted, while the Eastern rites were given the possibility to celebrate their own liturgies.

On 24 December 1100 Baldwin I was crowned as the first king of Jerusalem, and from then on the city of Bethlehem was directly dependent on the Patriarch of Jerusalem, becoming an Episcopal seat and diocesan center. Between 1165 and 1169, at the wish of Bishop Rudolph, restoration works on the church were carried out with a financial contribution from the Crusader king Amalric I and the Byzantine emperor Manuel Comnenus, as evidenced by the pilgrim Phocas. This collaboration was a clear sign of the unity between the Eastern and Western Churches.

The defeat of the Crusaders by Saladin (Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub) in 1187 at Hattin in Galilee led to a new occupation of Bethlehem. The resident Latin community in Bethlehem left the town, returning only in 1192 when the Muslims allowed the Latins to resume religious services upon payment of a stiff tax.

The history of Bethlehem, like that of all the Holy Places, experienced a moment of special importance with the journey of Francis of Assisi, who in 1219-1220 went to the East along with twelve other friars. It is likely that he went to Bethlehem, since he is linked by a well-known tradition to the image of the Christmas crèche, although this is not confirmed by any source. In any event, it is known with certainty that the friar, having arrived in the port of Acre along with the Crusaders, went to Egypt to the court of the Sultan Malek al-Kamil who, struck by the personality of the saint, granted him a safe-conduct for his journey to Palestine. Several of his companions, having previously arrived in Palestine in the preceding years, stayed on in the service of the Church in these Lands.

As a result of two truces, one between Emperor Frederick II and the Sultan of Egypt, the other between the King of Navarre and the Sultan of Damascus, Bethlehem passed under the control of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem between 1229 and 1244. This situation lasted for little more than a decade, as the Khwarezmian invasion in 1244 once again destabilized the territories.

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