In this article, you will get all information regarding Holy Land Franciscans Advance Next Phase of Jerusalem’s Terra Sancta Museum

JERUSALEM (OSV News) – The priest-director of the Cultural Heritage Office of the Custodia Terrae Sanctae, or Custody of the Holy Land, in Jerusalem opened a drawer of clothes and casually dropped an unexpected historical tidbit about a clerical chasuble that showed group of foreign guests. The chasuble was part of a collection of vestments that the Archbishop of Paris wore for the wedding of Emperor Napoleon III of France to Empress Eugenie, and which the Empress later donated to the Church of the Holy Land .

It turns out that the gift was part of an imperial tradition that explains why a large number of European religious works of art and other treasures were collected and kept in the Holy Land, even though many similar treasures from we have been lost, plundered and destroyed. throughout European history.

Franciscan Father Stephane Milovitch, director of the Cultural Heritage Office of the Custodia Terrae Sanctae in Jerusalem, is pictured January 30, 2023. (Photo OSV News/Tom Tracy)

Some of these objects kept by the Franciscans in the Holy Land, including a collection of 13 church bells discovered hidden in Bethlehem and dating from the Middle Ages, have traveled to some of the greatest museums in the world.

But now they will have a permanent home in Jerusalem as the Custody of the Holy Land moves forward with the creation of a new “historical section” of its popular Terra Sancta museum, which opened to the public in 2017. The museum is located at the Church of the Flagellation, the first station of the Way of the Cross in Jerusalem. Until now, this section was limited to archaeological artifacts from the first millennium.

A new section of the museum will serve as a point of dialogue and exchange with local Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities – as well as with pilgrims and visitors of all faiths and backgrounds who come to Jerusalem to explore its history and cultures.

“We want to make a Christian museum here in Jerusalem so that there is something Christian to occupy the space of culture even if you are only one and a half percent of the population,” the father said. Franciscan Stephane Milovitch, director of the Cultural Heritage Office for the Custodia Terrae Sanctae, told OSV News. “The church is still there and has been here for 2,000 years; it can be a bridge with the different communities.

The Franciscan friars arrived in the Holy Land in the 13th century and had an uninterrupted presence there for the next eight centuries, during which time they held a unique position as guardians of holy places. They provide a source of spiritual care for pilgrims from abroad and serve local Christian communities in the greater region, including Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Today the Custody looks after around 50 Christian shrines and parishes and until 1850 was the only Catholic religious order serving the Holy Land. This meant that the Franciscans were in a unique position to serve as the voice of the Catholic Church with the various Islamic leaders – some of whom had hostile relations with the Church after the Crusader era.

Over the centuries, European monarchs sent gifts and religious treasures for use in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which have been kept here. But the Custody also kept its own centuries-old archives, containing singular records of communications with local rulers as well as baptismal and marriage records from the local Christian community.

A well-preserved collection is that of some 450 seventeenth- and eighteenth-century terracotta pharmaceutical jars highlighting the space the friars occupied as physicians and pharmacies: The first friar-physician sent to the Holy Land by Pope Pius II in 1460 was the Brother Baptist from Lübeck. The medically trained brothers cared for visiting pilgrims as well as local communities.

Holy Land Franciscans Advance Next Phase of Jerusalem's Terra Sancta Museum
Some objects from a collection in the Terra Sancta museum of the Franciscan Friars in Jerusalem are pictured January 30, 2023. The Franciscans in the Holy Land are pushing forward the next phase of the museum, which will include a host of religious art objects and more. (Photo OSV News/Tom Tracy)

“We had the biggest pharmacy in the Middle East,” Father Milovitch said proudly. “Even today, St. Joseph’s Christian Hospital receives patients from many cultures; many women go to give birth at Saint-Joseph hospital, but also many Muslims from the West Bank come for treatment; we try to build bridges with the community.

“We would like to show the pharmacy and how it was before – through some works of art we can show that the church has taken care of everyone’s body and health, and not only since the Second Vatican Council but even before,” the priest added.

The new historical section of the Terra Sancta Museum will be housed in the heart of the Franciscan See at St. Savior Monastery. It will be divided into two parts: the history and mission of the Custody of the Holy Land, and the Treasury of the Holy Sepulchre.

Rare collections of paintings, sculptures, archival documents, donations from European courts – even a gilded copper crozier from the Bishop of Bethlehem from the 13th century – will allow pilgrims to deepen their knowledge of the sanctuaries and discover the beauty of the liturgy in the Holy Land, according to museum organizers.

There is also a research element to the project with international partners willing to help and learn from the collection. Here too, in the Holy Land, a discovery was made in 1906 of a French-made pipe organ believed to be the oldest pipe organ in Christendom and which remains entirely original.

This organ should be part of the museum’s new collection. Researchers have made a facsimile to better understand the nature of liturgical music in the Middle Ages, according to Father Milovitch.

The Franciscan collection also includes a unique set of written communications with the Egyptian dynasty of the Mamluk Sultanate, which ruled the Holy Land from 1260 to 1516. However, little documentation has survived from this period.

“We have several thousand documents that we have kept over the years because our archives have never been invaded,” Fr. Milovitch said.

French scholars are also keen to explore local icons produced in Jerusalem over the centuries and to understand how the Jerusalem school of iconography compares to other styles of iconography.

The museum will also include an extensive collection of locally produced mother-of-pearl religious art as well as Palestinian jewelry. Mother-of-pearl craftsmanship was introduced by the Franciscans in the 16th century to enable local Christian families in Bethlehem to support themselves. This art has become part of the Palestinian cultural heritage.

“The heritage that we have is of interest not only to Christians but also to humanity (in general), because everyone loves music and everyone loves art,” Fr. Milovitch said, adding “it is important to create a bridge with different cultures”.

Tom Tracy writes for OSV News from Florida. He was on hand in Jerusalem to visit Christian holy sites.

For more information on the Terra Sancta Museum,

Find out more Arts & Culture

Copyright © 2023 OSV News

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.

Holy Land Franciscans Advance Next Phase of Jerusalem’s Terra Sancta Museum

For more visit

Latest News by