By Dr Michele Campopiano, University of York.
Between the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, among the narrow and busy streets of the Holy City, there is a place which is remarkable for its peacefulness: the Franciscan Convent of San Salvatore. It is one of the convents of the Franciscan Custodia Terrae Sanctae. Following the example of the founder of the order Saint Francis, who visited the Holy Places, the Friars Minor have had a continuous presence in Jerusalem since the 14th century. They have welcomed and helped pilgrims since the Late Middle Ages, and they continue their function as ‘guardians’ of the Holy Places for the Catholic Church.
One of the first things a traveller will notice by entering the walls of the convent is the fascinating encounter of languages and forms of writing: Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, Italian (the official language of the Custodia) and many other languages all resound among these ancient walls.
The Custodia is also an important centre of learning. It hosts the library Biblioteca Generale della Custodia di Terra Santa (the General Library of the Custody of the Holy Land), with its important patrimony of manuscripts and modern and ancient printed books.
The library is in a crucial phase of reorganisation and modernisation in order to improve the availability of the patrimony for scholars. Thanks to the kind hospitality of Father Lionel Goh, the director of the Library, and of the helpful employees of the Custodia, I have been able to spend a month in Jerusalem working on the medieval manuscripts of the Custodia. My research will be presented in full in a book I am writing about the history of the Franciscan presence in the Holy Land between the 14th and 16th centuries. Some of the first results of my research will be presented in an article to be published in a collective volume edited in Italy by Franco Cardini.
The scholarly activity of the Franciscans themselves is expressed in particular by the work of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum which publishes extensively on biblical archaeology and exegesis, as well as on the history of the Holy Land. Many of the publications of the scholars of the institute can be found in the lovely Franciscan Corner- the Franciscan International Bookshop, near Jaffa Gate, in front of the Tower of David. In this bookshop the publications of the Franciscan Printing Press of Jerusalem and of the Edizioni Terrasanta of Milan, and other books on Biblical studies and the Holy Land and its history can be found. When you enter Jaffa look on your left side, you’ll be pleasantly surprised!