5 October 2023

Craftsmanship at the service of the faith


The Custody of the Holy Land will celebrate, as every year, the solemnity of St Francis of Assisi on 3 and 4 October in St Saviour’s church in Jerusalem ; as well as in the 60 Franciscan communities in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Rhodes, Cyprus and Egypt.

There are four highlights in this feast-day: the First Vespers and the Transitus on 3 October, then the Solemn Mass and the Second Vespers on 4 October. St Francis dies on Saturday 3 October 1226 at the hour of Vespers, considered by the Church as the first Sunday Vespers. This is why the feast-day is celebrated in the Church on 4 October and not the day of his death. However, the Franciscan family celebrates the Transitus, or the “passage towards eternity”, in Latin, to remember this last episode deeply linked to the hope of the Easter Resurrection. This year, we take you behind the scenes of the preparation of this solemnity, in particular to the carpentry and sewing workshops of St Saviour, witnesses of the long tradition of craftsmanship attached to the Custody since its origins.

Celebrating the Resurrection

Carpenter Khalil Shaeed worked for almost three weeks on the altar triptych which can be admired during the liturgies of the feast-day and the two antependia, one for the main altar of the church and the other for the base of the triptych. The design is by the architect Vincenzo Zuppardo of the Technical Department of the Custody following the iconographic choices of Fra Rodrigo Machado Soares, guardian of the convent, who wanted to recall the Easter tradition of opening triptychs representing the Resurrection of Christ. The piece is made up of two side panels and a central part, supported by a base and surmounted by a tympanum. Six digital prints on canvas have been placed on the side panels (three for each panel) and a large one on the central part. On the back of the side panels, in the position of each print, there is the cross of Jerusalem. These prints, produced by the Franciscan Printing press, are reproductions of panels originally in the sacristy of the Santa Croce Basilica in Florence. They are the work of the great representative of the Florentine school of the 13th century, Taddeo Gaddi.

The panels are arranged as follows : Dream of Pope Innocent III, Francis holds up the Basilica of Latrano, Transitus (death) of St Francis, Francis preached before Pope Honorius III Approval of the Rule of St Francis by Pope Honorius III, Francis appears at the chapter in Arles, invention of the living nativity scene in Greccio, Francis receives the stigmata.

The carpenter Khalil Shaeed did this work with great satisfaction : “The greatest challenge was to make the structure of the triptych and its base, with all the difficulties linked to the assembly and the respect of the proportions. It was very gratifying for me to be able to contribute to making such an important work of art for the Custody and I am very pleased with the final result.”

The triptych will be on display during the solemnity in St Saviour’s church and, when the feast-day is over, it will be installed in the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The expertise of the sewing workshop

The work of the dressmakers of the sewing department (tailoring and laundry ofhte Custody) takes on very special importance for the preparation of major liturgical feast-days. Making the liturgical vestments used for this ceremony is a high calibre operation, particularly that of the five chasubles and two dalmatics which will be worn by the main celebrants. The chasubles are made from wool lurex with golden patterns, with a central silver-colored tau cross.

The extent of the work done is well evoked by Sister Mariella, in charge of the sewing department : “We worked for three weeks to make these chasubles. We used a technique of hand embroidery which requires great precision and patience. We are very proud of the result and we hope that the faithful will appreciate our work.”

All this represents the living testimony of the commitment and the passion with which the Custody is preparing for the celebration of the solemnity of St Francis, an event which brings together the whole of the Franciscan Family of the Holy Land and the whole world. We wish everyone a lovely feast-day!

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