3 March 2020

From the Ecole des chartes to Jerusalem to study a 15th century manuscript


Interview with Geneviève Alday, student and archivist and paleographer in Paris, came to Jerusalem to make studies on a manuscript from the Archives of the Custody of the Holy Land.

The Franciscans friars have kept the holy sites for the last 800 years. Imagine how many documents could have been collected over that period! Papers in bulk, firmans from the Ottoman period, bound works, photographs—so many documents have been collected within the Archives of the Custodial Curia, located in the Convent of St. Savior in Jerusalem. The prospect of working with such an immense archival patrimony entices the attention of experts coming from all over the world who, through their studies, contribute to enlarging the knowledge of the history of the Franciscans in this land.

Genevieve Alday is one of these experts. Studying in her second year at the prestigious Ecole Nationale des chartes in Paris, which every year produces the best French professionals in the domain of culture, Genevieve has come from Europe to make a sojourn of study in Jerusalem.

What is the purpose of your studies within the Archives of the Custody of the Holy Land ?

Currently I am working on Codex A, a Latin manuscript from the end of the 15th century, which I am transcribing and translating into French. It concerns the privileges granted to the Franciscans of the Holy Land by popes between the 13th and 15th centuries. This work is particularly interesting because the author, Cristoforo da Varese—a friar sent on a mission to the Custody in the 1470s—first gathered all the papal bulls and letters concerning the Friors Minor of the Holy Land, and then he commented upon them in order to justify each privilege granted, with the help of extracts of canon law contained within the Corpus Iuris Canonici.

Why are the Archives of the Custody of the Holy Land so important ?

The mediaeval documents conserved in the Archives—the copies of papal bulls in addition to this manuscript—are of real interest for understanding how the Order of St. Francis could establish itself in the Holy Land in an enduring and legal manner, in the difficult context of wars and crusades. In studying the documents, one can observe the political implementation by the popes over the course of three centuries in order to encourage the Friars Minor to place themselves in these « infidel lands », as they are described in these documents.


What are your hopes for the the future of this study and what are the next steps to accomplish in pursuit of this work ?

First of all, friar Sergei (friar Sergei Loktionov, director of the custodial archives, ndlr) would like to make a complete publication of Codex A. For that, I will try to complete the translation of the manuscript upon returning to Paris. For my part, this work has been a novel experience which has allowed me to discover a fascinating portion of the history of the Franciscans and of Jerusalem. That is why I will be very happy to return to the Custody to have the possibility of working anew, either for an internship, or, who knows, for a dissertation which will allow me to deepen my research in this area.

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