The Christian Majority Becomes a Minority Once Again (continuation)

E: The " Protectorate " of Charlemagne"100

A final juridical problem to be studied in this period is that currently referred to as the "protectorate" of Charlemagne over the Holy Places. It was apparently granted to him by Haroun 'r-rashid.

The term "protectorate" in its modem sense is certainly out of the question; the reality was far more modest. Nevertheless the study of relations between these two potentates and their juridical consequences in Palestine have their place in this study. It is truly an episode that deserves to be given particular treatment in studying the status of the Christian minority in Palestine. The motivations and modalities of this "protectorate " help to give a clear picture of its juridical and specific nature.


The political situation, at the end of the VIII century, around 800, well explains the motivations of such give and take between Charlemagne (771-814) and the Caliph of Baghdad, Haroun-'r-rash " d (766809). The Carolingians of Aix-la-Chapelle were on bad terms with the Byzantine basileus of Constantinople: Charlemagne wanted the title of emperor of the East, given him by the Pope in 800. Haroun-'r-rash " d, like his predecessors, saw the basileus as his chief enemy. He nurtured the same enmity with the Omeyyad sovereign of Andalusia (796-822). Abd 'r-rahmdn (756-788) was the only Omeyyad who, in 750, escaped the massacre of his people by the Abbassids, by swimming across the Euphrates. Shaking off the Abbassid spies, he arrived after five years in Spain. Here he became ruler and sent to the abbassid Caliph Mansour the head of the Abbassid governor salted and wrapped in the Abbassid. Flag 101.

We can imagine the feelings of Baghdad for Abd 'r-rahmdn, the "falcon of Qoureich" , thus enthroned in Spain. In 777, Charlemagne, leading the Crusade in Spain, also had dealings against Abd 'r-rahman. During his hasty return, caused by trouble at home in Germany, his rearguard, led by Roland, was attacked in the Pyrenees, at Roncevaux.

Carolingians and Abbassids found themselves common enemies of the Christian basileus of Constantinople, close to Haroun and the Omeyyad Caliph of Spain, close to Charlemagne102 .

The historical fact

Already between 765 and 768 Pepin the Small and Mansour had exchanged ambassadors. In 797 Charlemagne sent one in his turn. These embassies passed through Jerusalem. In 797 Charlemagne's counts Lanfried and Sigismond, accompanied by the Jew Isaac, arrived in Jerusalem with an Italian mission to ask for relics from the patriarch George (797807). Charlemagne's ambassadors, who brought aims for Jerusalem, also sought relics. The patriarch, delighted to see relations set up between Charlemagne and the Abbassid Caliph, in 799 sent a monk to Aix-laChapelie with eulogies and relics from the Holy Sepulchre. The monk returned to Jerusalem accompanied by Zacharia, a palace priest who brought aims.

Charlemagne and Haroun, thus linked, sent each other gifts. The patriarch entered the game on his own account. Evidently he could only do so with the consent of the Caliph: a clause of the shur6t specified that Christian prelates could not write or receive letters from abroad without the consent of the Muslim authority103.

On 30 November 800, when Charlemagne came to Rome to receive the imperial crown, Zacharia met him with two monks from the patriarch George, one from St. Sabas and the other from the Mount of Olives. In the name of the patriarch, as a sign of blessing, they gave Charlemagne the keys of the Lord's Sepulchre and of Calvary, as well as the keys of the city and of the Mount of Olives along with the standard. This time also, the patriarch would not have been able to make this demand " unknown to the Abbassid government104.

" The comings and goings between Jerusalem and Europe could not have escaped the vigilance of the Arab police, which was very alert and active, especially in Syria, a province that was suspected of Omeyyad sympathies and still Christian in the great majority. The saheb al-Khaber, head of the secret police, attached to the person of the governors, could not have failed to inform Baghdad of such an unusual happening. The Abbassid council must have approved, if not inspired, their movements, which meshed with the negotiations in progress and whose objective we have pointed out: an understanding between common enemies, Byzantium and Omeyyad Andalusia. The proud Haroun 'r-rash " d doubtless judged that this result was worth some concessions 105.

The true nature o this

"Protectorate" The strategy was not from Haroun but from the patriarch. Sending the keys and the standard implied "a homage and a demand of protec-tion106, as Brehier, who has studied the problem closely, also admits:

" The handing over of the keys of Jerusalem and the standard even seems to make the request specific: the patriarch of Jerusalem thus places himself, as did Leo 11 I on his elevation, under the direct protection of Charles " 107.

But Brehier, Lammens and Hitti refuse, with reason, to see in this episode a " protectorate " granted by Haroun to Charlemagne over the Holy Places. It is not Haroun but only the patriarch who sent Charlemagne the keys of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem:

" in the person of Haroun, the luxurious and capricious caliph of the Thousand and One Nights, the Arab empire found itself at the apogee of its power. Never would its state have admitted the loss of a part of its despotic authority or the admixture or control of a foreign power. In the eyes of the Baghdad government, the Christians remain subjects of the Caliphate, though it is true that they are second-class subjects, political serfs. Juridically, they make up the household servants of Islam, over which it allowed no attenuation of its rights " 108.

But at least, through concern for his own interest and always under the surveillance of his governors, Haroun admitted that Charlemagne could act in the interest of the Christians of the Holy Land. He granted him the authority to build and restore churches, to set up convents and hospices, and to endow them with incomes and properties for their upkeep.

" He was permitted to concern himself for the fate of the Christians of Palestine, to send them aid and to rule over the disagreements arising among them " 109.

It was thus in effect a kind of lato sensu protectorate strictly limited to the religious and charitable domains.

Activities of this protectorate

In the Statutes of Charlemagne can be followed the systematic organisation of this aid to the Holy Land"110, either for the collection of taxes in Gaul, or for their delivery or distribution. Among the foundations of Charlemagne"111, mention should be made of an abbey of the Mount of Olives, the church of Haceldama, above all. the Latinity, to the south of the Holy Sepulchre, a complex comprising a hospice for pilgrims, the church of Holy Mary"112, a library and a souk or market"113. It was like a sort of free district, enjoying an autonomous administration of quasi-exterri-toriality"114 . Charlemagne was even able to assure, on its foundation, the income of twelve local plots around Jerusalem, fields, vineyards and gardens.

The great acts of largesse witnessed later by Constantine Vil Porphyrogenetus (905-959)"115, allowed the restoration of buildings destroyed by wars and above all by the very severe earthquake of 18 January 746, which destroyed many churches and monasteries 116, in particular Our Lady of Justinian, claiming many victims. The generous gifts of the emperor allowed the patriarch Thomas (807-820) to rebuild the dome of the Anastasis and to restore the churches of Jerusalem.

Of Charlemagne's effective protection over the Holy Land, and Jerusalem in particular, we have the valuable witness of the "Commemoralorium de Casiv Dei vel monayterii " (808)"117. This very precious eyewitness account of Charlemagne's representative in the Holy Land gives the list of institutions helped. For each he also gives, very conveniently, the precise number of sanctuaries found in them and of the people attached to them. The list for Jerusalem is truly impressive:

At the Holy Sepulchre, there were, in 808, a total of 163 priests, clerics and servants"118, more than 17 Frankish nuns and one Spanish reclusive.

At Holy Sion, 17 and 2 reclusives. At St. Peter (in Gallicante), 5. At the Praetorium, 5. At the new Church of Holy Mary of Justinian, 12. At St. Thaleleus, 1. At St. George, 2. At Holy Mary " where she was born reclusives At St. Edward, 2 clerics and 15 lepers. In the Valley of Josaphat, 13 priests and clerics, 6 monks and 15 nuns. In the 12 sanctuaries or convents of this same valley, 21 priests. On or at the fool of the Mount of Olives, 3 churches, 9 priests, 34 reclusives, 26 monks' retreats. At the Byzantium (near the Mount of 01 ives), 3 5 monks. At Bethany, I priest. At St. John of the Armenians, 6 monks. The document also give the fees of the patriarch: - 630 golden farthings per year for priests, monks and clerics; 540 for the servants; 300 for the fabric of the churches; - 140 for the churches of the town; - 580 for the Saracens and their officials.

Good relations between Aix-la-Chapelle, Baghdad and Jerusalem continued. In 83 1, Louis the Good received an embassy from Mansour.

"He imposed a tax of one denarius on each homestead of his domain for the upkeep of the sanctuaries 119.


All things considered, it is clear what the view of the "Frankish protectorate" over the Holy Places should be. It was not a political protectorate that was granted by the Abbassids. The patriarch of Jerusalem profited from the good relations and the embassies between Baghdad and Aix-la-Chapelle, to obtain from the Frankish emperor, with the consent of the Caliph, a certain moral protection and above all a substantial financial aid. The church of Jerusalem owed to this Frankish intervention throughout the IX century the means with which to restore its sanctuaries and to maintain their considerable personnel. This intervention is also responsible for quite a considerable Frankish settlement in the country. At the same time it seems that for almost a century the condition of Christians, especially at Jerusalem, was tolerable. As seen above, the misfortunes and the degradation of their status came about in the X century, bringing with it the definitive upsetting of the balance, and leaving in the Holy Land a Christian minority along with a Muslim majority.

REFERENCES -------------

I00 NEYRON G., Charlemagne, les Papes et 1'Orient, in Orientalia Christiana periodica (Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, Roma 1920-), XIII (1947), p.251-263.

101 lbn QUTIYYA, Tarikh fath 'l-andalos, Madrid 1868, p. 33.

102 HITTI, Historv of the Arabs, p. 298: " Charlemagne cultivated Harun as a possible ally against hostile Byzantium and Harun desired to use Charlemagne against his rivals and deadly foes, the neighbouring umayyads of Spain

103 FATTAL, op. cit., p. 130.

104 LAMMENS, op. cit., p. 202

105 Ibid., p. 202

106 ABEL. Jerusalem Nouvelle, Ill-IV, p. 937.

107 BREHIER. les origines des rapports entre la France et la Syrie in Congtes francais de la Syrie. 11. p. 15-19.

108 LAMMENS, op. cit., 1. p. 202-203.

109 Ibid., p. 203.

110 CHARLEMAGNE, Capitulare Aquisgranense, an. 810 (PL, XCVII, 328):.De elemosina mittenda ad Hierusalem propter ecclesias Dei restaurandas”.

111 GARIADOR B.. Les Anciens Monasteres Benedictins en Orient, Lille 1913, p. I 0; TOBLER and MOI,NIER, Itinera hierosolymitana Terrae Sanctae bellis sacris anteriora. p. 301 ss.

112 Of this church there remains the north entrance integrated in the present Lutheran church of the Redeemer.

113 ABEL op. cit., p. Ill-IV. p. 937.

114 LAMMENS, op. cit., p. 203.

115 CONSTANTINE PORPYRAGENES. De administrando imperio. XXVI (PG, XIII. 228D-229A): " Ale sent considerable sums to Palestine where he had built numerous monasteries” .

116 PAULUS DIACONUS. Historia Miscella, XXII (PL, XCV, 1094).

117 TOBLER and MOLINIER. op. cit., p. 839.

118 Ibid. 119 ABEL op. Cit.. ill-IV. p. 839.