“In Italy I never had the chance to work at a job related to my degree, ATS has allowed me for the first time to work in my field of study”. Eleonora, 25 years old and a graduate in archaeology and art history, is working as an intern for Association pro Terra Sancta in Jerusalem at the Department of Cultural Heritage of the Custody of the Holy Land. We asked her some questions so that she can tell us about her work and her personal experiences in the Holy Land.
“Immediately upon arrival”, she says, “I was assigned the task of cataloguing. In the Custody for a number of years there has been a large and ambitious project to catalogue all of the liturgical objects, artifacts, paintings and vestments, that is, to inventory the entire Franciscan artistic heritage in the Holy Land.”
Over the centuries the Custody not only has safeguarded Sanctuaries and Places connected to the memory of Christ and the Apostles, but has also inherited and preserved an artistic heritage of inestimable historical value. Some of these objects and artifacts will be exhibited in the historical section of the Terra Sancta Museum to recount the continuous Franciscan presence during these eight centuries. Eleonora is providing a contribution to the major organizational machine that lies behind the creation and preparation of a museum, together with numerous other Italian and French volunteers who have decided to come to Jerusalem to donate their skills to assist the friars.
“Cataloguing is the first step in the creation of a museum because it allows us to know the heritage that is available and to make an inventory of it. After having dealt with St. Saviour’s Church in Jerusalem and the churches of Ein Karem, I was requested to go to Cyprus to evaluate the material in the three monasteries on the island”, Eleonara explains to us. “Along with Guillaume, a French volunteer, we worked intensively for seven days at the three monasteries on the island which are: Nicosia, the largest, and then Larnaka and Limassol. It was a very time-consuming task on account of the large number of objects to be inventoried and the fact that prior to us no one had ever catalogued and studied the pieces in a systematic way.”
The Franciscan Province of the Holy Land, in fact, includes not only the territories of Israel and Palestine but also Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, part of the Sinai and the islands of Cyprus and Rhodes. Cyprus not only was the destination of the first evangelization of St. Paul and St. Barnabas and the traditional place of the second burial of St. Lazarus, but when the friars were expelled from the Holy Land in 1291 they took refuge in the island, at the time the seat of the Provincial Minister. Since then, Cyprus has remained a bridge between Western and Eastern Christians.
“The most interesting objects we have found”, she continues , “tell us a more recent story and in particular recount the link between the Franciscan friars and the Spanish Crown: they are chalices and patens donated by Isabella II (1830-1904), the first and only Queen of Spain. The paintings, most of which are kept in the church of Larnaka, testify to the devotion of princes and notables from all over the world who wanted to donate paintings to the Franciscans.”
There remains, however a great deal to do, she explains, “since neither the vestments nor the old books have been studied”. For this reason, the cataloguing campaign is being carried out to enhance to the fullest a heritage that tells a story 800 years long.
The Franciscan community in Nicosia is very small compared to the numbers in Jerusalem, the monastery is made up of four friars who live in a very family-like atmosphere. Eleonora says enthusiastically that “they welcomed us a a gift and it was really nice to be part of their daily lives. Their mission is mainly parochial: there are not very many Christian Catholics and they are mostly foreigners, people who have immigrated. I became aware of the extent to which the friars are extremely active in Cypriot life and how important they are for the local community. Attending Father Zack‘s mass dedicated to children, one understands very well how the whole community relies on them.”
“Starting from the study of objects”, concludes Eleonara, “it is possible to tell another precious piece of Franciscan history and I am happy to have made a contribution. I am very grateful to ATS pro Terra Sancta and to fra Stephanè, the head of the Department of Cultural Heritage of the Custody, for having given me the possibility to live this experience, to test myself and to know myself better as a scholar.”