The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has an ancient and complex history, which is intertwined with that yet more ancient and complex one of Jerusalem. For centuries, Jerusalem had been governed by Muslims, but they tolerated Christian pilgrims because they helped the economy. Then, in the 1070s, Turks (who were also Muslim) conquered these holy lands and mistreated Christians before realizing how useful their goodwill (and money) could be. The Turks also threatened the Byzantine Empire. Emperor Alexius asked the pope for assistance, and Urban II, seeing a way to harness the violent energy of Christian knights, made a speech at the Council of Clermont in November, 1095 calling for them to take back Jerusalem. Thousands responded, resulting in the First Crusade with the response “Deus lo Vult”.  

After Jerusalem was freed from the Seljuk Turks in 1099, Godfrey de Bouillon, Duke of Lower Lorraine, having was elected “Protector and Advocate of the Holy Sepulchre”.  As part of his operations to organise the religious, military and public bodies of the territories newly freed from Muslim control, he founded the Order of Canons of the Holy Sepulchre. According to accounts of the Crusades, in 1103 the first King of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, assumed the leadership of this canonical order, and reserved the right for himself and his successors (as agents of the Patriarch of Jerusalem) to appoint Knights to it, should the Patriarch be absent or unable to do so. Traditionally, the fall of Acre in 1291 marks the end of the Crusades.

According to accounts of the  Crusades,  in 1103 the first King of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, assumed the leadership  of this canonical order, and reserved the right for himself and his successors (as agents of the Patriarch of Jerusalem) to appoint Knights to it, should the Patriarch be absent or unable to do so. In 1496, Pope Alexander VI created the office of Grand Master of the Order, with the office vested in the papacy.

 Though Godfrey died a year later,  Pope  Paschal II formally approved of Godfrey’s initiative and gave papal approbation in 1113. The office of Grand Master remained vested in the papacy until 1949. Since then a cardinal has been grand master. The Pope is sovereign of the Order which enjoys the protection of the Holy See and has its legal seat at Vatican City.

The presence of the Latins in the Holy Land since the time of the Crusades was preserved thanks to the Franciscans to whom the Pope later gave the task of becoming “custodians” of the Holy Places, from which the title “Custody of the Holy Land” derives (and “Custos” is the title given, till now, to the superior of these Middle Eastern regions, that make up the Holy Places).

The ruins of Selsker Abbey stand close to Wexford town. This ecclesiastical site was the location of the brief presence of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre in Ireland at the time of the Crusades. It does seem probable that Selsker Abbey (also spelt Selskar, a name derived from St. Sepulchre) at Wexford was an early House of the Order, with a brief existence between the years 1140-1190, after which it reverted to the Augustinian Black Canons up until the dissolution. 

Selsker Abbey
Selsker Abbey

There is a tradition that the first bishop of Connor, St. Aengus Mac Nissi, consecrated by St. Patrick, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the latter half of the 5th century. St. Adomnan wrote what could be called a ‘Guidebook’ to the Holy Land at Iona about the year 670 AD. Various chroniclers of the time specifically mention the Irish presence in the first Crusade. The thirteenth century scribe, Robert of Gloucester noted that: “Yrland was amongst the nations that took part in the First Crusade: quaintly adding that: “All the concerts of Europe would have made no music if the Irish harp had been absent”. 

The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land included some Irish Friars from at least the seventeenth century. In 1680, Fr. Bonaventure Burke ofm, a member of the Irish Province, left for Jerusalem and the following year became ‘Superior of the Holy Sepulchre’. He died in Jerusalem in 1706. Fr. Patrick McAuley was ‘Superior of the Holy Sepulchre’ in 1734. During the long vacancy of the Latin Patriarchate of nearly 400 years, the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land was the Rector of the Order who was authorized to admit Knights. Such admissions included James Walsh, doctor in January 1841 and Bernard Morgan in 1683.

From the end of the Crusades, Jerusalem lived in a state of relative isolation, which lasted until 1800, although the presence of Christians was uninterrupted. After the fall of St. John of Acre (1291) there was no longer any Patriarch in Jerusalem, and the title was attributed to some prelate of the Papal Court of Rome (called in partibus infidelium = “in the lands of unbelievers, an expression used also in the abbreviated form in partibus) to indicate the bishops, today called titular bishops, whose dioceses, purely honorific, are found in countries occupied by the Turks.

Since the end of the Crusades, the Franciscans were at the service of the Holy Sepulcher and welcomed pilgrims. Some of these came to Jerusalem to  receive investiture as a Knight at the Tomb of Christ. The pope granted only to the Custos of the Holy Land the right to perform the investiture of Knights of the Holy Sepulcher who had put themselves in service and proved to be fearless pilgrims in facing the extreme trials of a journey to the Holy Land. The Custos and his successors exercised this right continuously from 1500 to 1848, thus granting the investiture to 1,835 knights.

The Nineteenth Century

At the beginning of the 19th century. Jerusalem was still isolated, both for political and geographic reasons (including the fear of urging in some way the return of the “Latins” – a name given to the Europeans in general by their use of the Latin Language) and only until the mid-19th century with the invention of the steamship that could come more quickly from Europe and land at the port of Jaffa, it became easier to reach it.

Three events particularly contributed to the opening of Palestine to the West during the 1800s. The first was the campaign of Napoleon Bonaparte in Syria in 1799 (in continuity with that of Egypt), which, despite being a military failure, had the effect of reawakening the  European Powers towards Palestine. The second event was the invasion of Palestine by Mohammed Ali, an ambitious Egyptian Viceroy, which allowed the opening of the region to Western influences, the establishment of Christian Missionary Societies and the end of discrimination against non-Muslims. Finally, the third event was the Crimean War (1853-56) of which the Holy Places became the pretext: it ended with the Treaty of Paris (1856) and sanctioned the defeat of Russia, leaving the question of the Holy Places unresolved.

Propaganda Fide began to seriously consider the restoration of the Latin Patriarchate when it saw the success of the missionary word of the Russian Orthodox and the Protestants in the Holy Land. It was the election of Bl Pius IX in 1847 that the project took shape. the Pope announced to the world with the apostolic letter Nulla celebrior of July 23, 1847, the successful restoration of the Patriarchate and, on October 4, 1847, Giuseppe Valerga  was named as the first resident Patriarch  being  consecrated Patriarch by Pius IX himself on October 10, 1847. He was 34 years old.

 In January 1848 he arrived in Jerusalem where he was received enthusiastically. He immediately started to train a native clergy, developing a network of missions in Palestine and securing economic aid from Europe. One of Archbishop Valerga’s initiatives was the revival of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem from its nobilery and honorific roles to practical assistance to the Living Stones. . With the restoration of the Latin Patriarchate in 1847 , Pius IX restored the rectorate to the Patriarch and set up the four classes of Knighthood in the Order. 

Restoration of the Patriarchate

Pius IX
Pius IX

On July 23rd we celebrate the restoration of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem in 1847. In fact, it was through the apostolic letter Nulla Celebrior that Bl. Pius IX announced the event

Here are the main excerpts in English of the of the original Latin Apostolic Letter (July 23, 1847) issued by Pope Pius IX:

No city has been honored with a religious cult as remarkable as that of Jerusalem. No region have ever been so visited by Christians, with the most distinguished manifestations of Palestinian devotion.
It is the city that contains the famous monuments, witnesses of the actions of our Lord Jesus Christ and reflecting in a certain way in his likeness the most sacred examples of virtue by which the Divine Redeemer of human nature ennobled in a special way this city, so that, from the beginning of the Church, Christians have honored it an extraordinary way. (…)
What we recall proves, with just cause, that Jerusalem and Palestine have attracted the veneration of Christians, both in ancient times than today. Now, with regard to the ecclesiastical hierarchy, nothing is better known in the history than the honor which has always surrounded the seat of the Bishop of Jerusalem.
Without going back to ancient times, it is certain that in the first general council of Nicaea in 325, it says in the seventh Canon: the Bishop of Aelia (Jerusalem) will be honored in accordance with ancient customs and traditions.
Everyone knows that after this, the Church of Jerusalem was invested with patriarchal dignity and rights attached thereto. It is a constant fact that, after several centuries, when Jerusalem had been liberated and conquered by European princes, the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem was established. Then began the series of Latin Patriarchs and several Latin Bishops occupied the patriarchal see. The fourth Lateran Council under Innocent III in 1215, upheld the dignity of the patriarchal see of Jerusalem.
But, as a result of the terrible events and calamities that hit the Christian armies, the city of Jerusalem once again returned to Muslim hands, and changed the face of things.
However, although the Patriarchs could not, therefore, reside in Jerusalem and give their flock the care they needed, although the Roman Pontiffs, Our predecessors, tended to the needs of the faithful in another way, they not cease, however, to appoint Latin Patriarchs, while exempting them from the obligation to reside there, as their church would remain under the domination of infidels.
Today, there are no reasons which prevent the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem from residing in his diocese, and ensuring the salvation of his flock.
Therefore, as soon as We were raised to the Chair of St. Peter, despite our unworthiness, amid the many affairs of the Church, We thought it was good and that it was time to send back to the city of Jerusalem, a Patriarch of the Latin rite, for the good of religion, to raise the dignity of the ancient See of Jerusalem, to spread the Catholic faith more fully. (…)
So with the authority of Almighty God and of the Apostles Peter and Paul and also of our authority, we are restoring to Jerusalem the exercise of jurisdiction of the Latin Patriarch; We declare that henceforth it will be held at the residence, as in the past.
As regards the limits of the Patriarchate, We order and direct that, until otherwise decided by the Apostolic See, all regions and all locations that are currently subject to the jurisdiction of our son, Custos of the Holy Sepulchre, Guardian of the Holy Land, the Order of Friars Minor of St. Francis, submit to the authority of the Patriarch.
As for the institution of suffragan bishops of the Patriarch, we reserve our decision to be seen later, and we reserve this issue to our judgment and that of our venerable brethren, the Cardinals of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. (…)

Given at Rome, at St. Mary Major, under the Fisherman’s Ring, 23 July 1847, the second year of Our Pontificate.
For Cardinal Lambruschini
A. Picchioni, Substitute

Pius IX ordained that the Order’s cape (or mantle), as worn by the original knights, be a “white cloak with the cross of Jerusalem in red enamel.”

Pius X assumed the title of Grand Master. The title of Grand Master is now held by a cardinal of the Roman Curia who is resident in Rome.  

In 1940 Pope Pius XII transferred the headquarters of the Order from Jerusalem to Rome. The Palazzo della Rovere, the 15th century palace of Pope Julius II,  serves as the Order’s international headquarters and is immediately adjacent to the Vatican.

Opening of  the Order to Ladies 

Pope Leo XIII authorised for the first time the conferring of honours of the Order upon women who were to be styled Dames of the Holy Sepulchre and to share in all the rights and privileges of the Knights. The tapestry under is displayed in the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem. By the Brief Venerabilis frater of August 3rd, 1888, Pope Leo XIII authorized the concession of the cross in three classes to ladies who have served the church with particular merit – this became the first Order under direct Papal supervision which could be conceded to ladies.

Military Trophy

Pope St. Pius X by papal decree honoured the Order by attaching the military trophy to the decoration known as the Cross of Jerusalem or the Cross of the Five Wounds, and granted the use of the great white cape, reserving for himself the title of Grand Master of the Order. Pope Pius in August 15, 1946  named  Sant’Onofrio al Gianicolo as the priory church of the international Order. The church has been under the care of the American congregation of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. since the 1950s. 

In the running of the Order ,which is delegated to the Governor General, he is assisted by 4 Vice Governors General. The South American region was the most recently erected in 2018.  


Knights prior to the establishment of the Lieutenancy 

John Heney Canada and Cavan
John Heney Canada and Cavan

In more recent times Irish members included Comte Florimond de Basterot Kinvara (1836 – 1904), John Heney  (1821 – 1909) from Killeshandra Co Cavan was admitted in 1889 and founded  the Irish Temperance Society in Ottawa; Jacob Kennedy, Knight, invested in April 1870; John Delaney, invested as Commander in September 1881, a prominent builder from Cork; Thomas Aloysius Burke as a Grand Cross in June 1894; Senator Sir Thomas Henry Grattan Esmonde (1862-1935) invested in March, 1908 as a Knight Commander and promoted to Knight Grand Cross in June, 1924; the Marquis Vincent MacSwiney (1870 – 1945) with the rank of Knight Grand Cross; Papal count George Noble Plunkett (1851 – 1948), father of the revolutionary poet Joseph Mary Plunkett, created a Knight Commander in January, 1910; Dr. Joseph Redmond (1852 – 1921) consulting physician to the Mater Hospital and St. Patrick’s College Maynooth, created a Knight Commander in 1912 and Michael John Cahill created a Knight Commander March 1936. 

There was an abortive attempt in the early 1950’s to erect a Lieutenancy. The Lieutenancy was established in July 1986 and had as its original seat Holy Cross Abbey, Co. Tipperary. The first investiture of postulants in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, took place in 1998. Thomas F. Sheahan, Limerick was the founding Lieutenant, and formerly a member of the Grand Magisterium. Michael D McGrath, followed in 2000, then by M Joseph McDonnell. Nicholas McKenna succeeded him in January 2008 (currently a member of the Grand Magisterium)  and until the end of 2017 Charles Kelly of Swinford, Co Mayo. 


Recent activities of the Lieutenancy

The 50th. International EucharisticCongress took place from 10 to 17 June 2012. Members of the Lieutenancy were involved in the Congress in various ways, at the opening ceremony, as speakers at various sessions, in the liturgies, participation at the Eucharistic Procession, Driving liturgical VIPs,  hosting an “at home for Holy Land Pilgrims” and facilitated the attendance of Christians from the Holy Land at the Congress.  

Holy Land Pilgrims at the Congress
Holy Land Pilgrims at the Congress

In 2018 Pope Francis attended the World Meeting of Families in Dublin. The Lieutenancy sponsored the attendance of a number of Christians from the Holy Land, who were led by auxiliary Bishop Marcuzzo from Jerusalem. 

Palestinian Participants at a reception hosted by the Lieutenancy during the World Meeting of Families with Bishop Marcuzzo
Palestinian Participants at a reception hosted by the Lieutenancy during the World Meeting of Families with Bishop Marcuzzo

In the last number of years Ireland co-financed an extension to Na’our Primary School, which is a village 5kms south of Amman in the Kingdom of Jordan. Further , the Lieutenancy financed the extension to a school in Rameh in Northern Israel; an extension to the Patriarchal Seminary in 2009, and in 2011 providing funding to the Holy Family Children’s Home in Bethlehem. In 2018 the Lieutenancy funded the refurbishment of a kindergarten at the Separation Wall in Bethany and assisted a number of families to attend the World Meeting of Families in Dublin. It also grant assisted Christian families in Aleppo Syria in a major fund-raising campaign. In 2019 it funded a school hall in Birzeit in the Occupied Territories. In 2020 it aided the refurbishment of the school in Safout outside Amman, the smallest school in the Patriarchate. In the same year it contributed significantly in funding the Special Appeal to address Covid 19.

 The Lieutenancy has donated c€4m to the works of the Order in the Holy Land since 1986.