The Firman Treasury

Old Firman
The “Firman Treasury” is one of the richest and most important treasuries of the Historic Archive of the Custody of the Holy Land, today preserved at the Monastery of the Saint Savior. It contains mostly documents of a historic-legal character, the study of which permits us to understand intimately the vicissitudes of the Franciscans and the history of Catholicism in the Holy Land.

As the name itself suggests, the treasury contains, among other things, the official decrees firman promulgated by the Turkish sultan in the course of the ottoman domination.

What is a firman?

The term firman etymologically derives from the Persian, farman. It can signify order, authority, will, desire, and permission. It refers, then, to something abstract which must be realized. With the passing of time, the word farman came to designate the writing itself, the document with which an order was promulgated. Initially, the term was used to designate any document; only in a later period did it enter into and become part of the administrative language.

The “Firman Treasury” does not contain only firmans of the ottoman period: documents are found there both in the arab tongue and Turkish, regarding ownership and rights of office, in large part coming from authorities or civil officials, both local and of the central government.
The oldest documents come from the XIII century; almost all are on paper, those on parchment few. Among the documents that date from the earliest times until 1517, there are some coming from the Egyptian government; from 1517 to the second decade of the XX century are those, on the other hand, coming from the turkish government in Istanbul; the most recent spring from the British mandate. There is no lack of documents of a private provenance, but always of a juridical character, like buying and selling, donations, transactions and declarations of various kinds. The oldest document in absolute is a hogget (verdict) of a legal controversy between the Franciscans and Giacomo Zummi, who claimed to own a piece of land on Mount Sion. The document, dated the 31st of July 1247, resolved the dispute in favor of the Franciscans. The second oldest is a firmano of 1257, promulgated by the Saracen King Giuseppe, great grandson of Saladin, which permitted the franciscans to put a covering of lead on the dome of the church on Mount Sion.

It is just here, the peculiarity of the Firman Treasury: the documents it contains are part of the daily life of the franciscans in the Holy land, made up of anxieties, vexations, and injustices, sustained along the course of the centuries to preserve the catholicity, the right to visit, of praying and celebrating the liturgy in the sanctuaries of the Holy Land.

See the Firmans here