Friday, October 25, 2013

We're Back 160 Years Previously? Who Has The Keys Now?

Sound familiar?

The causes of war

During the years leading up to the Crimean War, France, Russia and Britain were all competing for influence in the Middle East, particularly with Turkey. Religious differences were certainly a catalyst in the Crimean War. Control of access to religious sites in the Holy Land had been a cause* of tension between Catholic France and Orthodox Russia for a number of years and in 1853, the conflict came to a head with rioting in Bethlehem, which was then part of the Ottoman empire ruled by Turkey. A number of Orthodox monks were killed during fighting with French monks. [The Orthodox denied the right of the Roman Catholics to place a silver star over the manger and to possess a golden key to the church door, and this summer of 1853 a serious riot took place; the Roman Catholics succeeded after a prolonged struggle in placing their star over the manger, but not before several Orthodox monks had been killed.] Tsar Nicholas I blamed the Turks for these deaths. [
It was puzzling to find the British nation fighting on the side of Mohammedans against Christians]

The war fully broke out in 1854.

That was 160 years ago.

To me, there is a contemporary resonance.

Oh, and the Charge of the Light Brigade?


None of the personalities involved in initiating the charge appear to have acted well. Raglan's order was imprecise, Airey's drafting of the order was ambiguous, Nolan failed to explain the order to Lucan adequately, Lucan failed to question Nolan properly to establish his commander's intent and Cardigan failed to seek adequate clarification from Lucan. Lucan also failed to provide the support from the rest of the cavalry and the horse artillery mentioned in the order.

...the immediate causes of the war — ostensibly, at least — were over religion, particularly over the protectorship of the Holy Places in Jerusalem...The Turks disliked the Russo-French conflict that was taking place on Turkish territory and the Sultan established a commission to examine the claims of the French. France suggested that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches should have joint control over the Holy Places: this led to an uproar in Russia and then deadlock. In February 1850 the Turks sent a diplomatic note to the French, giving two keys to the great door of the Church of the Nativity to the representatives of the Catholic Church. At the same time, the Porte sent a firman [decree] giving secret assurances to the Orthodox Church that the French keys would not fit the lock. However, by the end of 1852 the French had seized control of the Holy Places. This was seen by the Russians as a challenge to their prestige and policy; the Czar also saw Turkey falling under 'foreign' control.


A major point in dispute was whether the Greek Orthodox should continue in exclusive possession of the keys to the main door of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, on the spot where the baby Jesus was born and cradled in the manger. The Latins had their own keys, but they were to a side door and not to the main door. There was also a row about a silver star with Latin inscriptions in the sanctuary, which had mysteriously disappeared in 1847, as well as disputes over the Latin claim to the right to repair the principal cupola of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and over the right to officiate at the Tomb of the Virgin Mary at Gethsemane. Feelings ran so high that Greek and Latin monks came to blows with crosses and candlesticks in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Lord Malmesbury, British Foreign Secretary in 1852, remarked on ‘the melancholy spectacle’ of a quarrel ‘for exclusive privileges in a spot near which the heavenly host proclaimed peace on earth and goodwill towards men … and rival churches contending for mastery in the very place where Christ died for mankind.’

Looking to gain Roman Catholic support at home, in 1852 Napoleon III demanded that the Sublime Porte in Constantinople recognise France as the protector of Christian monks and pilgrims in the Holy Places. As a hint he sent a French warship up the Dardanelles and the Porte bowed to his wishes and had a key to the Church of the Nativity’s main door handed over to the Latins.


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