Once upon a time: A special glory of its own

East Tennessee Catholics are invested in The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem

By Monsignor Xavier Mankel

The Holy Land is called Holy because so many, many holy things happened there. Abraham would have sacrificed his son, Isaac, there (Mount Moriah). Three temples were erected there (Solomon’s was the first and finest). Holy people lived and taught there. The prophets gave us religious literature that is valuable to people of good will even to this day. The Second Person of God’s Most Holy Trinity deigned to assume human nature there. The Annunciation happened in Nazareth and the Nativity of the God-man took place in Bethlehem just a few years over two millennia ago.

Yet with all these holy things going on through the years, the holy land has been a place of fighting, hardship, famine, political upheaval, yea, even war throughout most of this time. The resumption of fighting just a few weeks ago is a sad commentary about how the Land of Our Lord is to this day a war zone instead of a place where all men can truly see the leadership of the Prince of Peace.

As with most historical probes, we do not go back very far until we see the Holy Land worked over by friends and foes alike. The land, nearly personified by prophets and kings alike, has been the location of many efforts to maintain the holy places, especially Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem. Holy wars to “take back” from control of the Muslims have been fought again and again. One of the most unusual examples of such efforts were the Crusades, some sponsored even by saints, a European effort to make pilgrimages back to holy places of Christian origins. In a sense all of them failed, but each also had some good features. The phenomenon called knighthood made its contribution, and since there is still some connection between our bishop and his Diocese of Knoxville, I offer these lines about The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem:

Of all the ancient orders—military, equestrian and religious—none has had a more glorious history than The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. It has had a special glory of its own, the honor and distinction of having been chosen to guard the most precious jewel not only of the Latin Kingdom but of the whole of Christendom, the Tomb of Christ. The Order of the Holy Sepulchre goes back to the first Knights that were established by Godfrey de Bouillon around the Sepulchre of Our Lord as a guard of honor immediately after the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099. They were approved as an Order in a Bull Approbation by Pope Pascal II in February 1113.

With the fall of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre were driven out of Palestine. They then went to Italy and lived the lives of religious Knights, maintaining a religious rule of life with all its duties. Priories and monasteries of the order were established in France, Spain, Poland, Belgium and Italy. Pope Celestine gave the oratory of St. Egidio in the Vatican, Feb. 11, 1144, as their principal or capitol chapel.

During the long vacancy of the Latin Patriarchate, nearly 400 years, the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land was the rector of the Order. With the restoration to the Patriarchate, in 1847, the reigning pontiff, Pius IX, restored the rectorate to the patriarch and set up the four classes of Knighthood in the order: Knight of the Grand Cross, Grand Officer with Star, Knight Commander and Knight.

Now for the connection between Knoxville and the order:

Our bishop is a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and attended in Washington, D.C., the annual investiture of members of the Knoxville Diocese at St. Matthew’s Cathedral on Oct. 26 and 27. Invested this year were Deacon and Mrs. Sean Smith, Dr. and Mrs. Antoin Mardini, and yours truly. Rev. Monsignor Al Humbrecht was advanced in the order as was Lady Sharon Folk of Notre Dame Parish, Greeneville. Father John Milewski is the only other Diocese of Knoxville priest who is a Knight, and he belongs to a lieutenancy in the northwest United States.  Again, since the Holy Places are in danger zones, please pray for the safety of the entire region.

Monsignor Mankel is a vicar general of the diocese and the pastor of Holy Ghost Parish in Knoxville.

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