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their triumph over the Orientals, broke out into loud exclamations of the impossibility of celebrating Mass upon a schismatic slab of marble, with a covering of silk and gold instead of plain linen, among schismatic vases, and before a crucifix which has the feet separated instead of nailed one over the other.
The French Government backed up the Latin, and the Russian Government the Greek, Church. The religious differences soon assumed a political aspect. Russia began to threaten the Sultan with her army, and France with her fleet. Colonel Rose reported on November 20, 1852, to the Earl of Malmesbury :
The Porte's position is most disadvantageous. Against
her wishes and interests she has been dragged into a most dangerous and difficult dispute between the Great Powers, who found their respective claims on contradictory documents, which date from remote and dark ages. The Porte, a Mohammedan Power, is called on to decide a quarrel which involves, ostensibly, sectarian Christian religious feelings, but which, in reality, is a vital struggle between France and Russia for political influence, at the Porte's cost in her dominions.
Continuing, he reported that the Sultan had been threatened by France with a blockade of the Dardanelles, while the Russian representative had declared that he would leave Constantinople unless his demands were fulfilled. A few weeks later Colonel Rose informed the Earl of Malmesbury :
The complaints of the Russian Legation here against the Porte in the Jerusalem question are two, an ostensible one and an undefined one. The first is that the Firman to the Greeks has not been read in Jerusalem in full Council, and in the presence of the patriarchs and clergy of all the different sects. The second one is as to delivery of the key of the great door of the Church at Bethlehem to the Latins.
The quarrel about the Holy Places, and especially
about the celebrated key, became
and acrimonious. On January 28, 1853, Lord John Russell wrote regretfully from the Foreign Office to Lord Cowley :
To a Government taking an impartial view of these affairs, an attitude so threatening on both sides appears very lamentable. We should deeply regret any dispute that might lead to a conflict between two of the Great Powers of Europe ; but when we reflect that the quarrel is for exclusive privileges in a spot near which the Heavenly Host proclaimed peace on earth and goodwill towards men -when we see rival Churches contending for mastery in the very place where Christ died for mankind—the thought of such a spectacle is melancholy indeed.
The Latins, backed by France, possessed keys to the two side-doors of the Church at Bethleham, but not the key of the main entrance, which was in the hands of the Greek Church. Failing to receive the key, the French Consul resolved to use force and had the main entrance broken open by locksmiths. His action led to the following protest on the part of Russia :
Nous laisserons le Ministère Français juge de la pénible surprise que nous avons éprouvée en apprenant qu'à son retour à Constantinople, aprés un court séjour en France, M. de Lavalette avait soulevé de nouveau la question, en exigeant de la Porte, en termes peremptoires, et sous menace d'une rupture avec la France, la suppression du dernier Firman ; l'envoi à Jerusalem d'un Commissaire Turc, avec de nouvelles instructions ; la remise au clergé Latin de la clef et de la garde de la grande Eglise à Bethléem ; le placement sur l'autel de la Grotte de la Nativité d'une étoile aux armes de la France, qui s'y trouvait, dit-on, jadis, et qui en avait été enlevée ; l'adjonction au Couvent Latin de Jerusalem d'une bâtisse attenante à la coupole du Saint Sépulcre ; d'autres concessions enfin, qui de loin peuvent paraître des minuties, mais qui, sur les lieux, et aux yeux des populations indigènes, y compris même les Musulmans, sont autant de passe-droits et d'empiétements sur les autres communautés Chrétiennes, autant de motifs de dissensions et de haine entre elle et l'Eglise Romaine, dont on prétend soutenir par ces moyens les intérêts.
Il nous repugne de faire mention ici des scènes scandaleuses qui ont déjà eu lieu à Jerusalem par suite de ces mesures, auxquelles la Porte a eu la faiblesse de prêter la main, et qui ont déjà reçu en partie leur exécution contrairement à la teneur du dernier Firman, dont, par une autre contradiction étrange, on donnait lecture aux autorités locales au moment même où l'on chargeait celles-ci d'en violer les dispositions principales.
D'après les derniers rapports que nous avons de la Syrie et de Constantinople, les choses en étaient venues à Jerusalem à ce point de confusion et de désordre que, tandis qu'un prélat Catholique, assisté du Consul de France, appelait à son aide les serruriers de la ville pour se faire ouvrir la grande porte de l'Eglise de Bethléem, bien que l'accès lui fut ouvert par deux autres portes latérales, le Patriarche de Jerusalem, Cyrille, vieillard vénérable, et généralement connu par son esprit conciliant et la moderation de son caractère, se voyait obligé de protester par écrit contre ces actes de violence, et de partir pour Constantinople, afin de porter ses plaintes et celles de sa nation au Sultan.
On February 9, 1853, Sir G. H. Seymour, the British Ambassador in Petrograd, had an important conversation with Count Nesselrode, the Russian Chancellor, regarding the Franco-Russian dispute, and the celebrated key occupied once more the place of honour. The British Ambassador reported :
... Count Nesselrode observed: “We have no wish to demand the restoration of the key of the Bethlehem Church. As it is always desirable to guard against misapprehensions, I ventured to enquire whether, in this case, a key meant an instrument for opening a door, only not to be employed in closing that door against Christians of other sects ; or whether it was simply a key—an emblem. Count Nesselrode replied, unhesitatingly, that his meaning was that the key was to be used in giving the Latins access to the Church, but not to be used for securing the door against Greeks and other Christians.
At last Russia sent Turkey an ultimatum regarding the Holy Places in the form of proposals which were pressingly put forward by Prince Menchikoff, and once more the Bethlehem key was a chief object of contention. It made its appearance in the first article of that document. Commenting on that ultimatum, Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, formerly Sir Stratford Canning, wrote to the Earl of Clarendon :
All the proposals or demands in question, with two or three exceptions, refer to the Greek clergy and Churches in Turkey. They amount in substance to the conclusion of a Treaty stipulating that Russia shall enjoy the exclusive right of intervening for the effectual protection of all members of the Greek Church, and of the interests of the Churches themselves ; that the privileges of the four Greek patriarchs shall be effectually confirmed, and the patriarchs shall hold their preferment for life, independently of the Porte's approval.
The Crimean War arose out of a quarrel between the Greek and Latin Churches. It was largely caused by the fact that Russia was unwilling to allow France to remain any longer the protectress of Christianity in the East.
The Holy Places have for centuries been in the guardianship of the Turks, and the Turks, being Mohammedans, have been able to act as disinterested, and therefore impartial, guardians. Great jealousy prevails between Catholics and Protestants, between the Eastern and the Western Churches. All the other Churches would keenly resent it if France, by the acquisition of Syria, should obtain the guardianship of the Holy Places, and even the Roman Catholics belonging to other nations would be dissatisfied. Russia has assumed a leading position in the Holy Land. Every year enormous pilgrimages leave Russia for Jerusalem, and on the heights which command Jerusalem and Bethlehem the Russian Church has erected huge buildings for its pilgrims which overshadow these towns. In 1896 M. Emile Delmas wrote very truly in his book 'Egypte et Palestine': 'La Russie qui est partout ailleurs notre amie, est, dans le Levant, notre rivale pérséverante.' France's guardianship of the Holy Places would be disliked by other nations and possibly by Russia herself. It might involve France in most serious troubles. France has strong economic interests in Syria and Cilicia, where she has built railways and harbour works, and where she possesses numerous schools, clerical establishments, &c. Syria and Cilicia possess very great agricultural and mineral possibilities. If France wishes to occupy and exploit these territories she would probably act wisely in excluding the Holy Places, putting these under an international guardianship. However, that step would no doubt greatly reduce the value of Syria in the eyes of the French people. Much of its attraction would be gone.
The control of the Asiatic shore of the Black Sea would be convenient to Russia, supposing she occupied Constantinople, but it would, as has been shown, scarcely benefit her unless she had the hinterland as well. The possession of Syria would gratify, but would only moderately benefit, France.
The control of Mesopotamia and of the Persian Gulf and of Arabia seems almost a necessity to the British Empire for strategical and economic reasons. Admiral Mahan wrote in his book • Retrospect and Prospect':
The control of the Persian Gulf by a foreign State of considerable naval potentiality, a 'fleet in being' there, based upon a strong military port, would reproduce the relations of Cadiz, Gibraltar, and Malta to the Mediterranean. It would flank all the routes to the Farther East, to India, and to Australia, the last two actually internal to the Empire regarded as a political system ; and, although at present Great Britain unquestionably could check such a fleet so placed by a division of her own, it might well require