An encounter recounted in history

An encounter recounted in history.

Eight centuries of iconography of Francis and the Sultan.

September 1219. Friar Francis, coming from the encampment of the crusaders besieging Damietta in Egypt, a Muslim stronghold, goes over the front lines to reach al-Malik al-Kâmil, Sultan of Cairo and head of the Star and Crescent army. He welcomes and listens to him. At the end of their dialogue Francis is dismissed in peace, and returns to the encampment unharmed.

The event is attested to in various historical sources, inside and outside the Franciscan order, that are not always in precise agreement in their details and interpretations, but are in concordance in testifying to the reality that they two met face to face, and seem to converge on an important point, namely that the event (unprecedented, surprising, and improbablefor more than one motive) aroused wonder in contemporaries.

This year marks the 800thanniversaryof this encounter between two men of different faiths, and is particularly significant since it was completely unforeseeable in a time of war that, in addition to other reasons, precisely in this diversity of creeds seemed to root itself, and parting from this assumed stretches of intransigence between the two armies, one under the sign of the Cross and the other under the Star and Crescent. An encounter in peace and with dialogue that more than ever merits to be remembered as an extraordinary event, which in its time represents an unicumin the context of conflicts between Christianity and Islam.

The memory of the encounter at Damiettahas been secured throughout the centuries through a diffusion of iconography more than by written testimony. Francis in the presence of the Sultan – often depicted in the act of speaking, while the other listens attentively in a benevolent mode: “He [The Sultan] was moved by his words and listened to him very willingly.” (Thomas of Celano, First life of St. Francis XX, 57) – has been a fountain of inspiration for countless artists, who have tried to hand down its memory and to interpret its deep significance, each in his own way.

The Sacred Convent of St. Francis,in collaboration with the International Franciscan Center for Dialogue of the Friars Minor Conventual, celebrates the anniversary of this prophetic gesture of peace and dialogue with a photographic exhibition that displays the principal iconographic representations of the encounter. A memory that does not want to be archeology, a visit which we invite you to undertake not for aesthetic enjoyment only, but also for reflection on the actuality and urgency of dialogue and peace.

An encounter recounted in history