Hebron (mod. Al-Khalil, West Bank) is a town 30 kilometers (183/4 mi.) south of Jerusalem. A pilgrimage center and bishopric of the kingdom of Jerusalem, it was known to the Franks of Outremer as St. Abraham.
Hebron was renowned among Jews, Muslims, and Christians as the burial place of the biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their wives Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah. Various traditions also associated the site with the resting place of Adam and Joseph. The ancient sanctuary housing the saints’ cenotaphs, converted into a church in the fourth century and then into a mosque after the seventh-century Muslim conquest, was plundered by the crusaders following the fall of Jerusalem in July 1099.
In late 1099 or early 1100, the town and sanctuary were taken by Godfrey of Bouillon, the ruler of Jerusalem, who appointed Geldemar Carpenel (d. 1101) as the first lord of Hebron. The territory changed hands several times over the following years, periodically reverting to the Crown and allowing the kings of Jerusalem to restructure the lordship on favorable terms. By 1112 a priory of Augustinian canons had been installed at the patriarchs’ tomb. In 1119, during the lordship of Baldwin of St. Abraham (1119-1136), the Latin clerics at the site announced that they had discovered the relics of the biblical patriarchs, an event celebrated by Arabic chroniclers but greeted with indifference by the Patriarch Warmund and the Latin Church of Jerusalem.
In 1168, due to its strategic importance, coupled with its significance as a pilgrimage site, Hebron became the second Latin parish to be raised to the status of bishopric without precedent in the Greek ecclesiastical lists. Rainald, nephew of Patriarch Fulcher, became the first bishop, and the priory was established as the city’s cathedral chapter. Although the Frankish possession of the patriarchs’ tombs caused difficulties for non-Christian devotees, in some cases forcing Jewish pilgrims to bribe the caretakers or to enter the sanctuary disguised as Christians, the site saw its share of Muslim and Jewish visitors throughout the crusader period, including the well-known traveler Benjamin of Tudela. Hebron was captured by Saladin in August 1187, and the Latin bishopric lapsed until around 1252, when it was resurrected and continued in titular form. In 1266, the Mamlûk Sultan Baybars I formally barred Jews and Christians from the sanctuary, which had been changed back into a mosque, although as late as 1267 Pope Clement IV directed the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem to supply Hebron with a priest.