Post-classical history



The Fatimid caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah gained notoriety in western Europe after he ordered the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 1009. This event is described by the Egyptian historian and teacher Taqi al-Din Ahmad ibn ‘Ali al-Maqrizi (1364–1442) in his Itti‘az al-Hunafa’ bi-Akhbar al-A’imma al-Fatimiyyin al-Khulafa’ (Lesson for True Believers in the Stories of the Fatimid Imam-Caliphs).

In [the year 1009] the Christians went out from Egypt to Jerusalem to celebrate Easter at the Church of Garbage [the Church of the Holy Sepulchre], as was their yearly custom, setting out in a great crowd just as the Muslims set out to perform the hajj. Al-Hakim questioned […] one of his leaders about that, asking what he knew about what happened at the church, and he said, ‘This is a place of worship of which the Christians are proud, and to which they perform pilgrimage from all over the country. Kings donate to it, and much money is brought to it, along with clothes, drapes, soft furnishings, lamps, crosses made of gold and silver, and other such things, so that there are large amounts of these things there. On Easter Day, when the Christians gather at the Church of Garbage, the crosses are set up, and the lamps are hung around the altar, they use an artifice to make fire appear on the altar, daubing it with black elder and quicksilver, which makes the altar glow with a bright light so that whoever sees it thinks that the light is fire that has descended from heaven.’ Al-Hakim forbade that […] and wrote to Ahmad ibn Ya‘qub, the missionary, telling him to head for Jerusalem, destroy the Church of Garbage and let the people plunder it until all traces of it were obliterated, and that was done. Then he ordered the destruction of the synagogues and churches that were in the districts of his kingdom, but he became frightened that the Christians would destroy the Muslim mosques that were in their lands, so he stopped that.

Source: Ahmad ibn ‘Ali al-Maqrizi. (1967–73) Itti‘az al-Hunafa’ bi-Akhbar al-A’imma al-Fatimiyyin al-Khulafa’. Ed. Jamal al-Din al-Shayyal and Muhammad H.M. Ahmad. Cairo: Lajnat Ihya’ al-Turath al-Islami, Vol. 2, pp. 74–5.

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