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CHAP. for the sake of maintaining their rival claims to - the honour of repairing churches. The cupola of
the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem was out of order. The Greeks, supported by Russia, claimed the right to repair it. The Latins denied their right. The dispute raged. Then, as usual, the wise and decorous Turk stepped in between the combatants, and said he would repair the Church himself. This did not content the Greeks, and Prince Mentschikoff now demanded that the ancient rights of the Greeks to repair the great Cupola and Church at Jerusalem should be recognised and confirmed ; and although he did not reject the Sultan's offer to supply the means for the repairs, he insisted that the work should be under the control of the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem.*
Some of these demands were resisted by France; and although M. de Lavalette had been long since recalled, M. de la Cour, who succeeded him, seemed inclined to be somewhat persistent, especially in regard to the question of the Cupola and the question of precedence at the Tomb of the Blessed Virgin.
It seems probable, however, that although M. de la Cour may have been sufficiently supplied with instructions touching the immediate question in hand, he had not perceived so clearly as his English colleague the dawn of the new French policy. From the communications of his own Government before he crossed the Channel, from his sojourn at Paris, and from the tenor of the despatches from England, Lord
* Eastern Papers,' part i. p. 129.
Stratford had gathered means of inferring that France CHAP, no longer intended to keep herself apart from Eng- •—V—land by persisting in her pressure upon the Sultan; and, supposing that she had made up her mind to enter upon this new policy, Lord Stratford might well entertain a hope that the question whether a Greek priest should be allowed to control the repair of a Cupola at Jerusalem, or whether the doorkeeper of a Church should be a Greek or a Latin, would not be fought with undue obstinacy by the quickwitted countrymen of Voltaire. He spoke with M. de la Cour, and found that he was prepared for concession, if matters could be so arranged as to satisfy what Lord Stratford, in his haughty and almost zoological way, liked to call 'French feelings of 'honour.' *
By means of his communications with the Turks, Lord the English Ambassador easily ascertained the points measures on which Prince Mentschikoff might be expected to be tiing it. inexorable. These were :—the repair of the Cupola, the question of precedence at the Tomb of the Virgin, and the question about the Greek doorkeeper in the Church of Bethlehem. Furnished with this clue, Lord Stratford saw M. de la Cour, and dissuaded him from committing himself to a determined resistance on any of these three questions. He also gave his French colleague to understand that, in his opinion, the Greek pretension upon these three points stood on strong ground, and urged him to bear in mind the great European interests at stake, the declared
* 'Eastern Papers,' part i. p. 134
CHAP, moderation of the French Government, and the •—^—- triumph already achieved by France in regard to the key and the silver star. And then Lord Stratford gave M. de la Cour a pleasing glimpse of the discomfiture into which their Russian colleague would be thrown if only the question of the Holy Places could be settled.* The French Ambassador soon began to enter into the spirit of these counsels.
On the other hand, Prince Mentschikoff was also willing to dispose of this question of the Holy Places; for he had now seen enough to be aware that he would not encounter sufficient resistance upon this matter to give him either a signal triumph or a tenable ground of rupture, and the angry despatches which he was receiving from St Petersburg made him impatient to press forward his ulterior demand. The two contending negotiators being thus disposed, it was soon found that the hindrances which prevented their coming to terms were very slender. But it often happens that the stress which a common man lays upon any subject of dispute is proportioned to the energy which he has spent in dealing with it, rather than to the real magnitude of the question itself; and when Prince Mentschikoff and M. de la Cour seemed to be approaching to a settlement, they allowed their minds to become once again so much heated by the strenuous discussions of small matters that 'the difficulty of settling the question of the 'Holy Places threatened to increase. The French 'and Russian Ambassadors insisted on their respec
* 'Eastern Papers,' part i. p. 155.
'fcive pretensions, while the Porte inclined but hesi- CHAP. 'tated to assume the responsibility of deciding between •—^—'them.'* Then, at last, the hour was ripe for the intervention of Lord Stratford de Kedcliffe. 'I thought,' said he, 'it was time for me to adopt a more promi'nent part in reconciling the adverse parties.'
He was more than equal to the task. Being by nature so grave and stately as to be able to refrain from a smile without effort and even without design, he prevented the vain and presumptuous Russian from seeing the minuteness and inanity of the things which he was gaining by his violent attempt at diplomacy. For the Greek Patriarch to be authorised to watch the mending of a dilapidated roof—for the Greek votaries to have the first hour of the day at a tomb—and, finally, for the doorkeeper of a church to be always a Greek, though without any right of keeping out his opponents,—these things might be trifles, but awarded to All the Russias through the stately mediation of the English Ambassador, they seemed to gain in size and majesty; and for the moment, perhaps, the sensations of the Prince were nearly the same as though he were receiving the surrender of a province or the engagements of a great alliance. On the other hand, Lord Stratford was unfailing in his deference to the motives of action which he had classed under the head of 'French feelings of honour;' and if M. de la Cour was set on fire by the thought that at the Tomb of the Virgin, or anywhere else, the Greek priests were to
# 'Eastern Papers,' part i. p. 157.
perform their daily worship before the hour appointed for the services of the Church which looked to France for support, Lord Stratford was there to explain, in his grand quiet way, that the priority proposed to be given to the Greeks was a priority resulting from the habit of early prayer which obtained in Oriental Churches, and not from their claim to have precedence over the species of monk which was protected by Frenchmen. At length he addressed the two Ambassadors; he solemnly expressed his hope that they would come to an adjustment. His words brought calm. In obedience, as it were, to the order of Nature, the lesser minds gave way to the greater, and the contention between the Churches for the shrines of
He settles Palestine was closed. The manner in which the Sultan should guarantee this apportionment of the shrines was still left open, but in all other respects the question of the Holy Places was settled*
Terms on According to the terms of the arrangement thus
it was effected, the key of the Church of Bethlehem and the silver star placed in the Grotto of the Nativity were to remain where they were, but were to confer no new right on the Latins; and the doorkeeper of the Church was to be a Greek priest as before, but was to have no right to obstruct other nations in their right to enter the building. The question of precedence at the Tomb of the Blessed Virgin was ingeniously eluded by the device before spoken of; for the priority given to the Greeks was treated as though it resulted from a convenient arrangement of hours
* April 22,1853. 'Eastern Papers,' part L p. 157.