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The Tale

'Twas during a time of political upheaval that the Great Library was set on fire, and many codices and scrolls found their end after so many years of diligent care. Many who disagreed with the purpose of its destruction did risk life, limb, and family honor to plunge into the flames enveloping those many rooms, retrieving whatever might be found. This is the only page of a treasured book of history to survive this tragic loss. May its rescuer be blessed.



Halima al-Rakkasa, apprentice to Mistress Gudrun
(Linda J. Doerksen)

Create an illuminated page of calligraphy with the theme of St. Francis of Assissi in accordance with the contest outline, for Ravensley's "Black Knight Feast" of Feb 11/06.

I chose to select an event from the Middle East, somewhat in accordance with my persona.


Books of poetry, history, and prose in the Middle and Near East were often illustrated, the images themselves sometimes occupying large areas of the page.

Images were frequently bordered, sometimes with gold; I used 23K gold leaf for some flash.

The calligraphy was placed 1) outside of the outlined image, 2) inside the bordered image, or 3) in boxes within the image, with borders everywhere. I chose the first option. The calligraphy is based on the design by mahee of acre, with diacritical marks and some letter modification by me. I used a narrow pen similar to the reed pens used at the time.

The individual motifs were all selected from the Middle East, the 13th century CE, concurrent with and following the historical journey of St. Francis. The Simurgh and various other birds came from "The Conference of the Birds" by Farid ad-Din 'Attar (d. 618/1221), illustrated by a Turcoman (899/1493). The owl and the tree-rock combination came from "Humayun-nama" by 'Ali Chelebi (V/11th century). The figure of the person is amalgamated from a musician and a qadi ("Maqamat" by al-Hariri; VII/13th c.).

I liked the idea of a rescued fragment of a larger work, and incorporated the singed edges.



The text reads:

"the sufi francis al assissi did visit the sultan al malik al kamel in the year of our prophet 617 with words of peace love and the..." The remainder of the text is "lost along with the book which contained the page".


Historical Support for the "St. Francis in Egypt" Theme

At this point, we look to an incident in the life of St. Francis that can serve as a model for solving conflicts in a nonviolent way and for improving understanding between Christians and Muslims. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), who lived during the time of the Crusades, had come to distrust violence and war. In the year 1219 he sought a non-violent way to solve the conflict between Christians and Muslims. Francis journeyed to Damietta, Egypt, near the mouth of the Nile, determined to have a meeting with the Sultan of Egypt, even as Christian crusaders were engaged in bloody conflict with the Muslim forces nearby.

Francis succeeded in getting an audience with Sultan Malek-el-Kamel. Though Francis tried to persuade the Sultan of the good news of Jesus' saving love for all, the Sultan was not drawn away from his own faith and convictions. Yet, he saw Francis' enthusiasm and courage and listened to him courteously and with admiration. He saw to it, moreover, that Francis was given safe passage back to the Christian camp.

The Francis-and-Islam Connection

What is the connection between St. Francis of Assisi and Islam? In 1219, St. Francis traveled to what is now northern Egypt and paid a visit to the Muslim Sultan al-Malek al-Kamil. This was at the beginning of the Fifth Crusade, but Francis and his brothers did not make this trip as part of the battle to regain the Holy Land. Rather, they went in opposition to the mainstream theological and political orthodoxies of the time, to meet the Muslim people, and to live among them as “lesser brothers.” Francis and his brothers went to be present among this people who were being portrayed as evil enemies of Christ, and, in his evangelism of presence, Francis found the spirit of God to be alive and at work within the Muslim people, then called “the Saracens”. Francis admired their public, repeated acknowledgment of God and call to prayer, and he appreciated the deep reverence they showed to their holy book, the Qur’an. While the main trend of the time was for Christian preachers to deliver strident, inflammatory sermons against Islam, Francis forbade his brothers to take part in these exercises. He demanded that his brothers be present first and foremost, living with and among the Saracens. They were to preach only if they felt that it would “please the Lord.”

Francis worked to prevent the brotherhood from becoming embroiled in the grasp for civil and ecclesiastical offices and power, and kept the community’s focus on serving their neighbors for the glory of God only. Based on Francis and Islam by J. Hoeberichts (Franciscan Press, 1997) Prepared for the Episcopal-Muslim Relations Committee of the Diocese of New York Ecumenical Commission by Mary O’Shaughnessy


In one of his most dramatic episodes, he walked unarmed through the middle of a war, the crusades, all the way to northern Africa and met with the Sultan, the leading Muslim of the time, who was so impressed by Francis’ kindness and gentleness, that instead of killing him, he said that if all Christians were like Francis, he would become a Christian. “ If you own possessions,” Francis said, “you have to build a fence to protect them, and get weapons to defend them and fight to keep them. So,” he said, “we own nothing, and we are at peace with everyone.” So I think we do Francis a disservice by thinking of him just for preaching to the birds or building the first nativity scene or loving animals. The reason Francis preached to the birds is because after a while no one wanted to listen to him talk about the Gospel. They didn’t want to hear him tell them to put away their swords, love their enemies, give away all their money and live with the poor. Eventually even his first followers turned against him. He told them that they could own nothing, that they were to beg for their food, serve the poor, and walk around unarmed through the towns bringing God’s peace to people.