In September 1219, Francisco d’Assisi, newly arriving to the Orient, where a Nile branche meets the eastern side of the Mediterranean, near Damietta, braving danger, passed the lines of both the Crusaders and the Egyptians, and went to meet the sultan of Egypt, Al-Malik Al-Kamil. He did meet the Sultan as reported by his hagiographers.
In September 1219, in the heat of the 5th Crusade, the Sultan of Egypte Al-Malik Al-Kamil, accorded an audience to Fransisco d’Assisi; in a spirit of tolerance Al-Kamil courteously received him, heard him, spoke to him; the sultan and the saint had a dialogue, after which Francisco d’Assisi, went back safely and peacefully.
It takes two to make an encounter, it needs two to have a dialogue.
Orients Occidents Nexus inaugurates its activities with this outstanding meeting between Al-Kamil and Fransisco d’Assisi, not only because it is an emblematic encounter between Orient & Occident, but also because throughout eight centuries of interpretations, it didn’t stop to adopt different meanings according to the preoccupations of every period. Each new interpretation reflects a different awareness of the relation Occident/Orient giving a specific time; it is an index to the history of the perception of the relationship between Occident and Orient since the 13th century from a European perspective.
The Sultan & the Saint includes the organisation of a conference and an exhibition in Berlin, as well as a publication commemorating 800 years of this exceptional Encounter.
Illustration: Giotto di Bondone – Scenes from the Life of Saint Francis – 6. St Francis before the Sultan of Egypt, circa 1325, Cappella Bardi Florence.