In 1854 two Catholics from the archdiocese of Cologne were travelling to the Holy Land. During the pilgrimage they got to know the difficult situation of catholic Christians in Palestine and the pathetic conditions of the sacred sites. When back in Cologne, they developed the idea of founding the Association of the Holy grave with the purpose of supporting the Catholic Church and its institutions in the Holy Land.
Furthermore the Palestine-Association of German Catholics got involved in 1885. This association had the goal of “Improving the catholic constitution on Palestine’s Holy Ground”. In 1895 both associations merged to form the German association of the Holy Land.
While competing with other European nations and confessions the association built magnificent buildings in Jerusalem. On a parcel of land, donated by Emperor Wilhelm II., the tremendous Church of St. Mary was established. The construction of a huge hospice began for hosting pilgrimages with hundreds of participants .
In Jerusalem the association maintained a German school for European and Arabic girls. The association’s original idea of settling German Catholics in agricultural colonies failed due to the lack of volunteer settlers. Therefore hospices for pilgrims were constructed on the properties that were bought for this purpose, in Emmaus and Tabgha at the Sea of Galilee. The land was cultivated with the help of domestic Bedouins.
Today the German Association of the Holy Land considers itself an aid organisation for the Christians in the Near East supporting the accommodation and reconciliation of the religions and destitute people. In collaboration with congregations the association embraces social and pastoral assignments.