This is a Roman Catholic church, hence its name in Arabic: Deir al-Latin (the Latin Monastery). In 1217, at the height of the Crusader period in Acre, the city’s first Franciscan monastery was established. Two years later, Saint Francis of Assisi—founder of the Franciscan Order —came to visit.
This church, like most of the Crusader and Christian structures in the city, was destroyed by the Mamluk conquerors at the end of the 13th century. Not until the middle of the 16th century did the Franciscans acquire a number of rooms close to Khan al-Faranj for use by pilgrims of their Order.
In 1620, during the time of Fakhr al-Din II (a local governor from the Druze community, who was the supervisor of Acre and its district under the Ottoman rule at the start of the 17th century), the Franciscans were given permission to build for themselves a new church to serve as a permanent hostel for members of the Order. The church is adjacent to the northern wall of the Khan al-Faranj and is recognizable by a pointed pyramidal spire in the Gothic style, painted a dull red, which distinguishes it from the rest of the towers in the city.
In the 17th century, when the church was first built, the world was thought to be flat. Hence, the symbol of the church has a central, equal-armed cross, surrounded by four smaller ones symbolizing the four points of the compass; this is called the Cosmic Cross, also known as the Jerusalem or Crusader Cross. The symbol also includes two arms—one is of Jesus, the other of Saint Francis—that are key elements in the Franciscan coat of arms. According to Catholic belief, two years before his death, Saint Francis had a miraculous occurrence of stigmata, the palms of his hands having bleeding wounds like those of the Passion of Christ.
The church may be reached by way of the road next to the eastern sea wall; the Terra Sancta school can only be reached by way of the Khan al-Faranj.