The Crusades #
The Holy Land Crusades began in 1095 AD when European Christians sought to regain land around Jerusalem. The bloody battles endured until the fall of Acre in 1291.
This is one of the most fascinating periods in history. From Richard the Lionheart to the mighty Saladin, from the emperors of Byzantium to the Knights Templar, A magnificent epic of Holy War between the Christian and Islamic worlds unfolds. For some it was an adventure; a sight seeing trip to the venerated Holy Lands.
Hotly disputed, the merits are defended, while the misquided zeal is often repudiated.
According to Greg Sheridan, Rodney Stark’s The Triumph of Christianity is deliciously entertaining in its bullish declaration of Christian accomplishments (Stark assures us that “the Crusades are not a blot on the history of Christianity. No apologies are required.”) But however fun it is to read of the successes of “our team,” apologies are required—if you’re a Christian.
The Didascalia Apostolorum forbade the acceptance of money from soldiers who had shed blood without judgment. However Agustine of Hippo advised that with the sanction of government, wicked men could be put to death without viiolating the commandment, Thou shalt not kill.
Saint Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, 3rd Century, upright in many ways - During a plague in Carthage, Cyprian urged Christians to help everyone, including their enemies and persecutors - maintained murder a crime if committed singly, but could be justified “en masse”. Perhaps this is where Stalin derived his view that the death of one is a tragedy, the death of 50 million is a statistic?
Mohammed and the rise of Muslim #
The rise and rise of Muslim began in the 7th C. mainly because Christianity had become weakened by the fall of Rome by the Goths, Visigoths and other barbaric tribes of North eastern regions of Europe and Asia. Early Muslims were exemplary in many ways.
Accepting traditional Hebrew beliefs, Christ as a prophet, they continued his philanthropic caring and kindness to each other and others. They, like the Jews believed in personal cleanliness, devout, tolerant and believed in respecting the equality of women. Initially both Jews and Christians felt very safe living under Muslim rule. Homosexuality was openly tolerated. Tolerance was central to Mohammed’s message.
As the West went into decline, the Muslim world flourished. The astrolabe was created for Jaafar, son of the Abbasid caliph al-Muktafi, in Baghdad in the 10th century AD. The teachings of Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and the other great thinkers and scientists of Greece fell into obscurity west of Constantinople and north of Morocco. In Baghdad, however - the now war-shattered capital of Iraq, then the seat of the Abbasid caliphate - there rose a remarkable institution known as the House of Wisdom. With Europe into its so-called Dark Ages, the Islamic world was entering its Golden Age. The House of Wisdom, between the 8th and 13th centuries, attracted Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars from throughout the known world to study and translate the tracts that had underpinned modern thought to that time into Arabic. Every important and available book and paper known to exist was collected for translation from Greek, Latin, Persian, Indian and even Chinese sources.
By the 9th century, the House of Wisdom contained the world’s largest library, and up to 500 scholars worked feverishly on their own discoveries. The idea that the Earth was round, its circumference measurable, was no stranger here. Physicians investigated the causes of infection. The number zero, invented as a useful concept in India, reached Baghdad somewhere around AD 770 and became a crucial element in mathematics. Without zero there would never have been a computer, let alone Google.
The pleasure of harnessing knowledge spread rapidly across Arab North Africa, through refined cities like Fez, and beyond.
Meanwhile, in AD 711, those Muslims known in the West as Moors began pouring across the Strait of Gibraltar and took over the Iberian Peninsula. By AD 1000, most of what we now know as Spain was occupied by the Islamic Caliphate of Cordoba. Pushing the Christians into the Basque region, the Moors demanded a tribute of hundreds of virgins annually.
French nobles assisted the Spanish in the Reconquista in a 400 year battle to consolidate the power of the Catholic Monarchs. This was done by brutal conquest. St James was canonised as “the “Moor Slayer” because he appeared in a vision to help destroy the Moors.
Under attack by the barbaric Lombards, Pope Adrian also sought the assistance of Charlemagne’s armies to regain the power of Christian forces. Pope Leo declares Charlemagne a “defender of the faith” and the first Holy Roman Emperor. Charlemagne, was persuaded by Alcuin that education, not the sword, was the way to spread Christ’s kingdom.
Soon after the March, 2004 bombing of Madrid’s Atocha train station by Al Qaeda partisans, there were calls to remove the statue of Saint James the Moorslayer from Spain’s famous cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. The Madrid carnage—191 dead, 2000 more injured—stunned the country. The government hoped that Muslims would find Spain friendlier if the “offensive” Matamoros was banished. But the Spanish people protested vigorously against removal of an iconic image that figures so prominently in the nation’s history.
First Crusade in 1095 - 99. #
A series of Crusades to reclaim the Holy lands from infidels allowed the Popes to raise and control huge armies used to fight all opponents of the Church. It was Pope Urban II. in 1194, responding to Alexis of Constantinople cries for help against expanding Islam who becomes the main culprit.
In a rousing speech, instilling imaginative power, Urban called for violence against the infidel in the name of Christ, for the one true religion, amidst prayers for peace . Through this act of piety Urban raised an army of 40,000 crusaders to destroy all enemies of Christ. His first, most infamous atrocity was to go north to the Rhineland to destroy the Jews. Only then did they proceed to retake Jerusalem in 1099, in one of the most violent and bloody raids in history, involving mass rapes of women and murders of children and destruction of many towns. Decrees went out excluding Muslims from living in Christian lands. Muslim temples were transformed back into Cathedrals.
Most crusades and later wars were perpetrated with licenced killing, looting and the rape and slavery of women. Pope Innocent III set the terms promised in the Crusades against Islam – remission of sins and unrestricted looting which implied rape.
In contrast, when Saladin reclaims Jerusalem in 1187, he proclaims a a policy of co-existence; The Holy Sepulchral of Jerusalem must remain open to all religions.
In 2014, Pope Francis II’s visit to Jerusalem he aplolgises for previous violence and intolerance.
Before we get too doey eyed about the sanctity of the Muslims, we should consider its aggressive expansion under the Ottoman Turks. They learned the lesson that religion can be spread by blood and iron more effectively than by simple evangelism.
By the late 16th century the Turks began to spread Islam by predation with the objective of world hegemony. It became a perpetual war machine with all out military operations and expansion threatening the Mediterranean sea ports. As Christians nations had demonstrated the greatest motivating force for soldiers was booty, including capturing human fodder for other conquests and women as sex slaves. Continuous Holy War (gaza) became the norm. (Turkish Historian Halil Inalcik)
It is worth noting that both the Moors in Spain and later Saladin in Jerusalem tolerated the Jews and Christians under a policy of co-existence. It was Queen Isabella who expelled Jews and Muslims and later Pope Urban III’s exclusionary policy waged a war against the Jews of Rhineland and refused to allow Muslims to live in Christian controlled territories. Isabella was reacting to the barbaric spread of Islam by the Ottoman Empire, whose soldiers were motivated by promises of virgins and pillage. As a mother of four daughers, her fears were realistic. Urban also called for violence to restore Christianity in Europe and the Middle East. Saladin appears much more chivalric.
Second Crusade 1147 - 1187 #
The second crusade is led east by two kings, Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany but by the time they reach the Holy Land they have lost more than half their joint armies to Muslim attacks. They do grave harm to the Latin Kingdom by a feeble attack that merely alienates the previously friendly city of Damascus
1187 Saladin destroys the Christian army, capturing various Crusader fortresses and walled cities, including Acre and Jerusalem treating the Christian inhabitants with tolerance.
Third Crusade 1190 - 1192 #
Richard I is one of the leaders of the third crusade, suffering disaster when its first leader, the emperor Frederick Barbarossa, is drowned.
1191 The Muslim garrison of Acre surrenders to Richard I, who orders the massacre of 2700 of its members
The Teutonic Knights are founded to run a hospital in Acre, in the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem
Fourth Crusade 1202 - 1205 #
The fourth Crusade was actually spawned spontaneously by a group of knights on a whim following the euphoria of a successful tournament. To prepare themselves, they engaged in a few practice runs or if you will some “curtain raisers” including the one above and below. Many other inquisitions began one of the darkest, bloody and brutal periods in Medieval Europe.
Innocent III supported the Fourth Crusade, which led to the wild sacking of Constantinople, “the most unspeakable of the many outrages in the whole hideous history of the Crusades.” The Roman Catholics, in order to demonstrate their superiority attacked and slaughtered hundreds of their Greek Orthodox brethren. Drunken Roman Crusaders rampaged the Haigia Sophia, raped the Greek nuns and trashed the Church smearing the walls and floors with carnage and blood. The Greek Orthodox Church believes this weakened the city allowing the Turks to eventually overrun the city in 1492.
Before embarking to the Middle East, the Pope used his army to deal with a perceived local heresy in Southern France. The Albigensian Crusade is unique in history, as the Pope on March 10, 1208 proclaimed a crusade against a heresy that was present inside Catholic Europe itself. “These heretics are worse than the Saracens!” he proclaimed. In retrospect, the crusade was one of the bloodiest episodes in European history. Indeed, the decades-long persecution of ordinary citizens has often been seen as the event that prepared the way for the birth of Protestantism, as it awakened the ordinary European citizen to the realisation that something was not “quite” right within the papal corridors.
Saint Dominic, is seen as the founding leader of the Inquisition.
An estimated 200,000 to one million people died during the twenty year campaign, which began in earnest in Béziers in July 1209. After assembling the papal troops, these marched to Béziers, where they ordered that 222 people, suspected of being Cathars, were handed over to them by the citizens of the town. When this was refused, the papal troops decided to attack. One of the crusaders asked their leader, the Papal Legate Arnaud-Amaury, how to distinguish between the 222 heretics and the thousands of faithful Catholics.
“Kill them all,” was the abbot’s alleged reply.
“God will recognise his own!”
The number of dead that day was between 7000 and 20,000, the latter figure being the one quoted when Arnaud-Amaury reported back to the Pope.
The Cathars were in many ways similar to the later Mennonites.
In the early summer of 2001, the Pope made a historic visit to Greece, and was met with thousands of angry demonstrators holding signs, yelling epithets. The Greeks were angry about something that had happened eight hundred years ago: The Fourth Crusade had stopped off in Constantinople, sacked the city, and weakened it for the later overthrow by the Turks. And they’re angry today, eight hundred years later.
By this time the Crusaders had spent their blood lust and had little zeal left to fight the Muslims.
Fifth Crusade - 1212 - 1219 Children’s Crusade #
Charles Mackay, 1841 book, Extraordinary Delusions and the Madness of Crowds describes the Children’s Crusade of 1213.
History in her solemn page informs us that the crusaders were but ignorant and savage men, that motives were those of bigotry unmitigated, and that their pathway was one of blood and tears. Romance has dilated upon their piety and heroism and portrays in her most glowing and impassioned hues, their virtue and magnanimity, the imperishable honor they acquired for themselves, and the great services they rendered to Christianity.
Now what was the grand result of all these struggles? Europe expended millions of her treasures and the blood of two million of her people, and a handful of quarrelsome knights retained possession of Palestine for about one hundred years.
Innocent III was thrilled by thousands of Children taking solemn vows to recover the Holy Lands. Shipped out of Marseille, where half of them drowned in shipwrecks, and the other half sold as slaves in North Africa. None ever came close to the Holy lands.
Trendy revisionist history paints the Crusades as justification for settling the score between The West and Islam. But even a cursory reading of events unravels that theory. Until the 16th century, Islam was the superpower with glittering cities and magnificent armies, and Europe little more than a third-rate backwater.
The great early Christian sees located in Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria as well as medieval Constantinople had long been obliterated by political Islam. But Europe, by heaven’s providence, survived the onslaught with miraculous moments such as the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 and the decisive Battle of Vienna, 1683 when the military might of the Ottoman Empire was repelled.
Secondly, only five years later the saintly pontiff’s plea to leaders to recognize Europe’s Christian heritage in the first European constitution was rebuffed. Already Islamic influences were widely suffered in Europe. A Constitution that set out the heritage and the rights of Europe’s Christian institutions was urgent, yet ignored. Pope John Paul II understood Hilaire Belloc’s “Europe is the Faith, and the Faith is Europe.”
Europe’s great minds had by then long warned that abandonment of Europe’s Christian roots would imperil its Civilization. And most of them pointed to Islam as the invader that could vanquish a sclerotic culture emptied of its essential identity, its central idea. Consider the politically-incorrect assessment of St. Thomas Aquinas, who flatly stated: “He (Mohammed) seduced the people by promises of carnal pleasure to which the concupiscence of the flesh urges us… Those who believed in him were brutal men and desert wanderers, utterly ignorant of all divine teaching, through whose numbers Mohammed forced others to become his follower’s by the violence of his arms.” (Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 1,Ch.16, art.4).