War and Euphoria
The Crusades have been romanticized in movies… these soldiers were supposedly honorable knights sworn to protect the weak, to make a glorious pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But the Crusades were a clear picture of the ugly feudal unity between church and state in the Middle Ages. In fact, the Muslim extremists we have today remember their history clearly in that for many centuries, the Christian crusaders declared ‘holy war’ on Muslims. History testifies to this.
In the Middle Ages, thousands of people have made pilgrimages to Jerusalem in the hopes of earning eternal life. As large as 7,000 people in a group would travel altogether just to see a glimpse of the Holy Land. This all changed when the Muslim Turks began to threaten the Christian Byzantine Empire by conquering Jerusalem. In response, in 1095, the Byzantine emperor Alexius I turned to Pope Urban II. The pope then preached and declared that anyone who participates in the recapturing of Jerusalem for Christendom has the assurance of salvation. It was said that the multitudes roared “God wills it! God wills it!”
There were eight crusades all in all, all summoned and authorized by popes. The euphoria was so high that there were some accounts (although unreliable) that tells of a peasant’s crusade or a children’s crusade, believing that the Mediterranean would divide like that of the Red Sea for them to cross to the Holy Land.
The First Crusade was launched and lasted from 1096-1099 enjoined by French nobles. It is estimated that 50,000 or more crusaders converged in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) to recapture Asia Minor. After conquering the surrounding lands, they conquered Jerusalem in 1099 pillaging the entire city, mercilessly killing almost all its inhabitants, Muslim and Jew. It was a massacre. Four crusader kingdoms were established in the Holy Land after that: the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the County of Tripoli, the Principality of Antioch and the County of Edessa. Soon after, by 1144, the Muslim Saracens gained strength and conquered Edessa. This provoked another crusade, the Second Crusade(1147-1149), authorized by the Pope. He requested the monk Bernard of Clairvaux to preach the crusader message. Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany were convinced but their armies miserably failed in recapturing Edessa. By 1187, Jerusalem fell to the Saracens. The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) never even reached the Holy Land but instead plundered Constantinople, a city of Christendom. And it went on until the last crusade. So much for euphoria.
The thousands of deaths, the high taxes used by kings to fund the Crusades, famine brought by war, and the failure of the church’s holy war against the Saracens have resulted in disillusionment and had marred the reputation of Rome for many people. Thus, the stage is set for ecclesiastical reform.
(Continuing the blog series in countdown to the Reformation Day, October 31.)
*Art entitled “The Seventh Crusade Against Jerusalem” (1846) by Italian painter Francesco Hayez