The Crusades (1095 – 1291 A.D.)

The Dark Ages were indeed dark, decidedly unenlightened years of the Church.  I wonder how a Church which built cathedrals that used materials to build an edifice and decorate it to reflect high values could have fomented such discord that it would evolve into a crusade that could lure participants with promises of a glorious life thereafter for those who died defending their faith (not so unlike the motivation of today’s terrorists). From my perspective the hatred so often preached by certain “defenders of the faith,” be they Christian, Jew, Muslim, or any other faith that disconnects spiritual values from human values, or who are preaching messages that are contrary to reason and contrary to the core  values of each of those great religions is indefensible; the only difference is the particular justification given.

When the Turks took control of  Jerusalem and its holy places in 1088 A.D., stories abounded in  European Christian communities of atrocities committed in Jerusalem by Turks against Christians. Pope Urban took advantage of these stories to foment religious zealotry to oust the “infidels.” He bid Christians to gather under the sign of the cross and wear signs of that cross,  and to take over possession of Jerusalem from the Turks. As an inducement, Crusaders were offered indulgences, serfs were allowed freedom, death penalties were commuted and prisoners were set free in exchange for participation. It’s no wonder they were such an unruly mass on their way to and in the process of taking Jerusalem. After 9/11, the Western world has been assailed as “infidels” by radical Muslims – not so different, considering what the “Christians” did to the Muslims when they took Jerusalem. In his book, The Age of Faith, at 592, Will Durant quotes “the priestly eyewitness Raymond of Agiles,” to write,

wonderful things were to be seen. Numbers of the Saracens were beheaded . . . others were shot with arrows, or forced to jump from the towers; others were tortured for several days and then burned in flames. In the streets were seen piles of heads and hands and feet. One rode about everywhere amid the corpses of men and horses.

Durant reports at 592, “70,000 Muslims remaining in the city were slaughtered. The surviving Jews were herded into a synagogue and burned alive.”

After Christians had “liberated” Jerusalem, the goal of the first Crusade was considered accomplished, and many of the Crusaders returned home. Muslim refugees from the “Christian” slaughter of Islamic and Jewish Jerusalem fled home to tell of the horrific actions of the “Christians” in Jerusalem.

Six more Crusades would follow, each with its own details and ostensible triggers, but each utterly contrary to the teaching of Jesus: “by their fruits you will know them.” Will Durant notes in his account of the Crusades in the volume, The Age of Faith, that on several occasions, Muslim leaders acted more humanely than did the Christians.

Stained-Glass Panel, ca. 1245–1248
France, Tours, Ambulatory of the Cathedral of Saint-Gatien
Pot-metal glass and vitreous paint

21 x 13 1/2 in. (53.3 x 34.3 cm)
The Cloisters Collection, 1937 (37.173.3)

King Louis IX of France (r. 1226–70), later Saint Louis, undertook two Crusades to the Holy Land. He acquired relics of Christ’s passion” from his cousin, the Latin emperor of Constantinople, Baldwin II, most notably a piece of the “True Cross” and also the “Crown of Thorns.” He brought these relics to Paris and installed them in the Sainte-Chapelle, a church that he had built to house them. According to a contemporary chronicle, on the way to Paris, Louis stopped at Sens, where the Crown of Thorns was placed in the cathedral overnight. This panel shows Louis at Sens with his brother and some courtiers. Clad in simple clothes, the crowned King Louis carries the extraordinary relic atop a chalice.

See for a photograph of the above stained-glass panel, description and comment.

Armorial Gemellion, third quarter of 13th century
Limoges, France
Copper, engraved and gilded, champlevé enamel

Diam. 9 1/16 in. (23 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1949 (49.56.8)

This gemellion, or enamel basin, testifies to the dialogue between the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Limousin region of France, renowned for its enamel production. The arms of that kingdom, a large cross surrounded by small crosses, appear at the center of the bowl. Four men armed with shields and clubs separated by three-towered castles surround the arms. Originally part of a pair, the bowl was used to pour water over the hands from the small “gargoyle” or animal-head spout set into the side.

See for a photograph of the above Armorial Gemellion, description and comment.

Tomb Effigy of Jean d’Alluye, mid-13th century
French; Made in Loire Valley

83 1/2 x 34 1/4 in. (212.1 x 87 cm)
The Cloisters Collection, 1925 (25.120.201)

The tomb effigy is of Jean d’Alluye, a French knight of the thirteenth century. When he died in 1248, he was buried at the abbey which he had founded—La Clarté-Dieu near Tours in northwestern France.

This type of effigy, showing the deceased lying atop his tomb, is known as a gisant. The knight holds his hands in prayer, and his expression is one of deep contemplation. Medieval knights combined Christian and military ideals and aspired to the virtues of piety, loyalty, and honor. Jean d’Alluye wears the full regalia of knighthood before the development of steel-plate armor. The hood of his long-sleeved chain-mail shirt is draped around his neck, and its mittens are attached to the sleeves. His large triangular shield is at his side, and his feet rest on a lion. The spurs on his ankles are a special kind worn only by knights. His sword, belt, and sheath are in the same style as his uniform, but his sword is not like anything used by the knights of his day. We know Jean d’Alluye journeyed to the Holy Land in 1241.

See for the source of the above photograph of the above Tomb Effigy, description and notes.

For an interesting article on the role of knights in the crusades, see Feudalism and Knights in Medieval Europe at

In the early 1980’s I was asked to fill the pulpit of our pastor. I chose for my topic the notion that we are not, as Christians, called to defend the faith: it needs no defense.   It needs persons to live it.  In that sermon, I looked to the history of the Inquisition, which was not targeting those of other faiths, but accused heretics among them. The purpose the Inquisition was to inflict discomfort to extreme pain over an extended period of time to obtain recantation.   Their justification for such exquisite tortures was that it was not a punishment, which is why a quick death as in hanging , or the sword, would not accomplish their intended purpose:  to use torture over time sufficient to obtain a confession and the promise not to repeat the heresy.  Jesus did not “defend the faith.”  Rather, the gospel accounts report that he went about doing good. That is consistent with his response when asked about people doing good but not in his name: “ Don’t worry about it.  By their fruits you will know them.” Jesus would have rejected a Cartesian duality of spirit and matter.   He asked people to show love to all as ” the Father” loves. James, the author of the New Testament book named for him, got it right.   No duality there.

How did the Crusades affect the church, its message, and its art? That will be the subject of my next post.

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The Dark Ages: Christian and Jewish Cultures at Their Nadir as Islamic Culture Reaches Its Zenith

It was the Italian poet, Petrarch, that characterized as “The Dark Ages” the period of European history from the fall of Rome to his own time in the 14th century which realized the resurgence of learning and the arts in Western culture. While Christian and Judaic cultures were indeed dark during that time, Islamic culture, on the other hand, was brilliant during that same period of time, as it rose to its zenith and gained a foothold in Europe through Spain.

The Islamic founding prophet, Mohammed (572 632 A.D.) was born and raised in Arabia.  He became familiar with Jewish and Christian Scriptures through a cousin, and he came to admire the monotheism of the Jews and the morals of the Christians. He came to value of the Jewish and Christian scriptures as a revelation from God. He was aghast at the tribal violence and petty vengeance prevalent in his native Arabia, and he came to believe in the need of a new religion, which might redeem and unify the tribes.

Mohammed had made a habit of going to the mountains to meditate. One day he heard a voice from heaven tell him, “Read!” He answered, “I do not read.” Again the voice said, “Read,” and, although illiterate, he read.  [The account bears remarkable resemblance to the story of Moses and the burning bush.  It also echoes the command to Augustine which led to his conversion to Christianity, described in the next prior post]. As Mohammed was descending the mountain, he heard a voice again, say, “O Mohammed! Thou art the messenger of Allah, and I am Gabriel.” He had many more such experiences in which he heard the word of Allah and transmitted it to his family and his people, who recorded what he dictated, that becoming the Koran.  From that the Muslim religion sprang. Affirming his respect for Judaic and Christian Scriptures, he considered Moses and Jesus to be prophets as was he. Unfortunately, the respect that he showed for both Judaism and Christianity, was not returned in kind.

At a time when Western culture, and Judaic and Christian civilizations entered their dark, uninspired, dark period, Islamic culture, recently born of the new Muslim religion, soared and reached its zenith from 1057 two 1258 A.D., long predating advances in the Western culture of science, math, and architecture.   Islamic culture contributed the following to science: the first treatise on trigonometry as a science; an historic account of physics, laws of the lever, tables of specific gravity for various substances, a theory of gravity as an attractive force, a celestial globe, geographers, an extension of Greek  technological principles, and extensive ophthalmology, treatises on medicine, advanced design and practices in hospitals, and even in insane asylums.

Not so different from ideological histories of Judaism or Christianity, there developed a rift in Islam between a conservative and sometimes reactive segment of the Orthodox elements of its faith and the progressiveness of its educated classes.  Also, as can be seen in Christianity, the Orthodox became suspicious of education, and, as in 20th and 21st century fundamentalist Christians, the perceived a chasm between religion and science. One Orthodox Muslim, Al-Ghazali, placed the intellectuals into a general category of infidels, identified as theists who believe in God and immortality but deny creation and the resurrection; the deists acknowledged Allah, but, much like Newton, considered the world to be a mechanical object created by Allah, wound up, and left to operate on its own; and the materialists, who went so far as to reject  the very notion of Allah.

Such high scientific and philosophic achievements were demonized in Muslim Spain as a result of Orthodox fear that the People’s faith would be seriously harmed.

As Will Durant describes it at page 341,

The rise and decline of Islamic civilization is one of the major phenomena of history. For five centuries, from 700 to 1200, Islam led the world in power, order, and extent of government, in refinement of manners, in standards of living, in humane legislation and religious toleration, in literature, scholarship, science, medicine, and philosophy.

Even the ribbed vault in Gothic architecture was predated in Islam. In general, Islamic cultural achievements so much exceeded the Dark Ages of Western culture that it seems that the fate of Europe could have been quite different had not Islamic culture fallen into decline toward the end of that period.

See  or an excellent article and pictures of Islamic architecture.  You will note at least two features in these pictures and articles: 1. the Roman arch  as a principal structural feature, and 2 .decorations that are primarily geometric with no features representing either human life or the divine.  Of particular interest to me is the Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque which uses, as I would describe it, a honeycomb of  large archical roof  structures, which may be seen at: .

See for an excellent article on Islamic arts. See for the source of the following photograph of the “Blue Mosque,” below:

See, also , examples of Islamic  artistic production.

Finally, see  for an excellent essay on the ideas and ideals exemplified in Islamic art.

For an excellent article on Jewish  architecture, and of the influence on it of  Islamic architecture, see .   See, also, .

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