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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