The Crusades (1095 – 1291) had a profound impact on Western culture, directly or indirectly, both positively and negatively. It was destructive of life and property then and to this day, a millennium later, it has had harsh effects upon the relationships of Christians and Western nations with the rest of the world, particularly with the Arab, Muslim and Jewish parts of the world. I do not attempt to justify them; inhumanity, whatever its form, especially that justified by “faith,” is indefensible.
Here is some history that preceded the Crusades. Prior to them, Muslims controlled Palestine. The Christians living there enjoyed freedom of religion, and Christian pilgrims were welcome to Jerusalem, much as Muslims go to Mecca some time during their lifetime. The Muslims who ruled the area were supportive of Christians who lived in Palestine, so much so that when the caliph of Cairo destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Muslim rulers contributed greatly to its restoration. However, when in 1047 the Seljug Turks took Jerusalem from the Fatimid Muslims, they were not tolerant of Christians living in their territory nor of pilgrims visiting Jerusalem. Moreover, the Byzantine Empire, which was considered to be at the crossroads between Asia and Europe, had become weak and Latin Christendom feared that the Turks would advance into Europe, putting them in great danger. The Italian cities saw the Turks as an impediment to their markets in the near East. Pope Urban decided that Christians must remove the Turks from their holy city, Jerusalem. He called upon Christians to rally in a crusade. They were to be marked with and led by the sign of the cross. As an inducement to crusaders, he offered benefits: serfs were freed from bondage to the soil and to the barons, prisoners were freed, death sentences were commuted, and spiritual benefits were conferred.
The First Crusade was from 1095 – 99, the Second from 1146 – 8, the Third from 1189 – 92, and the Fourth from 1202 –4. Between Crusades, many crusaders settled in Muslim lands near Jerusalem, marrying their women and adapting to their ways. Much evil was done in the name of Christianity during each of the Crusades; and often, but not always, they were met with like force and retribution from Muslims. After the demise of the Fourth Crusade, church leaders in Western Europe concluded that perhaps the reason for their lack of success in four consecutive Crusades was that the crusaders were not innocent: perhaps only innocents, children, could regain Jerusalem. So, about 30,000 children at the average age of 12 were gathered and sent across the Alps to Italy, where they expected to have ships to take them to Jerusalem. When the survivors arrived at Genoa they were met with derision. There were no ships to Palestine. Many children died on their Alpine trek to Italy and yet more on their return through those same Alps. Two more Crusades were attempted thereafter, this time with adult crusaders. In the final Crusade, the crusaders robbed a Muslim caravan, hung 19 merchants and raided several Muslim towns. When Sultan Khalil demanded reparation of the crusaders, and was refused it, he lay siege to Acre, a Christian town in Palestine, took it, and left his men free to kill or enslave its 60,000 inhabitants.
It should come as no surprise that, contemporaneously with the Crusades, the Church began its Inquisition, in which it tortured and killed its own for departing from official doctrine, or even upon the suspicion or allegation of heresy. It was rules-based terror, utterly contradictory to what is known of Jesus’ life and teaching. Tolstoy later asserted that Christianity is not a set beliefs, but a way of life. True faith does not need defended, but must be lived in loving community with all humanity, unconditionally.
Through the Crusades, Christian Europe discovered a Muslim civilization, more enlightened and much superior to its own. Many serfs who had obtained release from the land, never returned. By then, the Roman Empire was weakened, as was the Roman Catholic Church; but the French monarchy was strengthened. With the contact of Christians with the Muslim world came new markets for Italian and Flemish industry, the establishment of towns and the rise of the middle class. With Christian zeal waning, secular life was stimulated. As industry and commerce developed so did European culture and learning. The arts were beginning to experience a Renaissance as Greek and Roman classics were discovered, many of which were preserved and discovered in monasteries. Gothic architecture utilized and improved upon classical forms, such as the arch, and the cathedrals which were built were as much a tribute to human ingenuity and perseverance as they were praise to God.
See, also, my prior post during my discussion of architecture, https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/medieval-music-and-scholasticism/.
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