October 30, 2015

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Medieval Church: The crusades spread over two centuries

John F. Fink(Twelfth in a series of columns)

From the end of the 11th century through the 13th century, the Catholic Church was involved with the crusades, which had the exalted purpose of liberating the sacred places of the Holy Land from the hands of Muslims. There were eight major crusades between 1095 and 1270.

Back in 2002, I wrote a series of eight columns about the Crusades. If you would like to receive them by e-mail, you can e-mail me at johnffink@sbcglobal.net. For this present series, beginning next week, I’ll cover them in relation to other events during those centuries.

The idea of rescuing the Holy Land was inspired in 1009 when Fatimid Khalif Hakem destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and many other Christian buildings in Jerusalem. However, nothing was really done about it for 86 years because of all the other things that were going on during the 11th century.

It’s true that Pope Gregory VII, in the early years of his pontificate in 1073, made plans for a crusade (to be led by him personally), but the distraction of other controversies caused his dream to come to nothing.

Christians were further angered when the Seljuk Turks forbade pilgrimages to the Holy Land and defeated Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert. Emperor Alexios I asked for aid from Pope Urban II. Urban thought that the East-West Schism of 1054 was still not irrevocable, so the crusade also had an ecumenical purpose.

In 1095, at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II proclaimed the first crusade. He had no problem attracting faithful Catholics. Once the crusades were proclaimed by the popes, they were preached as a holy undertaking. All classes of people took part, including kings (eventually), knights, soldiers, priests and religious, and peasants. Those participating believed that they had made a contract with God that assured them a place in heaven.

The first crusade was by far the most successful. Under the leadership of Godfrey de Bouillon, a French knight, it conquered Jerusalem on July 15, 1099. The crusaders defeated the Jews and Muslims defending the city.

Godfrey de Bouillon then founded the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and crusaders began to rebuild churches, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Many churches in the Holy Land today date from the time of this crusade. Until they were pushed out of Jerusalem in 1187, an estimated 120,000 Franks (people originally from Europe) ruled over 350,000 Muslims, Jews and native Eastern Christians.

Jerusalem was conquered by the crusaders two weeks before Pope Urban died, but the news didn’t reach Rome until his successor, Pope Paschal II, was enthroned. Paschal was so thrilled with the news that he encouraged the crusading movement.

In 1105, he gave his blessing to a military expedition led by Bohemond I, thinking it was another crusade. Instead, it was a self-interested expedition against the Byzantine Empire that further widened the schism between the East and the West. That adventure is not included on the list of eight crusades between 1095 and 1270. †

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