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The Bible: The Book That Bridges the Millennia

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The Christian Crusades


Since the time of Constantine, Christians had gone on pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Even though Moslems had ruled Jerusalem since 638, Christians were still allowed to visit the city. By the 11th century, however, the situation had changed. Just as the number and frequency of pilgrimages to Jerusalem was at new peaks, the Seljuk Turks took over control of Jerusalem and prevented pilgrimages.

The First Crusade

Pope Urban II (1088-1099, see art below) was responsible for assisting Emperor Alexus I (1081-1118) of Constantinople in launching the first crusade. He made one of the most influential speeches in the Middle Ages, calling on Christian princes in Europe to go on a crusade to rescue the Holy Land from the Turks. In the speech given at the Council of Clermont in France, on November 27, 1095, he combined the ideas of making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with that of waging a holy war against infidels.1

Dr. E.L. Skip Knox gives a summary of the pope's speech, which has been recorded differently in various sources:
Pope Urban II- 11922 Bytes

"The noble race of Franks must come to the aid their fellow Christians in the East. The infidel Turks are advancing into the heart of Eastern Christendom; Christians are being oppressed and attacked; churches and holy places are being defiled. Jerusalem is groaning under the Saracen yoke. The Holy Sepulchre is in Moslem hands and has been turned into a mosque. Pilgrims are harassed and even prevented from access to the Holy Land.

"The West must march to the defense of the East. All should go, rich and poor alike. The Franks must stop their internal wars and squabbles. Let them go instead against the infidel and fight a righteous war.

"God himself will lead them, for they will be doing His work. There will be absolution and remission of sins for all who die in the service of Christ. Here they are poor and miserable sinners; there they will be rich and happy. Let none hesitate; they must march next summer. God wills it!

"Deus vult! (God wills it) became the battle cry of the Crusader.

"The day after Urban's speech, the Council formally granted all the privileges and protections Urban had promised. The red cross was taken as the official sign of the pilgrims, and Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy was chosen as papal legate and the spiritual leader of the expedition."2

The First Crusade was the most successful from a military point of view. Accounts of this action are shocking. For example, historian Raymond of Agiles described the capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in 1099:

Some of our men cut off the heads of their enemies; others shot them with arrows, so that they fell from the towers; others tortured them longer by casting them into the flames. Piles of heads, hands and feet were to be seen in the streets of the city. It was necessary to pick one's way over the bodies of men and horses. But these were small matters compared to what happened at the temple of Solomon, a place where religious services ware ordinarily chanted. What happened there? If I tell the truth, it will exceed your powers of belief. So let it suffice to say this much at least, that in the temple and portico of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins.

The Jerusalem or Crusader's Cross Symbol - 925 Bytes

Some of the results of the first crusade were not expected. Alexus I thought that the Byzantine territories would be returned to him and the Eastern Empire, but instead the European conquerors established four independent Latin kingdoms. In addition, three military orders (Hospitallers, Templars, and Teutonic Knights) came into power. The stated purpose of these orders was to protect pilgrims and holy sites.

   The Jerusalem or Crusader's Cross was worn by Godfrey de Bouillon, the first ruler of the Jerusalem after it was taken from the Moslems. Usually the symbol has four small crosses between the arms. The five crosses symbolize the five wounds of the crucified Jesus. The Crusader's Cross can also be a single cross, as is shown in the art of St. Louis below.

Other Crusades

There were seven major Crusades. The era the Crusades the first began in 1095 with Pope Urban II's famous speech and the ended in 1291 when Acre, the last of the Latin holdings in Palestine, was lost. The major Crusades were:

St. Louis - click for a larger image about 48K

  1. the first, 1095-1099, called by Pope Urban II and led by Peter the Hermit, Walter the Penniless, Godfrey of Bouillon, Baldwin and Eustace of Flanders, and others (see also first crusade);
  2. the second, 1147-49, headed by King Louis VII who was enlisted by Bernard of Clairvaux, was a disastrous failure, including the loss of one of the four Latin Kingdoms, the Duchy of Edessa;
  3. the third, 1188-92, proclaimed by Pope Gregory VIII in the wake of the catastrophe of the second crusade, which conducted by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, King Philip Augustus of France and King Richard "Coeur-de-Lion" of England;
  4. the fourth, during which Constantinople was sacked, 1202-1204 (see also fourth crusade);
  5. the fifth, which included the conquest of Damietta, 1217-1221;
  6. the sixth, in which Frederick II took part (1228-29); also Thibaud de Champagne and Richard of Cornwall (1239);
  7. the seventh, led by St. Louis (Louis IX of France), 1248-50; 3

   St. Louis (Louis IX of France), shown above wearing a version of the Crusader's red cross, led the seventh crusade from 1248-50.

What was the legacy of the Crusades? Williston Walker et. al. observes:

Viewed in the light of their original purpose, the Crusades were failures. They made no permanent conquests of the Holy Land. They did not retard the advance of Islam. Far from aiding the Eastern Empire, they hastened its disintegration. They also revealed the continuing inability of Latin Christians to understand Greek Christians, and they hardened the schism between them. They fostered a harsh intolerance between Muslims and Christians, where before there had been a measure of mutual respect. They were marked, and marred, by a recrudescence of anti-Semitism....

The papacy gained the most from the Crusades. Its authority was greatly increased. The power of European kings also increased in that a number of barons who had given them trouble went to the East.4

Take the Highway

Journey Through Time

The Fourth Crusade: The Sack of Constantinople (1204) The crusade was to be directed at Egypt, because the Crusaders believed that conquering it would be the key to regaining Jerusalem. The conquering of the great Christian city in 1204 ended the Fourth Crusade and had significant religious and political consequences.

Choose a Byway

1. Learn about The Middle Ages: 476-1453

2. Land Theft Crusades and the Book of Joshua During the Middle Ages, European Christians launched military campaigns to take the Holy Land from the Muslims.

3. Visit other web sites that explore the history and theology of the Crusades:

Crusades (The Catholic Encyclopedia) The Crusades were expeditions undertaken to deliver the Holy Places from Moslem control. The origin of the word may be traced to the cross made of cloth and worn as a badge on the outer garment of the crusaders.

The Crusades by Dr. E.L. Skip Knox, Boise State University. Lots of materials developed for a college course.

Female Heroes. Scroll down the page to Female Heroes from the Time of the Crusades: Shagrat (or Shajarat) al-Durr; Eleanor of Aquitaine; The Women Left Behind; Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem, and Anna Comnena, Byzantine Historian

History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea by William of Tyre (107K). William of Tyre was born in the Holy Land, born in the Holy Land and was, after a French education, appointed Archbishop of Tyre and Chancellor of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He wrote near the end of the twelfth century.

Islam's Stake: Why Jerusalem Was Central to Muhammad by Karen Armstrong, Time, April 16, 2001. Jerusalem was central to the spiritual identity of Muslims from the very beginning of their faith.

Judaism's Stake: The Mysteries of Solomon's Temple by David Van Biema, Time, April 16, 2001. How did the place first become holy? The answer is lost in prehistory.

Pope Urban II calls for the 1st Crusade, Council of Clermont, France, November 27, 1095. This speech has been called the most influencial one in the Middle Ages. It calls on the Christian princes in Europe to go on a crusade to rescue the Holy Land from the Turks. The Medieval Sourcebook offers five versions of this speech.

The Reconciliation Walk. The purpose of the Walk was to bring Christians face-to-face with Muslims and Jews with a message of regret and confession about the Crusades. The Reconciliation Walk in Jerusalem on July 15, 1999, the 900th anniversary of the fall of the city to the Crusaders.

Taking Jerusalem: Climax of the First Crusade By J. Arthur McFall. "The Crusaders spent at least that night and the next day killing Muslims, including all of those in the al-Aqsa Mosque, where Tancred's banner should have protected them. Not even women and children were spared. The city's Jews sought refuge in their synagogue, only to be burned alive within it by the Crusaders. .... The Europeans also destroyed the monuments to Orthodox Christian saints and the tomb of Abraham."

Was the Medieval Church Corrupt? by Frans van Liere. ... The myth that the medieval church was a landmark of corruption is often used to explain the success of Luther's Reformation.... This is not to deny that there were some instances of clerical abuses during the later Middle Ages, that were correctly addressed by the Protestant reformers.

Yahoo's Links: The Crusades.

   Disclaimer: Some links jump to outside sites for further information on the Bible, interpretations, the canon, translations, manuscripts, resources, and other perspectives. Links do not constitute an endorsement by the Women's Division of the information on other web sites. External web sites offer us diverse perspectives; afford us an opportunity to compare them to United Methodist positions; and, encourage us to critically analyze the issues raised by The Bible: the Book that Bridges the Millennia web pages.


1 A History of the Christian Church, 4th ed., edited by Williston Walker, Richard A. Norris, David W. Lotz, and Robert T. Handy (New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1985), p. 284.
2 From The Crusades © Dr. E.L. Skip Knox, Boise State University, who says, "My intent is that others can use the information here for their own educational purposes, either personally or in a classroom. I especially hope this site will be a resource to other teachers. If you use any of my material I ask only that you credit me properly. If you intend to use the material for profit, you must ask my permission first."
3 Compiled from a variety of sources.
4 A History of the Christian Church, p. 290.

   Pope Urban II is a detail of art in An Outline of Christianity: The Story of Our Civilization, Vol. II (New York: Bethlehem Publishers, Inc., 1926), p. 347.
"St. Louis at Jerusalem" is a detail of a painting by Alexandre Cabanel, op. cit., p. 374.

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