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Crusades against Islam and Heretics

Cordoba had become the center of Muslim power in Spain, and according to the Encyclopedia Britannica "the largest and probably the most cultured city in Europe, with a population of some 100,000 in the year 1000." But the peaceful coexistence between Muslims, Jews and Christians that marked Córdoba's grandeur was in decline, replaced by different factions competing for power. The Cordoba caliphate crumbled in 1031, and that same decade, independent kingdoms arose across Muslim Spain and began warring against each other. And in 1063, Pope Alexander II was calling for a roll-back of the Muslim conquests of the 700s.

Pope Alexander II viewed Muslims as enemies. He wanted no cooperation or traffic with them. In 1064 a combined force of Italian, Norman, Frankish knights and Christian Spaniards for forty days besieged a Muslim city in Spain's far north – to be described as the Crusade of Barbastro. Impassioned by their crusade, the Christian soldiers killed the surrendering Muslims and then (according to Wikipedia) "sacked the city without mercy." Thousands of the town's inhabitants were massacred and the rest were enslaved.

The reconquest of Spain would not be complete for centuries – 1492 to be exact. But there was interest in a crusade to undo the Muslim conquest of the holy city of Jerusalem in the 650s. It was an attempt to turn back the clock four centuries., to be described by modern historians as the First Crusade.

It had its impetus from Constantinople's Emperor Alexius, who was disturbed by a loss of territory in Asia Minor to the Seljuk Turks, and he was interested in winning back Jerusalem, which had been a part of Constantinople's empire. Also, there was talk about relics in the Holy Land having been profaned and of Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem having been mistreated or sold into slavery.

Recognizing the growth in power of Western Europe, Alexius asked Rome for help. The Pope beginning in 1088 was Urban II. He spoke to a gathering of knights and others on November 27, 1095, and described the Turks as "an accursed race." He announced his agreement to send forces, led by Christ, to rescue the Holy Land. Those who died in the Crusade, he told his audience, would go to heaven. He described the Crusade as a religious duty. He ordered all feuding among Christians to stop and threatened to excommunicate those who did not.

Enthusiasm for the Crusade spread to Scotland, England, Castile in Spain, and Scandinavia. In April 1096, Before the Pope could organize his crusade, enthusiastic crowds of peasants began marching in the direction of the Holy Land. Many had sold their land to pay their way. Some of them brought fool with them, but some pillaging took place. Many did not reach Constantinople – the major city on route to the Holy Land. To prevent looting, officials at Constantinople rushed the Crusaders out of town and into Asia Minor, where they were exposed to attack by the Turks.

The peasants' crusade was over in October, while the official First Crusade was on. From five to ten thousand knights, mostly from France, had volunteered for it, along with twenty-five to fifty thousand additional soldiers. German nobility were among them, and like the French knights they were in a mood for conquest and loot. For the knights the Crusade was an opportunity to emulate the great deeds of Charlemagne. There was among some of them the idea that conquering the Holy Land would elevate the Roman church and end the schism between Eastern (Orthodox) Christianity and the Roman church — the Great Schism of 1054

Crusaders passing through some European towns sought contributions from Jews. Jews were attacked and murdered. At Metz (in France) in early May 1096, some Jews who refused to be baptized were murdered. At Speyer (along the Rhine River) thirteen Jews were killed. There a Catholic bishop, John, gathered the Jews under his protection, and it is said that anyone he could catch who had killed Jews would be punished by having their hands cut off. Later that month at Worms (also on the Rhine) perhaps 500 or more Jews were killed after Crusaders broke into the Episcopal palace they had taken refuge. Another massacre occurred along the Rhine at Mainz. And more were killed at Cologne.

The cry of the Crusaders on their way to liberate the Holy Land was "God wills it!" They arrived at Jerusalem on June 7, 1099, and they managed to penetrate the city's walls in mid-July. They seized gold, silver, horses and mules and invaded houses in search of loot. Filled with passion and convinced they were fighting the devil, they have been described as cutting down all before them. In the Holy Land were many Jews, and the knights lumped the Jews together with the Muslims as their enemy, holding to the idea that the Jews had killed Christ. Jews who took refuge in Jerusalem's main synagogue were burned to death. The First Crusade conquered Jerusalem in the year 1099. Some Crusaders were sickened and shamed by the brutality. (See "The Crusades" at jewishencylopedia.com.)

The purpose of the Crusade according to Pope Urban had been to reclaim the Holy Land and to "destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends" (Constantinople's territory). He had added that "Christ commands it."

Four crusader kingdoms were set up on the shores along the eastern Mediterranean, from Jerusalem in the south, to Tripoli, Antioch, and Edessa in the north. In the year 1144 the Turkish Muslim leader Imad ad-Din Zengi, from what today is Iraq, overran the Crusader kingdom around Edessa (today in southern Turkey). This inspired the Second Crusade (1147–49) led by the German emperor, Conrad III, and the French monarch Louis VII. They failed to retake the Edessa kingdom, and in 1187 the Muslims, led by the great Saladin, reconquered Jerusalem.

More Crusades and Conquest of Constantinople

From 1189 to 1191 a Third Crusade occurred led by Richard the Lionhearted of England, with assists from the French and German monarchs. In 1192, Saladin held off Richard's advance against Jerusalem. The two signed a treaty that left Jerusalem under Muslim control and allowed regular visits by Christian pilgrims. Some coastal towns and Cyprus were left in Christian hands, and King Richard left for England.

The death of Saladin in 1193 inspired hope among Christians that Jerusalem could be retaken, and Pope Innocent III decided on a new crusade, the Fourth. A fleet with Crusaders arrived at Constantinople in the spring of 1203. The people of Constantinople revolted against their presence and the Crusaders retaliated, seizing the city for themselves in a three-day orgy of rape and the plundering of palaces and Eastern Orthodox convents and churches. Fire destroyed much of the city, and the Crusaders set up their own king in the city, after executing Emperor Alexius V by throwing him from the Column of Theodosius.

Pope Innocent III was delighted by the news of the fall of Constantinople to Roman Christianity. When he heard of the atrocities that had attended the victory he was shocked. Meanwhile, Constantinople's nobility had scattered, many of them going to Nicaea, where a new eastern emperor set up court.

In 1212 there was the Children’s Crusade. A German shepherd led about 7,000 peasants of all ages across the Alps to Genoa, believing that the sea would part so that they could walk to Jerusalem. The sea didn't part, and the “crusade” evaporated. With the failures of the Children's Crusade, people decided that the whole crusades to the Middle East were the work of the devil. Success was still the work of God and the devil was still responsible for failures.

Eastern Orthodox Christians held to their view of Christianity. Roman Catholic rule of Constantinople lasted less than sixty years. In 1261, the Byzantine emperor, from his temporary capital of Nicaea, sent forces that retook Constantinople for Eastern Christianity.

The Cather Crusade

The ultimate purpose of the Crusades was holy war to advance the true faith. But, meanwhile, dissent had been spreading in the Rhineland, Italy and southern France. There were the Waldenses, the Beguines, the Humiliati, and the Cathars (or Albigensians). Pope Innocent III remained fired with crusader zeal. In 1207 he associated heresy with treason, disease and filth, and he rallied to his cause the French monarch, Philip Augustus, who was eager to extend his authority into southern France against nobles who had adopted the Cathar heresy. The Pope had declared heresy as a capital offense, and some of those attacking the Cathers chose to be executioners. It was asked how they were to know who was a heretic and who was not, and the answer was: "Kill them all, God will know His own." (A Catholic encyclopedia denies that such words were uttered.) According to reports, 20,000 men, women and children were massacred at Beziers. At Minerve, hundreds received more lenient treatment: they had their ears and noses cut off.

It would take persistent effort by the Church to wipe out the Cathars as a recognizable group – which would not be accomplished until the late 1300s.

CONTINUE READING: Life and Authority in the 12th and 13th Centuries

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Copyright © 2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.