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The Crusades

In Spain, Christian kingdoms began to roll back the Muslim conquests of the 700s. 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 1000." It had been allowed to become so by the social harmony and political unity. The peaceful coexistence between Muslims, Jews and Christians that marked previous centuries and Córdoba's grandeur had been in decline. No slogan such as "we are stronger together" had won the day (– an idea to be ignored occasionally in the coming centuries). Political unity was replaced by different factions competing for power, the Cordoba Caliphate finally crumbled in 1031. That same decade, independent kingdoms arose across Muslim Spain. These little kingdoms warred against each other, and they sought added strength by allying themselves with Christian rulers in Spain's far north. Division-inspired animosity in 1066 was accompanied by a Muslims massacring of an estimated 1,500 Jewish families in the Grenada in 1066. In a war between Toledo and Zaragoza in the 1080s, Toledo paid the Christian kingdom of Navarre to raid Zaragoza, and Zaragoza paid the Christian kingdom of León-Castile to raid Toledo.

The Pope beginning in 1061 as Alexander II. He viewed Muslims as enemies. He wanted no cooperation or traffic with them and looked forward to Christians dominating all of Spain. 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 take the holy city of Jerusalem back from its conquest by Muslims in the 650s. It was an attempt to turn back the clock four centuries – a terribly disruptive and bloody kind of enterprise looked forward to with enthusiasm. It was to be described by modern historians as the First Crusade.

It had its impetus from Constantinople's Emperor Alexius (r. 1081–1118), disturbed by a loss of territory in Asia Minor Turkey) to the Seljuk Turks and his desire to win back those parts of Constantinople's empire lost to the Muslims in recent centuries -- territory that included Jerusalem. It was more of empire at the heart of reoccurring war. There was also the talk in Christendom 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. He 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. 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.

From five to ten thousand knights, mostly from France, volunteered for the First Crusade, along with twenty-five to fifty thousand additional soldiers. French and German nobility were in a mood for conquests 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 Great Schism with the Western Church absorbing the Eastern Church.

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 (aside 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 where the Jews 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 cut down all before them. In the Holy Land were many Jews, and the knights lumped the Jews 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." It failed, but there would be a Second Crusade (1147–49) in a Third Crusade 1189–92), a Fourth Crusade (1202-04), and in 1212 the Children's Crusade. And it appears that Jehovah had not willed it afterall, at least for the Middle Ages: into modern times Jerusalem and the Holy Land were still not yet rescued by Christians from the Muslims.


Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.