The Temple Mount

Aerial shot of the modern day Temple Mount with the golden Dome of the Rock at its center

The Temple Mount is a holy site in the eastern section of the old city of Jerusalem. Its religious importance stems back to the construction of Solomon’s Temple in the Old Testament and spans Christian and Islamic tradition as well. The Crusader occupation greatly changed the importance of Temple Mount in the Christian tradition.

Map of the Temple Mount, with all significant religious sites marked

Significance in Judaism

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem is considered to be Mount Moriah of Jewish tradition. This is the place where Abraham, the first prophet of Judaism, attempted to sacrifice his son Isaac, thereby sanctifying the location. In the 10th century BCE, King David united the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and conquered Jerusalem. According to the I Chronicles, David attempted to build a temple on Mount Moriah to house the Ark of the Covenant, a vessel built to carry the ten commandments and thought to house the spirit of God. However, God told David not to build a Temple as David had shed blood as a conqueror, and that David’s son, Solomon, should build the Temple instead. Once Solomon became King, he built the Jewish First Temple, or Solomon’s Temple, on Mount Moriah.

The Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, and the Jews were exiled. Later, in the latter part of the 500s BCE the Persian ruler Cyrus issued an edict granting the Jews the right to rebuild the Temple, and so the Second Temple was built. In the Second Temple was a room called the Holy of Holies which was said to house the spirit of God. The Jewish high priest would enter the room once a year on Yom Kippur to pray and repent for the Jewish people. In the mid second century BCE, the Seleucids raised a pagan altar in the temple and killed 40,000 Jews: a set of events dubbed the “abomination of desolation” in Daniel 11:31. The Maccabean revolt later restored the temple.

The second temple was destroyed in the first century CE by the Roman general and future emperor Vespasian Flavius and his son Titus in response to the first Jewish rebellion. The quelling of the revolt resulted in a mass enslavement and diaspora of the Jewish people. The second Jewish revolt in the 2nd century CE under the emperor Hadrian resulted in the destruction of the Jewish state completely (it became part of the new Roman province Syria Palaestina), and a temple to Jupiter was erected upon the Temple Mount in place of the first Temple. Judaism attests that the building of the third Temple will signal the coming of the Messiah.

The Destruction of the Second Temple, as prophesied by Jesus, was seen by the Byzantine Christians as the victory of their new religion over Judaism

Byzantine Christianity 

After Emperor Constantine I declared Christianity to be the Empire’s official religion in 313 CE, Hadrian’s temple to Jupiter was demolished following the Council of Nicea in 325 CE. Beginning with Constantine’s reign, the focus of Christian tradition in Jerusalem shifted from the Temple Mount to the Holy Sepulchre, which was the location of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. By this time, the buildings on the Mount were in ruins due to the thwarted Jewish attempts at rebuilding the Temple during Roman rule. The destruction of the Temple, prophesied by Jesus’s “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands” (Mark 14:58), in addition to the expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem, was seen by the Byzantine Christians as proof of Christianity’s victory over Judaism. In the centuries preceding the conquest of Jerusalem first by the Sassanids, then by the Rashidun, the Temple Mount had been completely overlooked in the Christian religious topography of Jerusalem in favor of the Holy Sepulchre.

Significance in Islam

When Jerusalem passed into Muslim hands in the 7th century, so did the area of the Temple Mount, which the Muslims called Haram al-Sharif. At its center was the es-Sakhra, ”The Foundation Stone”—a rock outcropping where, according to early Muslim tradition, King David prayed to God and King Solomon had built the Temple. Later Muslim tradition identified es-Sakhra as the place from which the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven after his Night Journey from Mecca in chapter 17 of the Qur’an. During the Night Journey, Prophet Muhammad travels to Al-Aqsa Mosque, or the Farthest Mosque, to make this ascension to Heaven, where he spoke with earlier prophets such as Abraham, Moses, John the Baptist, Jesus, and ultimately God.

In early Islamic tradition, Al-Aqsa Mosque referred to the entirety of the Temple Mount. The entire Temple Mount has since come to be referred to as Haram al-Sharif, or “the Noble Sanctuary,” and Al-Aqsa Mosque now refers to the small prayer house built by the Rashidun Caliph Umar, which was rebuilt and expanded by the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik and his son al-Walid in 705 CE.

It is out of this ambiguity of defining “al-Masjid al-Aqsa” that interpretative differences arise where on the Temple Mount the Prophet Muhammad ascended on the Night Journey. A mosque (masjid) means a place of prostration, and as open mosques demonstrate, do not necessarily mean a building. The current Al-Aqsa Mosque is built upon the spot the Rashidun and Umayyads believed Muhammad ascended, whereas other scholars believe Muhammad ascended upon the Foundation Stone, now housed inside the Dome of the Rock. Regardless, the importance of the Night Journey in Islamic tradition and its setting within the Temple Mount compound has made Jerusalem the third holiest city in Islam, following Mecca and Medina.

Depiction of the Night Journey of the Prophet Muhammad in which he journeyed to Jerusalem on a mythical steed named Buraq, to meet with the other prophets, visit heaven and finally see God.

The Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik built the octagonal Dome of the Rock over the es-Sakhra between 687 and 691 CE. It was built employing Byzantine architects, and thus contained many Byzantine design elements, such as the octagonal plan, the dome of wood, and the mosaics decorating the structure. It is disputed whether the Dome of the Rock was ever a mosque or if it is a ciborium, or vessel, erected over the holy site.

Also within the Temple Mount compound is the Dome of the Chain. An Islamic prayer house built by the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik, it is the location of Judgement Day in Islamic tradition. It is here that the Final Judgement will take place and that a chain will stop the sinful while letting the just pass through.

Map of the Old City of Jerusalem

During the Crusader Occupation

When Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders on July 15, 1099, gone was the rubble that had dominated the Temple Mount during Byzantine rule, and instead three Muslim buildings now stood upon it—the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Chain, surrounded by gates leading into the area.

Dome of the Rock with the smaller Dome of the Chain in front of it. The gilded dome and the Turkish tiles on the outside of the Dome of the Rock were added by the Ottoman sultan Suleiman I in the 16th century.

In early Crusader tradition, the Dome of the Rock housed the place in which the Ark of the Covenant was sealed, and it was referred to as “Templum Domini”, or Temple of the Lord. However, in later years of Crusader rule, the Templum Domini shifted away from the association with relics and instead became associated with the divine presence itself, the Holy of Holies.

The Dome of the Chain also took on new religious significance for the Crusaders.  During the occupation, the kiosk-like structure east of the Dome of the Rock was consecrated as a chapel of St James the Less (also known as James the Just), the eldest of Jesus’ four brothers. The Crusaders believed the structure to be the tomb of St James and associated it with his martyrdom. The Franks carved an inscription in the chapel marking it as the Saint’s tomb.

The Crusaders attributed several significant biblical events to the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock. For example, they came to believe that the great rock within Templum Domini was also the stone pillow on which Jacob rested when he dreamed of the ladder climbed by God’s angels. This contributed to the divine presence that the Crusaders associated with the Dome of the Rock as when Jacob awoke he said, “truly the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it,” (Genesis 28:16) words that the Crusaders added in a mosaic inscription within the Temple. Also in the Dome of the Rock is a small stone cave the Crusaders called the “sanctuary of the Lord.”  It was thought to be the place where the conception of Saint John the Baptist was announced to his father by the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:5-20).  The Crusaders also believed this cave to be the place where Jesus absolved the adulteress (John 8:1-11), and it became a  destination of pilgrimage during Crusader occupation, at which devotees would confess their sins.

The cave within the Dome of the Rock, considered to be “the Sanctuary of the Lord”

After a few decades, in which the Crusader kings of Jerusalem became more established and financially secure, the Dome of the Rock was lavishly endowed to make up for all the treasures the Crusaders had plundered in 1099. In 1115 the restoration of the Templum Domini began. The rock, considered the Holy of Holies, was covered in a marble casing and turned into an altar with a cross. An octagonal iron screen was erected so that it would be impossible to touch and even see anything but the northern part of the rock. This was done in order to prevent people from breaking off pieces of the rock to sell as relics. The outside was covered in mosaics depicting Latin Christian verses, while the inside was also plastered over and decorated with images of the history of the Temple and other inscriptions. Perhaps the most dramatic addition was the golden cross that was hoisted to the top of the Dome, which so greatly offended Muslims that Saladin’s first action upon taking Jerusalem in October of 1187 was ordering its removal.

Al-Aqsa Mosque, believed to be built on top of Solomon’s Temple, served as the royal palace in the first few decades of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Later it was given as a headquarters to the Knights Templar

Likewise, the Al-Aqsa Mosque was also integrated into Latin Christian religious topography. Al-Aqsa Mosque was thought to be built above the ruins of the first Temple of Solomon.  As a result, the Crusaders referred to the building as “Templum Salomonis”, or Solomon’s Temple. The first ruler of the new Kingdom of Jerusalem, Godfrey of Bouillon, took up residence in the building and renovated its interior to make it more similar to a palace, removing all traces of Muslim worship in the process. The lower portion of the building was used to house horses and referred to as “Solomon’s Stables.”  Thus, in the first decades after the First Crusade, the Temple Mount became the administrative center, not just of Jerusalem, but of the entire Crusader Kingdom.

In 1118 King Baldwin II granted the use of part of the building to the newly founded Knights Templar who were sworn to protect pilgrims coming to Jerusalem and provided a stable military presence in the Crusader Kingdoms. The military order derived their name from their use of Solomon’s Temple as a headquarters, calling themselves “The Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon” or the Knights Templar. Joint use of the building lasted until Pope Honorius II officially recognized the Templar as a military order in 1128 and the knights became the primary residents of Al-Aqsa while the Tower of David was converted into the new royal palace. Thus, much of the military authority of the Crusader Kingdom became centered on the Temple Mount.  The vast resources of the Templar allowed the order to make several architectural changes and expansions to Al-Aqsa Mosque throughout this period.  Included in these expansions were a church, a new palace, and several cellars and refectories.  When the city was retaken by Saladin in 1187, many of these additions were destroyed as Al-Aqsa Mosque was returned to its original function.

(Al Jazeera has some amazing 360 tours of Al-Aqsa Mosque.)

The Temple Mount and Crusader Ideology

When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099, they immediately took over the buildings on the Temple Mount. The symbolic significance of the location in Christian tradition, which had been abandoned during Byzantine rule in favor of the Holy Sepulchre, was reinstated. The decision to concentrate royal and military authority in the Temple Mount was largely influenced by the small number and impoverished nature of the Crusaders. After trekking across Europe and the Levant for several years, constantly engaged in battles or sieges, the Crusaders lacked the money and the manpower to fully garrison the city or to build new structures for administrative purposes. Many Crusaders had died in battle, while others completed their pilgrimage by praying at the Holy Sepulchre and then went home. Therefore, necessity demanded that the King of Jerusalem take up residence in Al Aqsa, and then share his palace with the Knights Templar, who were a constant military presence in the Crusader Kingdoms and sworn to protect pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. The religious center of the Kingdom, located at the Holy Sepulchre, was thus extended to the Temple Mount, residence of the King and the new military order.

The Byzantine Christians paid more attention to the fulfillment of God’s curse on the Temple Mount and the victory of Christianity over Judaism that was symbolized by the destruction of the Temple. Therefore the destruction of the Temple was seen as a form of spiritual legitimacy for a relatively new religion that had just gained official recognition throughout the Roman Empire. The Crusaders, however, were less concerned with the triumph of the new religion over the old than they were about the continuation of tradition from the old to the new as the means of legitimizing themselves and their presence in the Levant. The First Temple of Solomon was known to contain the Ark of the Covenant and Holy of Holies. It was on the site of the Second Temple of Solomon that the presentation of Christ occurred; Mary and Joseph present Jesus in the Jerusalem temple, Simeon, a devout man of the Old order, recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and proclaim him to be “A light for revelation to the Gentiles / and for glory to your people Israel”(Luke 2:22–38). The Crusaders would have no doubt seen this episode as the switch from the Old to the New Covenant, a continuity of tradition and manifestation of God’s will and blessing on the new Chosen people. In fact this rhetoric was not unfamiliar to the Crusaders, who saw the success of the First Crusade as a miracle against all odds and a sign that they were God’s new chosen people, fighting to redeem Jerusalem like the Maccabees of old. In fact, early in the Crusade at the Siege of Antioch, the contemporary chronicler of the First Crusade Raymond d’Aguilers was already comparing the Crusaders to the Maccabees:

“I would dare … to place this battle ahead of the fights of the Maccabees, since if Maccabaeus with three thousand felled forty-eight thousand of the enemy, more than sixty thousand of the enemy were here turned in flight by a force of forty knights. I do not, indeed, belittle the valor of the Maccabees… but I say that God, then marvelous in Maccabaeus, was now more marvelous in our troops.” Raymond d’Aguilers

When the fledgling Crusader Kingdom, impoverished and undermanned, was fighting for its very survival, the spiritual symbolism of the Temple Mount, combined with more practical concerns, provided a source of stabilizing ideological legitimacy.

Further Reading:

On the general history of Jewish Jerusalem: Bible Archaeology

On the fall of Jewish Jerusalem and the causes of the resulting diaspora:            Gambash, G. (n.d.). Rome and provincial resistance.

For more information about the early Islamic religious topography of the Temple Mount: Rosen-Ayalon, M. (1989). The early Islamic monuments of al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf: An iconographic study. Jerusalem, Israel: Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

For more information regarding the Dome of the Rock:                                               Grabar, O. (2006). The Dome of the Rock. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

For more information of about the Dome of the Chain: Archnet

For more information regarding the dispute of how Prophet Muhammad travelled to Al-Aqsa Mosque prior to the Umayyads constructing the current building: Islamic Awareness

For more information about the changing nature of the Temple Mount before, during and after the Crusader occupation:                                                                                     Schein, S.. (1984). Between Mount Moriah and the Holy Sepulchre: The Changing Traditions of the Temple Mount in the Central Middle Ages. Traditio, 40, 175–195. Retrieved from

For further information on the Temple Mount during Crusader occupation: Bas Library

For more information on Al-Aqsa Mosque: Lost Islamic History

The Gregorian Reform Movement


Through the Gregorian Reform movement put forth by Pope Gregory VII, the Church successfully consolidated moral and political authority over European Christendom. The confluence of moral and political supremacy (over feudal lords and monarchs), located centrally in the office of the Pope, uniquely positioned Pope Urban II to call the First Crusade and for thousands and thousands of Europeans to heed his call. By reclaiming the Church’s moral and political supremacy through the specific reforms of Church celibacy, simony, and lay investiture, Pope Gregory successfully paved the way for the Church’s calls for Crusade. 

Pope Gregory VII’s goal of asserting papal supremacy necessitated a degree of centralization and unity within European Christendom that would require him to make moral demands of laymen. The promotion of a general mentality centered around ideals of charity, obedience, and faith in redemption allowed the Church to rein in the influence of fragmentary secular authorities and redirect cultural tensions within Western Europe towards outside threats. Scriptural justifications and explanations, largely drawn from Old Testament texts, worked in conjunction with an emphasis on spiritual salvation to facilitate the establishment of new theories and standards regarding the waging of war and the Christian understanding of “holy war”. The ideological aims underlying efforts within the Gregorian Reform movement were a necessary precursor to the development of a “Crusade mentality” among Europeans. A decade after the pontificate of Gregory VII, Pope Urban II would call for Christian participation and support in Byzantine military struggles, invoking the mistreatment of Middle Eastern Christians in the process. An overwhelming response to Urban II’s call proved that Gregory’s efforts had retained a lasting grip on the hearts and minds of Western Christians.

Historical Context

Interactive Timeline

The Gregorian Reforms are a series of Church reforms that took place during the 11th and 12th centuries. The reform movement arose out of a chaotic, morally-bankrupt Europe that stemmed from the dissolution of the Carolingian Empire in the 9th century. Without a central seat of authority to stabilize the continent, Europe fell into a period of decline. Authority and control over violence devolved into an increasingly local level in a period historians call the Feudal Revolution. 

Given the lack of stable authority, local, secular lords seized church property while Church offices were bought and sold (in a process called simony) by Church officials. In addition, secular noble families installed political allies in high-ranking Church offices (in a process called lay investiture) in order to influence Papal doctrine. Even the Papal office could be bought and sold by wealthy, powerful Roman families. The increasing prevalence of simony led to the increasing secular control over Church authority and general moral decline of Church offices.
In an order to reclaim some of the lost Church power, Church officials under Pope Leo IX (pontificate 1049-1054) began a series of reform efforts that would later be referred to as the Gregorian Reform. These reform efforts initially began when Pope Leo ordered the Roman clergy to renounce their wives and dismiss the church officials who had purchased their offices. This act served to curb the rampant Church corruption and send a powerful message to the secular leaders of Europe. In 1059, the Lateran Council decreed that only a select group of priests from the major churches of Rome could participate in the papal election process. This decree issued by the Lateran Council exemplifies one of the first legislative attempts to institutionalize the reform movement.

Pope Leo IX,

Named for Pope Leo’s successor, Pope Gregory VII (pontificate 1073-1085), the Gregorian Reforms represent a continuation of Pope Leo’s earlier reform work. Building off of Pope Leo’s ideological foundations, Pope Gregory advocated for the reform and expansion of papal powers by expelling secular influence within Papal and Church institutions. While noble families had grown used to buying influence within the Church, Pope Gregory threatened excommunication in to impose his reforms and centralize Church power.

The Reforms

Clerical Celibacy:

Clerical celibacy had been a part of canonical Church law for centuries before Leo IX and Gregory VII began their papacies. Celibacy was viewed as a necessary lifestyle for any priest who wanted to fully dedicate himself to the body of Christ, especially since St. Paul himself practiced it. However, clergymen were notoriously bad at following this particular statute; many priests were secretly married or lived with women. As a result, common folk had ample cause to accuse their local priests of immorality and hypocrisy. Clerical impurity thus hindered the moral case of the Church: how was the Roman Church to lead the West in peace and uprightness if its priests could not resist such a grievous sin? The unchaste behavior of the Church’s clergy was undercutting its claim to moral authority. Recognizing this as a serious detractor from Church power, Leo IX commanded the Roman clergymen to leave their wives. Gregory took things a step further by declaring that any married priest who did not leave his family behind would lose their priesthood. Though sexual immorality continued to plague the clergy, Gregory’s firm stance on the issue and his readiness to punish the disobedient helped re-establish the Church’s moral authority–an authority which was eventually used to convince religious pilgrims of the salvific nature of the First Crusade.


Simony is the act of selling Church offices, and it was practiced commonly in areas such as the Holy Roman Empire where local rulers had more power in the Church than the Roman pontiff did. Obviously, priests who purchased their offices were rarely of the moral character or spiritual refinement which Leo and Gregory were looking for. To further counteract the moral degradation of the church, Leo decreed that “no one should buy or sell sacred orders or ecclesiastical offices or churches; and that if any cleric had bought anything of the sort he was to hand it over to his bishop and do suitable penance.”  As he had with clerical celibacy, Gregory turned Leo’s more conservative “should” into a definitive “must.” But Leo and Gregory’s teamwork against simony was unique from their attacks on unchaste priests; because simony involved the exchange of money, resisting it meant challenging rulers’ established economic resources. The Roman pontiff was becoming increasingly bothersome to the lords and nobles of Europe, who had long assumed that the Church was easily controlled through money and land. Still, Leo IX was never viewed by his contemporaries as having challenged imperial authority. That judgment was saved for Gregory, whose emphasis on ending simony helped consolidate the Church’s political authority, which was later used to collectivize the noble families of Europe and convince them to leave behind their worldly possession and depart on a long and arduous pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Jesus punishing for simony,

Lay Investiture:

Up to this point, we have seen that Leo IX was as much a player in reforming the medieval Church as Gregory VII was (although Gregory did take Leo’s campaigns against simony and clerical marriage to a new level). However, in the area of lay investiture, Gregory is unquestionably our protagonist. Lay investiture is the practice of a secular authority—a “laymen”—appointing another person to a position or an office in the Church. Lay investiture was running rampant in medieval Europe at the time; feudal lords and nobles placed their family members or political allies in Church positions to collect Church taxes and shape Church policy to their will. Even some of the medieval popes were invested by laymen who were just looking for another political edge. As with the other reforms, Gregory’s indictment of lay investiture was nothing new–this crime had been prohibited by canon law centuries beforehand. What was special about Gregory’s efforts were the punishments he threatened and the aggressive responses which he received. In the February of 1075, Gregory made the bold announcement: “we decree that no one of the clergy shall receive the investiture with a bishopric or abbey or church from the hand of an emperor or king or of any lay person, male or female. But if he shall presume to do so he shall clearly know that such investiture is bereft of apostolic authority, and that he himself shall lie under excommunication until fitting satisfaction shall have been rendered.”

Suddenly, what had been common practice across Europe for centuries was suddenly being threatened with dismissal and excommunication. Of course, there was resistance to Gregory’s threats: as historian Brian Tierney comments, “The prohibition of lay investiture was of the essence of Gregory’s program, and it was a demand that no king of that time could have accepted. No king did accept it.” Gregory’s ban of lay investiture was a step too far for Europe’s nobility. They refused to let the pope take the political power of the Church from them. The most significant resistance came from Henry IV of the Holy Roman Empire, whose rebellion against Gregory began the infamous Investiture Controversy (1075-1122). The Controversy, though one of the most significant periods in the history of the Church, ended well after Gregory’s death and deserves a separate treatment from this discussion. In terms of the Gregorian Reforms, lay investiture is most importantly understood as an effort on the part of the Church to separate itself from the complex political networks of fiefs and kingdoms and to establish itself as the supreme political power in Latin Christendom. By doing just this, the Church was then able to amass enough political support to collective Europe against their enemies in the Holy Land.

Dictatus Papae

Dictatus Papae,

Gregory’s reformative work culminated in the magnificent Dictatus Papae (“Dictates of the Pope”) of 1075, a short document of 27 decrees concerning the Roman Pontiff and the papacy. Though the specific nature of the Dictatus is puzzling, it seems likely that the 27 points were intended as chapter headings for a new set of canonical laws. Below is an English translation of select points of the Dictatus:

That the Roman Pontiff alone is rightly to be called universal.

That he alone can depose or reinstate bishops.

That the pope is the only one whose feet are to be kissed by all princes.

That his title is unique in the world.

That he may depose Emperors.

That no chapter or book may be regarded as canonical without his authority.That he himself may be judged by no one.

That the Roman Church has never erred, nor ever, by the witness of Scripture, shall err to all eternity.

That the Roman Pontiff, if canonically ordained, is undoubtedly sanctified by the merits of St. Peter…

That without convening a synod he can depose and reinstate bishops.

That he should not be considered as Catholic who is not in conformity with the Roman Church.

That the Pope may absolve subjects of unjust men from their fealty.

In this brief document, Gregory makes it obvious that his reforms were aimed at more than just cleaning up the clergy or getting the nobility out of the church. Gregory sought to redefine the power of the Church–and most importantly, he wanted to put the Pope of Rome at the Church’s head. The boldness of the Dictatus Papae is staggering; Gregory wanted the pope to have the power to depose Emperors!

Gregory’s reforms–and his greater goal of placing the Church over all secular authority–were a necessary prerequisite to the Church authority that Urban II drew upon when he called the First Crusade.


In the eyes of Pope Gregory VII, the struggles and desires afflicting inhabitants of the mortal world would prove completely insignificant upon the Last Judgement, which general belief and Gregory himself both understood to be fast approaching. Envisioning his role in leading the direction of the Church as akin to those of Old Testament prophets, Gregory VII encouraged the abandonment of worldly desires and individual imitation of Christ through suffering. Thousands upon thousands of Christians would embody this ideal in taking up the cross following Urban II’s calling of the First Crusade, embarking on the perilous journey for salvation and the quest to assume the role of righteous actors pushing forward the course of Biblical history.

Works Consulted

Decrees against lay investiture, trans. E. F. Henderson, Documents (London, 1892), pp. 365-66.

Decrees of the Council of Rheims (1049). J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Amplissima Collectio, XIX (Venice, 1774), col. 741-42.

McKay, John P., Bennet D. Hill, John Buckler, Clare Haru Crowston, Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, and Joe Perry. A History of Western Society. Vol. 1. 11th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2014.

The Dictatus Papae (March 1075), trans. S. Z. Ehler and J. B. Morrall, Church and State Through the Centuries (London, 1954), pp. 43-44.

Tierney, Brian. The Crisis of Church and State 1050-1300. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988.Decrees against lay investiture, trans. E. F. Henderson, Documents (London, 1892), pp. 365-66.


Miracles of the First Crusade

The Crusades were based upon the firm belief that Jerusalem was entitled to Christian control. Considering the Crusaders’ immense religious fervor, it is no surprise that miracles became a centerpiece of their campaign. These miracles were seen as divine intervention and were used to justify that the Crusader’s mission was also God’s will. Regardless of whether or not the miracles occurred in truth, they had a very real effect on the Crusader’s war effort. At desperate times, miracles of the First Crusade lifted morale among the Crusaders and motivated them to continue, thereby playing a role in their eventual unlikely capture of Jerusalem.

In June 1098, as the army of the First Crusade headed South for Jerusalem, the Crusaders captured the city of Antioch. However, they were soon after besieged by the Turks and Arabs and essentially entrapped in their encampments. As food ran out, the morale of the Crusaders quickly deteriorated. Crusader morale soon improved thanks to an unlikely peasant named Peter Bartholomew, who shared a vision from Saint Andrew with the crusading leaders (“The Discovery of the Holy Lance”).

Painting of St. Peter Bartholomew

Rubens, Peter Paul. “Saint Bartholomew Painting.” Fine Art America. N.p., 3 Oct. 2014. Web.

Allegedly, in this miraculous vision, Saint Andrew told Peter Bartholomew that the Holy Lance—the spear that had pierced Christ’s side on the Cross—could be located in the cathedral of St. Peter in Antioch.

“Church of St Peter.” Wikipedia. N.p., 2016. Web.

Raymond D’Aguilers provides modern historians with an account of Peter Bartholomew’s alleged words to Count Raymond and the Bishop of Le Puy:

“Andrew, apostle of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ, has recently admonished me a fourth time and has commanded me to come to you and to give back to you, after the city was captured, the Lance which opened the side of the Saviour. To-day, moreover, when I had set out from the city with the rest to battle, and when, caught between two horsemen, I was almost suffocated on the retreat, I sat down sadly upon a certain rock, almost lifeless. When I was reeling like a woe-begone from fear and grief, St. Andrew came to me with a companion, and he threatened me much unless I returned the lance to you quickly.” (Peters, 215)

Understandably, the validity of Peter Bartholomew’s vision and supposed lance has been called into question by modern historians, suggesting that skeptics like the Bishop of Le Puy chose to keep their doubts quiet in hopes of boosting the crusaders’ morale. While this question will remain unsolved, the consequences of Peter Bartholomew’s vision were clear. Bartholomew’s vision and discovery of the Lance served as a pivotal moment during the First Crusade as it inspired the Crusaders to continue their fight for Antioch.

After the victory in the Battle of Antioch, skeptics of Peter Bartholomew’s vision started to make their claims more vocal. Indignant that some of the Crusaders doubted his vision, Peter Bartholomew decided to take the ordeal of fire, whereby he would walk through a large flame with the Holy lance. If it was the Lord’s lance, Bartholomew proclaimed that he would emerge unscathed; if it was a false relic, he would be consumed by fire (Raymond, 100). (3)

Peter Bartholomew Undergoing an Ordeal by fire, illustration from William of Tyre’s Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum (“History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea”).

Peter Bartholomew Undergoing an Ordeal by fire, illustration from William of Tyre’s Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum (“History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea”).

On April 8 1099, Good Friday, Peter Bartholomew went through with the ordeal by fire. Large crowds assembled, and two piles of dry olive branches were created with a space of one foot for Peter to walk (Kostick, 38). Then, Peter walked through the flames, with a short pause in the middle during which he claimed Christ spoke to him (Raymond, 100). Peter Bartholomew died within two weeks of the ordeal by fire. His supporters, including Raymond D’Aguilers, claimed that Bartholomew died due to injuries inflicted by the mob after he exited the flame and would have survived otherwise (Raymond, 102). According to Raymond, “The frenzied mob seized him, hoping to touch him or snatch a piece of his clothing. They made gashes on his legs and cracked his backbone” (Raymond, 102). Some Crusaders continued to doubt Peter’s vision, and believed he died of wounds from the fire. However overall, the ordeal by fire was remembered as a miracle and cemented faith in the Holy Lance, thereby bolstering the Crusaders’ beliefs that God was on their side.

Another miracle of the crusade was Peter Desiderius’s vision of Adhemar of Le Puy. This miracle was almost purely physical in the sense that the miracle revolved around the capturing of Jerusalem, despite overwhelming odds. When the Crusaders arrived to Jerusalem they were low on food and water, and worn down by their four-year crusade in the Middle East. The Crusader’s initial attack on Jerusalem was repelled and the Crusaders saw massive casualties. It was at this point that many Crusaders were discussing abandoning the first Crusade and returning home. They felt they lacked proper siege equipment as well as the physical forces to capture Jerusalem. Then came forth Peter Desiderius, who spoke of a vision in which Adhemar of Le Puy told how the Crusaders could retake Jerusalem. Peter Desiderius said that the Crusaders needed to turn their back on sin and perform a barefoot procession around the two and a half mile wall around Jerusalem (Raymond, 127-139).

Schnetz, Jean Victor. Procession of Crusaders Around Jerusalem. Chateau de Versailles, France.

Schnetz, Jean Victor. Procession of Crusaders Around Jerusalem. Chateau de Versailles, France.

This was particularly important because it presented an opportunity for the Crusaders to cleanse themselves of their prior hardships and loss, and renew their standing with God. All the bad omens and losses of the pass could be dissociated with the campaign to take Jerusalem. The Crusaders performed the procession, and with their renewed fervor launched an attack against the city. The Crusaders managed to take Jerusalem despite all odds and in an extraordinarily short amount of time. Mainly accounts of the Jerusalem attest this miraculous victory to the procession that the Crusaders took around Jerusalem, and it would seem that it would be partially true. The physical efforts undertaken by the Crusaders was remarkable, including the moving of heavy siege equipment long distances in merely days.

Click here for more information on the siege of Jerusalem 

Peter Bartholomew’s vision, his ordeal by fire, and Peter Desiderius’s vision of Adhemar of Le Puy were three of many miracles of the First Crusade. Like the others, each of these miracles came at times of great need, and helped to boost morale among the Crusaders. In doing this, the miracles had tangible impact on the Crusader war effort.


Cavendish, Richard. “The Discovery of the Holy Lance.” History Today 48.6 (1998): n. pag.

Hill, John Hugh, and Laurita Lyttleton Hill. Raymond D’Aguilers Historia Francirum qui ceperunt Iherusalem: Translated with introduction and notes by John Hugh Hill and Laurita L. Hill. American Philosophical Society, 1968.

Kostick, Conor. The Trial by Fire of Peter Bartholomew: a Case Study in Medieval Social Conflict. Leiderchrift, 2012.

Materials (The Middle Ages Series). Second. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998. Print.

Peter Bartholomew Undergoing an Ordeal by fire, illustration from William of Tyre’s Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum (“History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea”).

Peters, Edward. The First Crusade: “The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres” and Other Source.

Schnetz, Jean Victor. Procession of Crusaders Around Jerusalem. Chateau de Versailles, France.



The Holy Lance of Antioch


Discovery of the Holy Lance

In June of 1098, after a lengthy siege of their own, Christian Crusaders had captured the city of Antioch. The crusaders only held the city for two days before they themselves were under siege by the army of Kerbogha of Mosul.

On the fifth day of the second siege of Antioch, a French priest, Peter Bartholomew, claimed to have had visions of St. Andrew, who told him that the Lance that had stabbed Jesus Christ upon the cross. The Lance is mentioned in the Gospel of John 19:34: “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance, and immediately there came out blood and water.” The mixture of blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ body was taken by theologians as evidence of his simultaneous humanity and divinity.

Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse and commander of the army at Antioch, believed Peter Bartholomew, though Adhemar of Le Puy—the Papal legate—was unsure, having seen a relic purported to be the Holy Lance in Constantinople. Regardless, Count Raymond, Raymond of Aguilers (the Count’s chaplain), and William, Bishop of Orange began searching for the spear in the Cathedral of St. Peter.  Peter ultimately produced the Lance from a pit in the church.

The Battle of Antioch

Besieged within their newly captured city, with food running low and slim chances of reinforcement, the Crusaders remained in dire straits.  Cognizant of the worsening situation, Count Raymond of Toulouse, a believer in the newly discovered Holy Lance, argued that the Crusaders should engage the besieging Muslims in a pitched battle outside the city.  On the surface, this prospect appeared ludicrous.  In addition to greatly outnumbering the crusading army, Kerbogha’s men were relatively fresh and well supplied, while the Crusaders had just fought their way through an exhausting siege and were in the process of starving to death within the walls.  Despite these potential pitfalls, the princes agreed to the plan.  In preparation for the attack, the military and religious leaders of the Christian forces, even those such as Le Puy who doubted the authenticity of the Lance, ordered a religious fast, stretching their diminishing food reserves while simultaneously raising morale.  They also held masses to focus the morale of the troops, in which they emphasized the significance of the Lance’s discovery.

On Monday, June 28th, to the surprise and eventual despair of Kerbogha, the gates of Antioch opened and the Latin army filed out onto the plain.  Bishop Adhemar Le Puy commanded the left wing carrying the Holy Lance itself as a battle standard.  Battle was soon joined, and despite their apparent advantage in numbers and preparation, the Islamic forces broke quickly, leaving the Crusaders victorious.  Unbeknownst to the Crusaders, Kerbogha had only tenuous control over his army, and when Duqaq, Ruler of Damascus, deserted in the middle of battle, he had sparked a total route.

Having seemingly witnessed a military miracle, the crusaders heaped praise upon the Lance, resulting in a variety of fantastic accounts of divine intervention in the battle. According to one account:

“The lines of the enemy fell upon us who were in the squadron of the Bishop, and though their forces were greater than ours, yet, through the protection of the Holy Lance which was there, they there wounded no one; neither did they hit any of us with arrows.” [1]

Some accounts describe a host of heavenly warriors joining the Christian army on the field, while others recount the intervention of specific saints.

Peter’s Trial by Fire

Even after the Crusader victory at Antioch, Peter Bartholomew faced many skeptics. One of the most vocal disbelievers was Bohemond of Taranto, who is recorded as having found fault with the way the Lance was found only once Peter alone descended into the digging site: 

“Oh, boorish foolishness! Oh, boorish credulity! Oh, credulity, easily won! So be it! His integrity corroborates the man, and nearness to the crucifixion the place. Is this most recent fraud of that man not evident enough? If he had walked purely, simply, in the way of God; if he had trusted in the apostle who appeared to him, he would himself not (alone) bear witness to this discovery but would obtain another’s testimony. But why do I devote so much scorn to that person? Because the Provencals ascribe our victory, which is from above, like light from the Father, to their piece of iron.” [2]

Eager to disprove his skeptics, Peter demanded that he undergo trial by fire to show that he had divine protection. Raymond of Aguilers recorded Peter’s plot to prove the authenticity of the Lance:  

“I wish and beg that a very large fire be built; and I will pass through the midst of it with the Lance of the Lord. If it is the Lance of the Lord, I will pass through the fire unhurt, but if it is not, I will be burned in the fire. For I see that neither signs nor witnesses are believed.” [3]

Indeed, a “very large fire” was built. Peter was horribly burned by this challenge and died 12 days later, though some held to the belief that both Peter and the Holy Lance were authentic.

The Lance Opens the Floodgates of Religious Motivations

The episode of the Holy Lance of Antioch set a precedent for how spiritual visions and the course of war would interplay throughout the rest of the First Crusade. The sequence of the Crusaders being down for the count, inspired by a religious sign, then overcoming near certain defeat to achieve victory would repeat itself beyond the borders of Antioch. In fact, it would happen again in Jerusalem during the summer of 1099 when the Crusaders faced a lack of water due to poisoned wells, strenuous work building catapults, and quarreling leaders all before a city that was too big to seize in one blow. Though conditions outside the walls of Jerusalem in the sweltering summer of 1099 were hopeless, the Crusaders found the resilience they needed to capture Jerusalem after receiving a message of encouragement from the late Bishop Adhemar via a vision announced by a priest named Peter Desiderius. Peter Desiderius’s vision galvanized the Crusaders into a frenzy of religious fervor that culminated in a circumambulation of the city of Jerusalem where the Crusaders brandished sacred relics, including the Holy Lance of Antioch, that helped propel them to victory over the Arabs in Jerusalem.

Religious Illusions (or Delusions?) and their Real Effects

The Holy Lance of Antioch opened the floodgates for religious symbols to serve as an impetus to the Crusaders and that had the power to change the course of the war. Because of these battle-changing visions, the First Crusade took on an entirely new hue of religiosity. Not only was the First Crusade colored with religious enthusiasm because of fanfare generated by the call of holy war from Pope Urban II or the symbolism of the crosses sewn onto the Crusaders’ clothing, but also because religion played a role in the minds and motivations of every individual fighter.

It is true that the Crusaders’ victory at Antioch can be almost equally attributed to the problems within Kerbogha’s fractioned, squabbling army as to the military power of the Crusaders. However, the Crusaders themselves were not fully aware of the weakness of Kerbogha’s army. Firsthand accounts of the First Crusade by Crusaders specifically cite the discovery of the Holy Lance as the factor that influenced them to stay in Antioch. In the Gesta account of the Crusades, the author describes how the Holy Lance was carried into battle as a token of God’s grace, and Raymond of Aguilers credits the Lance with changing the course of battle at Antioch:

“…when our men were beaten, discouraged, and in narrow straits, divine aid appeared. And the blessed Andrew taught us through the youth who had spoken of the Lance [Peter Bartholomew] how we ought to conduct ourselves before the battle and in the battle…” [4] 

Thus, the will power of the Crusaders not to give up at Antioch must be attributed to the discovery of the Holy Lance. Proof of the importance of religion to each individual Crusader lies in the power of one holy vision coupled with the finding of one holy relic in Antioch to feed the Crusaders when there was no food, arm them when there were no provisions, and, ultimately, to give them the will to fight when defeat seemed almost inevitable. Political scientist Michael Horowitz also points out in his article “Long Time Going: Religion and the Duration of Crusading” the relationship between religious visions and pre-battle rituals as proof of the religiosity of the First Crusade. He notes “after the exaltation that followed the ‘discovery’ of the Holy Lance, the battle preparations of the Crusaders at Antioch in June 1098 consisted of fasting for three days. There is no conventional military reason for this behavior.” [5] That religion spurred unique “battle preparations” that had “no conventional military reason” is further evidence of how spiritual devotion permeated even the most unreligious part of the Crusade – the warfare itself. While Pope Urban II and the early preachers of the First Crusade made the First Crusade a symbolically religious effort, holy visions had the power of making the First Crusade a concretely religious pursuit.

There is endless debate among the eyewitnesses of the First Crusade over the legitimacy of the discovery of the Holy Lance. But questions of whether the Holy Lance was just a piece of scrap metal or the actual blade that pierced the side of Christ, or if Peter Bartholomew was a holy man with a direct connection to the heavens or a delusional lunatic seeking attention, are not questions worth asking. Enough of the Crusaders believed in the religious visions that they had tangible effects regardless of their veracity. Thus, regardless of the Lance’s supposed mystical powers, it held definite military value for its much needed ability to raise morale and inspire unity in a crusading army that often faced seemingly impossible dilemmas and suffered from internal discord.


[1] August C. Krey, trans. and ed. The First Crusade; the Accounts of Eye-Witnesses and Participants (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958), 188. HathiTrust Digital Library, accessed April 24, 2016

[2] Ibid., 240

[3] Ibid., 230

[4] Ibid., 181.

[5] Michael C. Horowitz, “Long Time Going: Religion and the Duration of Crusading,” International Security, Vol. 34, No. 2, 181, accessed April 24, 2016,


Horowitz, Michael C. “Long Time Going: Religion and the Duration of Crusading.” International Security, Vol. 34, No. 2, 162-193. (accessed April 24, 2016).

Krey, August C., ed. and trans. The First Crusade; the Accounts of Eye-Witnesses and Participants. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958. HathiTrust Digital Library. (accessed April 24, 2016).

Madden, Thomas F. The Concise History of the Crusades. 3rd ed. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.

The Militarization of the Church


Summary: The events leading up to the end of the eleventh century created a cultural environment in which the first crusade, and the beginnings of the militarization of the church that prompted and enabled it, was able to occur. Along with the idea from the peace movements and the Truce of God that some violence is unacceptable, came the complementary idea that some other violence, then, must be acceptable. The traditionally non-violent Christian Church began to justify fighting in the name of God and for the good of the Church, despite New Testament doctrine clearly discouraging violence. This was largely a result of the merging of feudal culture with religious concepts. When Alexius I requests military help from the west to fend off Muslims encroaching on his Byzantine Empire, Pope Urban II responds by calling the first crusade. Surely, if any violence in the name of God is acceptable, it must be violence against unbelievers. the Church saw these pagans as having taken Christian lands from Alexius, but more importantly, they were also in control of Jerusalem, the Holy City. For Muslims to call Jerusalem their own was offensive to Christians, to Christ, to Christianity as a whole. As a solution, One could “take up the cross” and follow Jesus to the Holy Land, serving God with arms by expelling the Muslim inhabitants and any others along the way, and simultaneously carrying out a personal pilgrimage for the edification of their faith and the salvation of their soul. The military-pilgrimage of the first crusade was sanctioned and encouraged by the church. Following the first crusade, the church began to institutionalize crusading, and military orders of monk-knights began to emerge.


Just War

Christianity’s shift from a religion of peace to a religion of violence was a slow and gradual process that occurred as ideological obstacles were removed and ideals changed. One major part of this was the transition in attitude towards war over the course of several hundred years. In the ancient Roman Empire it was believed that war was sinful and the belligerents had to repent to absolve themselves afterwards. After several hundred years of minor tweaks to the contemporary thought of war and new justifications in support of it, Christianity found itself promoting warfare and promoting that it absolved the warriors of their sins.

The first tweak or change in ideology towards war came in the 4th Century from the Roman Empire. With the legitimization of Christianity in the Roman Empire and the increase in popularity of the pacifist religion there was a demand for a ruling on warfare. The Greek philosopher Aristotle came up with the term Just War. The three main necessities for war to be considered just were that it must be waged with the motive of :

  • Defence
  • Recovery of rightful property
  • As punishment or to redress a wrong

This definition, while providing a common perspective, still lacked clarity and allowed for some leeway. For example, to address the soul of your enemy fell under the last category and it does not require too much imagination to see how this could be altered or extended to justify even the most unjust wars. Yet this was still a major advancement and while it was not obvious to anyone at the time, the beginning of the militarization of the Christian Church.

Augustine of Hippo, Saint Augustine (354 – 430)

Augustine of Hippo, Saint Augustine (354 – 430)

From this definition it could then be justified that all of Rome’s wars with other empires could be determined as Just Wars. Christians were encouraged to fight in these wars to defend the Roman Empire and with it the Christian Religion.

Due to the collapse of the Roman Empire in Western Europe, the new definition of Christian Just war was jeopardized. Augustine of Hippo altered it slightly to reflect Christian ideology and morals. “Augustine added a Christian interpretation of moral virtue to right intent and authority. From his diffuse comments three familiar essentials emerged: just cause, defined as defensive or to recover rightful possession; legitimate authority; right intent by participants. Thus war, inherently sinful could promote righteousness.” (Tyerman, 2005, pp 69).

Holy War

With the arrival of the Muslims in Spain, the first concepts of actual Holy War instead of Just War took root. Muslims had taken a stronghold over Spain. Prior to the Muslim invasions, Spain had been a predominantly Christian territory and Christians across Europe disapproved of their presence. The Church promoted the Spanish Reconquista and it was reasoned that the warriors fighting against the Muslims for Christendom were in fact fighting for Christ himself. The next development in Holy War came in the middle of the 9th Century when Pope John VII and his predecessor Pope Leo IX offered salvation and absolution of sin to German troops. This new idea was essential in the development of Holy War.

With Pope Urban II’s call came a new sense of war, this one with a more divine view. It was defined from essential elements of the Bible and was instrumental in the First Crusade and the ones to come after. Its major points were that instead of a legal construct on the soldiers and their actions, it was now a divine command that they fought under. It no longer had the limitations that had riddled the definition of Just war and was uncompromising. What followed were belligerents that identified with the Israelites (old testament) and felt that they were God’s chosen. A major role was that they understood Holy War as an event moving history forward towards the Apocalypse.

Charlemagne: First Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire

Also known as Charles I or Charles the Great, Charlemagne was able to set the framework for the Western Church to rise to importance and prestige.  Charlemagne rose to power after King Pippin’s death when power was passed to Charlemagne and his brother Carloman. Charlemagne made an alliance with the Lombards, through an arranged marriage, to gain an edge over Carloman. The power struggle ended in 771 with the death of Carloman when Charlemagne assumed sole control over the Frankish Empire. One of Charlemagne’s main goals was to address the desire of the people to deepen and enhance spiritual life. To focus on this goal Charlemagne began a series of reforms that strengthened the Church and enhanced spiritual life within the empire.

“The reform focused on a few major concerns: strengthening the church’s hierarchical structure, clarifying the powers and responsibilities of the hierarchy, improving the intellectual and moral quality of the clergy, protecting and expanding ecclesiastical resources, standardizing liturgical practices, intensifying pastoral care aimed at general understanding of the basic tenets of the faith and improvement of morals, and rooting out paganism. As the reform movement progressed, its scope broadened to vest the ruler with authority to discipline clerics, to assert control over ecclesiastical property, to propagate the faith, and to define orthodox doctrine.”  — Sullivan, 2016

With these reforms Charlemagne enabled the Church to gain power and establish a strong foothold within his empire. With this relationship the Church reciprocated this alliance and eventually crowned Charlemagne Emperor of the Holy Roman Emperor, strengthening his power and authority.

Charlemagne, King of the Franks (768-814), King of the Lombards (774-814), First Emperor (800-814)

Charlemagne, King of the Franks (768-814), King of the Lombards (774-814), First Emperor (800-814).

Charlemagne engaged in numerous military campaigns aimed at expanding the faith and influence of the church.

“The first three decades of Charlemagne’s reign were dominated by military campaigns, which were prompted by a variety of factors: the need to defend his realm against external foes and internal separatists, a desire for conquest and booty, a keen sense of opportunities offered by changing power relationships, and an urge to spread Christianity.”

— Sullivan, 2016

With Charlemagne seizing the throne in 711, he soon engaged in a long and bloody war against the Saxons (772 – 804). The Saxons, who were viewed as pagans, occupied a large territory to the north. They had been considered a threat to the Franks for a long time and  with the reinvigoration of Christian faith under Charlemagne there was additional motivation to drive out these pagans. In addition, in the years 773-774 at the request of Pope Adrian I, Charlemagne led a campaign against the Lombards in Italy. In 771, upon assuming complete control of the Frankish throne, Charlemagne cut ties with the Lombards. With this expedition, Charlemagne seized control of northern Italy and the Lombard crown. In 778 Charlemagne attempts to take Spain from the Umayyads. The expedition goes horribly wrong and the Franks are forced to retreat, suffering numerous casualties. In 787-788 Charlemagne began another campaign against Bavaria. Following the conquering of Bavaria, this bought Charlemagne in conflict with the Avars. Campaigns in 791, 795, and 796 led to a demise of their empire as well as opened up the conversion of the Avars and their subjects.

The Expansion of the Holy Roman Empire

The Expansion of the Holy Roman Empire under Charlemagne.

“The effect of the conversion of these Germanic people worked in two directions: the Christianizing of their warrior ethic and militarizing of the Church” — Tyerman, 2005




Peace Movement

Prior to the Crusades, in Medieval Europe a Feudal system had developed, meaning the Kings controlled all of the land and distributed it to the Lords. These lords would then distribute it further to other villagers in exchange for taxes. Unfortunately, Kings had little control over the feuding lords who fought for control of land. Widespread violence ensued that caught many innocents and defenceless in the crosshairs, mainly the peasants and the church.

In response, the Church attempted to regulate this violence by assuming control. Although the Church did not have any warriors that could fight for them they did have one advantage over the lords, this being the power over the Saints. Relics were often used as a connection to a Saint, and in turn God. By using these Relics, the Church was able to convince the Lords that the Saints had ordered them to stop fighting. They also had the authority to prevent Lords and other noblemen from attending mass. This attempt at control actually influenced the church by leading it into a more involved military role and accelerated its shift into a religion of violence.

The first of these steps taken to prevent such violence was in 975 when Bishop Guy II of LePuy gathered all the Lords and Noblemen from the surrounding areas and forced them to swear oaths. The Lords were forced to agree that they would not harm anyone not involved with military operations, most importantly members of the church as well as peasants.

This council is seen by many as the beginning of the Peace of God Movement. The Peace of God Movement was a movement that utilized councils like that organized by Bishop Guy II to promote the safety of noncombattants. The influence of Relics or Saints were heavily utilized to sway the Lords and divine sanctions were threatened as punishment for anyone that violated these laws and caused harm to anyone protected.

A similar movement around the same time period was the Truce of God. The Truce of God was an attempt by the Church to restrict warfare by declaring days on which warfare was unacceptable. This began with the Synod of Elne in 1027, which outlawed warfare on Sunday. The list of days unacceptable for warfare increased steadily and by 1042 it had grown to Wednesday through Sunday, as well as holidays. The Truce of God which had originated in France, spread throughout Europe and was at its most influential when the Decree of Clermont built off of it and declared that there would be no fighting between Christians.

Neither movement could be deemed too successful as the feudal system still promoted violence and warfare across Europe, however it can be argued that the biggest impact these movements had was that they encouraged the ideology of fighting for religion instead of your lord. This ideology was essential for the Militarization of the Church and ultimately the Crusades.

The Justification of Violence in Defense of the Church

In the second half of the eleventh century there proceeded a movement of ecclesiastical reform that ultimately laid the groundwork for the first crusade. There was controversy over the reform, resulting in popes “calling on the services of laymen to aid in the great cause” (Peters, 1971, pp. 1 – 3). The resulting universality of the ecclesiastical reform movement led to the rise of Christendom as an all-encompassing society, ultimately producing the first crusade.

Pope Gregory VII, the predecessor of Urban II, was crucial in transforming the church’s traditional attitude toward war. Gregory used the word fideles, which traditionally referred to a vassal in the feudal system, to mean one who was faithful to God, thus merging the military and political idea of being faithful to one’s lord and the spiritual idea of being faithful to the Lord. Gregory believed it was the Christian’s duty to fight against the enemies of the Church just as one would fight against the enemies of their feudal lord. Gregory has been referred to as a “man of war” and a “Church militarist,” even being accused in his day of having too much zeal for secular militia (Mastnak, 2002, p. 79). Knights had traditionally been seen as sinful because they devoted their lives to violence, something traditionally non-Christian, especially given the pacifism of Jesus in the New Testament. But in the second half of the eleventh century, leading up to and under Gregory VII, there began to be some changes in canon law. Anselm of Lucca in 1086 writes, “do not think that one who ministers with warlike arms is unable to please God.” Bonizo of Sutri in 1090 similarly states, “If it is legitimate to fight for a worldly king, why not for the Heavenly King, …, why not against the enemies of the Church.” Thus, the Church’s traditional condemnation of the military profession begins to fall away as the Church becomes more tied to the European feudal system, analogizing serving God as physical fighting in the worldly sense.

Gregory was perhaps more concerned with enemies of the Church as straying Christians, “bad” Christians, than Muslims. He condemned fighting for secular purposes, calling it an “evil custom,” while urging Christians to take up arms for God. “Many thousands of secular men go daily to their death for their lords; but for the God of heaven and our Redeemer they not only do not go to their death but they also refuse to face hostility of certain men” (Gregory to all the faithful, July-November 1084). Gregory actually planned a military expedition to the east in defense of Christians facing Muslim violence. He was to lead an army “against the enemies of God and push forward even to the sepulcher of the Lord” (Gregory to Count William of Burgundy, February 1074). This never came to fruition for Gregory, but Urban would later follow through.

Pope Urban II

Pope Urban II, born Odo of Châtillon (1042 – 1099)

As Gregory’s successor, Pope Urban II focused more on war against the Church’s external enemies, the whole of Christendom against pagans, rather than internal enemies. This was crucial for conceptualizing the first crusade as a fight against eastern Muslims. While Gregory conceived of typical relations with the Muslims, both war and peace, Urban was truly a “man of peace” alone, and was thus driven to the concept of Holy War. Urban linked the peace movement with the idea of Holy War, conceptualizing the crusade as the realization of Christian peace. The militarization of the Church to fight enemies of God, made possible through Gregory, was a means to ultimate peace under Christendom. It is in this way that the violence in the name of the Church could be justified under traditional Christian values. (Mastnak, 2002, pp. 79 – 90).

In fact, the pagans became increasingly portrayed as outside the law, without rights, and ultimately non-human because they lacked Christian faith. “Because Christians were prohibited from making contracts with infidels, it was also impossible to make truce or peace with them.” (Mastnak, 2002, p. 125). Because of this inability to make peace with Muslims directly, peace had to be made by their extermination. Killing Muslims was not homicide, but “malicide,” extermination of evil, a duty of the Church (Bernard of Clairvaux in Allen, Amt, 2014). To kill pagans exalts the name of God; to die in the military service of God is to go home to Christ. However, to die in secular military activities is to die in sin.

Tomaž Mastnak in his book Crusading Peace (2002) explains that the concept of christianitas, or Christendom, was first realized as a society with the first crusade. Christendom was a unification of the Church with all of European Christian society. An enemy of God was an enemy of the Church became an enemy of Christendom and thus of all Christians in Europe. “It was a military community of Christians whose thoughts and will were directed toward the Holy Land and consumed with the struggle against Muslims, who were considered the enemies of God and holy Christendom” (Mastnak, 2002, p. 93). Christendom was established along with the peace movements and the concept of holy war, and thus was simultaneously a unification of western Christians and a deeper partition between them and everything outside of Christendom. And as Christendom came to recognize itself as both political and religious, then first crusade could emerge.

In the peace movements, Urban II condemned Christians killing Christians in the west, calling the westerners to stop feuding amongst themselves. But he also condemned the suffering of eastern Christians at the hands of Muslims in places like Antioch and Jerusalem. “Christian flesh, akin to Christ’s flesh, is delivered up to execrable abuses and appalling servitude” (Baldric of Dol, Historia Jerosolimitana).

Late gothic depiction of Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont from the Livre des Passages d'outer-mer, c 1474. From the account of Fulcher of Chartres, Urban preaches, "On this account I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ's heralds... to destroy that vile race [Muslims] from the lands of our friends."

Late gothic depiction of Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont (Livre des Passages d’outer-mer, c 1474, Bibliothèque National). From the account of Fulcher of Chartres, Urban preaches, “On this account I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ’s heralds… to destroy that vile race [Muslims] from the lands of our friends.”

To stop this shedding of Christian blood required more than peacemaking by simply calling upon Christians themselves to stop their violence. To bring peace required war against the enemy. And the pope had the right and duty to call on his subjects to fight for the Church if necessary. Urban II called the first crusade on November 27, 1095 (See Peters, 1971, pp. 25 – 37 for several accounts, including that of Fulcher of Chartres from the figure on the left). He called for western Christians to stop their local feuds and unite with the Church and their Christian brother in the east against their common enemy. It was to be a war for peace for the eastern Christians, but also a “war of peace” (Mastnak, 2002, p. 94) against the Muslims. It was an escalation and redirection of military action away from Christendom and towards the Muslims of the east. Muslims were constructed as an enemy of Christianity and of Christendom. War was necessary to defend the Church against Muslim unsanctity, but it was also a war to liberate the eastern Christians from Muslim abuses and to liberate holy places, especially Jerusalem, from pagan hands. In any case, it was war willed by God, fought by godly, holy people against pagan peoples, “blasphemous persecutors of the faith, the enemies of Christ’s cross” (Schwings, 1977 in Mastnak, 2002, p. 121). The Church was self-justified in its military pursuits because it was the Church’s duty to avenge the wrongs done against Christ. In fact, to the Church and especially Urban, the first crusade was in some ways a non-war; it was a realization of the peace movement, it was pacifist, a work of peace. Even still, by promising the forgiveness of sins for taking up the cross in the service of Christ in the crusade, military pursuit became inextricably tied to salvation, and thus, because of its importance is the saving of souls, the Church.

A Crusader, giving homage. Note the crosses on the armour worn by the knight. This depiction emphasizes military service as being to God and the Church. (Westminster Psalter, c. 1200, drawing from c. 1250; in the British Library (Royal MS 2 A XXII, fol. 220))

A Crusader, giving homage. Note the crosses on the armour worn by the knight. This depiction emphasizes military service as being to God and the Church. (Westminster Psalter, c. 1200, drawing from c. 1250; in the British Library (Royal MS 2 A XXII, fol. 220))

The symbol of the crusades was the cross. In the New Testament, the cross was a symbol not only of salvation, but also Christ’s peaceful nature, his refusal to fight even when being persecuted. Through the Crusaders, the cross became militarized; it became “a sign of obedience through the physical sacrifice of martial combat, a war banner, an icon of military victory through faith” (Tyerman, 2005, p. 64). In a similar cultural shift, after the first crusade, the Church institutionalized crusading and the term milites Christi came to refer to knights literally fighting for God, superseding the traditional term for monks who “fought” for God through prayer (Mastnak, 2002, pp. 158 – 160). This is most obviously demonstrated in the military orders that emerged after the first Crusade. The stark change in meaning of the symbol of the cross and the term milites Christi through the crusades captures the change in the Church’s attitude toward war that enabled the first crusade to occur.


Military Orders

Most of the military orders were established shortly after the end of the First Crusade, which saw the Franks capture Jerusalem and subsequently establish the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. To the north, the County of Tripoli, the Principality of Antioch, and the County of Edessa had also been established, and with the Kingdom of Jerusalem, collectively made up the newly minted Crusader states. However, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was in a difficult geographic position; straddled by the Shiite Fatimid Caliphate to the east in modern day Egypt, and to the west by the Sunni Seljuk Empire in modern day Jordan and Syria. Despite the considerable consolidation of Frankish power afforded by the formation of the Crusader States, the peace that existed between the Latin Kingdom and the rival Muslim empires was a tenuous one at best, and the lack of sufficient manpower to maintain security both within and without the cities left the Outremer with little in terms of internal security.

Knights Templar

Chief and first among the Christian military orders, the Templars were founded during the reign of Baldwin II to combat the insecurity that permeated the areas between Crusader hubs and thus threatened pilgrims travelling the Holy Land.

Seal of the Knights Templar. On the obverse is depicted two riders, in keeping with the pious asceticism practiced by the order; surrounding the image is “Seal of the Soldiers” in latin. On the reverse is a depiction of  the Temple of Solomon, surrounded by “Temple of Christ” in Latin.

Seal of the Knights Templar. On the obverse is depicted two riders, in keeping with the pious asceticism practiced by the order; surrounding the image is “Seal of the Soldiers” in latin. On the reverse is a depiction of the Temple of Solomon, surrounded by “Temple of Christ” in Latin.

Seal of the Knights Templar. On the obverse is depicted two riders, in keeping with the pious asceticism practiced by the order; surrounding the image is “Seal of the Soldiers” in latin. On the reverse is a depiction of the Temple of Solomon, surrounded by “Temple of Christ” in Latin.

In around 1119, Hugh of Payns, a knight from Troyes in the Champagne region of France, and eight companions made pilgrimage to Jerusalem with the intent of declaring themselves and their swords for the service of Christ. Approaching King Baldwin II and Gormund, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Hugh of Payns proposed the creation of a military order to protect pilgrims making the 65-kilometer trek from the port of Jaffa to Jerusalem (Google Maps). Roughly over half a days journey by foot at best, the route was typical as a breeding ground for banditry and violence. Administering upon the nine knights the three monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, Gormund also had them pledge a fourth vow to protect Christian pilgrims. Subsequently, King Baldwin II quartered the knights in the captured al-Aqsa Mosque, which sat atop the Temple Mount and was thus thought to be the site of the Temple of Solomon—from here the Knights Templar derived their name (Madden, 1999, p. 46).

In 1128, Saint Bernard of Clairveaux, the Templars’ main proponent in the Church, facilitated their advancement by attaining formal papal acceptance by Pope Honorius II at the Council of Troyes. Prior to official papal acceptance, Bernard had written his treatise “In Praise of New Knighthood”, citing the Knights Templar as the definitive example a new breed of knight who practiced a quasi-monastic lifestyle, extolling their life of pious chivalry as equal parts monk and knight. Concurrent with this appraisal, Bernard juxtaposed his idealized view of the Templars with his sanctimonious condemnation of secular knights and what he viewed to be a self-indulgent and wantonly violent lifestyle (Allen and Amt, 2014, 129) . With papal acceptance firmly behind them, the Knights Templar were able to flourish in the Holy Land, expanding their operations beyond the initial mission on the route that connected Jaffa with Jerusalem (Madden, 1999, p. 46).

Papal acceptance was particularly important in establishing the Order’s legitimacy, as they were now afforded the status of a fully ordained monastic order, as opposed to being one of the many secular orders imbued with the desire to fight in the name of the Lord. It was around this time that the knights of the Order also started donning white tunics emblazoned with a red cross over their armor into battle; this, along with the Templars themselves, would become an everlasting and definitive symbol of the Crusades.

Bibliography and Further Resources

Allen, S. J., and Emilie Amt. The Crusades: A Reader. Toronto: U of Toronto, 2014. Print.

Barbero, Alessandro. Charlemagne: Father of a Continent. Berkeley: U of California, 2004. Print.

Madden, Thomas F. The Concise History of the Crusades. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999. Print.

Mastnak, Tomaž. Crusading Peace: Christendom, the Muslim World, and Western Political Order. Berkeley, CA: U of California, 2002. Print.

Peters, Edward. The First Crusade: The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and Other Source Materials. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania, 1971. Print.

Sullivan, Richard E. “Charlemagne.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.

Tyerman, Christopher. The Crusades: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.



Intercultural/Multicultural relations

Christian-Jewish Interactions During the First Crusade

According to Fulcher of Chartres, Pope Urban II’s address at the Council of Claremont on November 27, 1095, called Christians to take up arms against the Seljuk Turks and Arabs of the east so as to aid oppressed Christians living there.  However, some Christians interpreted his message as a call to arms against anyone that they deemed a threat to Christianity, which led to a violent persecution of Jews by Christian forces, specifically in the Rhineland region of Western Germany.  The main sources that help elucidate the state of Christian-Jewish interactions during the First Crusade are “The Narrative of Old Persecutions” (also known as “Mainz Anonymous” because of its central focus on Mainz and lack of credited author), and accounts written by Solomon Bar Simson, Eliezer Bar Nathan, and Albert of Aachen.

Each account describes the Rhineland massacres as mercilessly brutal towards all members of the Jewish community, including women, children, and the elderly.  In addition to graphic imagery depicting the slaughter of Jews by sword and hanging, the Mainz Anonymous and Eliezer Bar Nathan accounts emphasize the hopelessness of Jewish defense against Christian forces, through comparisons to passages in the Torah and Old Testament.  For example, God presented the people of Sodom and Gomorrah with the opportunity for safety if ten righteous people within the city could come forth, whereas the Christian crusaders ruthlessly displayed no such mercy towards the Rhineland Jews and thus, the writer implied that the crusaders were unlike God (Chazan 239).

Jews Slaughtered

“Execution of the faithful” – as illustrated in “Bible Moralisée”, 1250. Image found at:

Motivations Guiding Christian Attacks on Jews

The aforementioned accounts of the Rhineland massacres suggest that the crusaders’ motivations for slaughtering Jews were made up of three parts – a desire to avenge Christ’s crucifixion, the promise of heavenly salvation, and the prospect of economic profit.  Mainz Anonymous depicts a scene where Christian forces carry around a trampled corpse likened to Christ in order to rally crusaders against the Jews, the descendants of Christ’s persecutors.  Violently avenging Christ by killing Jewish people was viewed as a holy mission by some of the crusaders in Rhineland, as made evident by a circulated report stating that “Anyone who kills a single Jew will have all his sins absolved” (Chazan 226).  This gave both noblemen and poor folk spiritual incentive to delay their journey to the east.  However, references to the massacre’s financial incentives for Christians abound in the texts as well, suggesting that many of the crusaders in Germany had secular ambitions.  Albert of Aachen suggests that Count Emicho of Leiningen, Thomas, and Clarebold, three crusading noblemen, “slaughtered the exiled Jews through greed of money, rather than for the sake of God’s justice” (Aachen 47).  Each source references the money, treasure, or great spoils of war that the crusaders obtained through their onslaught against the Jews, implying that monetary gains that could fund future military endeavors may have made Jewish communities attractive targets.

Interactions between non-religious burghers and Jews were also hostile.  Many burghers offered Jews asylum in return for a sum of money, but reneged their promises when crusaders offered additional incentives.  At the siege of Mainz, the burghers even opened the city gates for Count Emicho and his followers, granting them easy access to the city and aiding in Count Emicho’s violent mission.

Video Resource:

The Relationship Between Jews and the Christian Clergy

Although Count Emicho and his followers led the attack against Jewish communities in the name of Christianity, the local clergy and various Church officials sought to protect the Jewish population by providing them with shelter.  Bishop John of Speyer is applauded in the Mainz Anonymous for his willingness to hide Jewish persons, without being bribed.  Bishop John supposedly even severed the hands of antagonistic burghers.  Similarly, Bishop Rothgard of Mainz attempted to hide Jews from Count Emicho and his men, although the clergy received a large amount of treasure in exchange for promised security.  However, the Bishop was unable to suppress Count Emicho and his followers indefinitely, so many Jews perished.  The Jewish communities in France were also allies of the Jewish communities in Rhineland, and French Jews allegedly sent letters to Jewish people living along the Rhine River encouraging them to fast and plead for God’s protection from the invading crusaders (Chazan 225).

Many of the cultural interactions between Christian and Jewish communities were influenced by the similarities and differences in their religious ideologies.  The notion that defeat is the result of sinful behavior and the lack of consistent reverence to God permeates Christian, Jewish, and Muslim texts, indicating that this ideology is a cultural similarity shared between all three major religious denominations during the Crusades.  However, the idea of martyrdom took on different meanings amongst Jewish and Christian persons.  In Christianity, martyrdom is generally thought of as giving up one’s life to an opposing force in a struggle to defend one’s faith.  The Jewish notion of martyrdom in the Rhineland crusade texts is based on killing oneself and one’s family, rather than enduring death by the crusaders.  The disturbing mass suicides undertaken in the name of God are equated with Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah.  Women are described slitting the throats of their children and infants even “slaughtered themselves for the sanctification of the [Divine] Name” (Chazan 232).  The Jewish people considered death by their own hands to be like death by the hand of God, and it was preferred over death by the hands of crusaders.  Christians also seemed to believe that conversion could be forced upon Jewish persons, while Jewish accounts, such as Mainz Anonymous, stressed that Jews forced into converting did not have a choice and thus, “did not desert their Creator” (Chazan 229).

Video Resource:

Chronology of Events:

The crusaders first arrived in Cologne on April 12, 1096, but they forwent attacking the city for about a month.  According to the Rabbi Eliezer Bar Nathan’s chronicle, the first attack on the Rhineland Jews occurred on the Sabbath, on the eighth day of Iyar, or May 3, in Speyer.  The next attack occurred on the twenty-third day of Iyar, or May 18, in Worms, during which a bishop hid many Jews.  Eight days later, the Christian crusaders gained entry into the bishop’s courtyard and the slaughter continued.  On the third of Sivan, or May 27, during the new moon, Mainz came under attack and many Jewish persons took their own lives in God’s name.  Sixty Jewish people were rescued by the bishop and transported to Rheingau, but the crusaders followed them and killed them.  Next, the crusaders backtracked and attacked Cologne three days later, where the slaughter lasted from Pentecost until the eighth day of Tammuz. Mehr also came under attack on the seventh day of Tammuz.   All of the attacks occurred in 1096, including massacres in the villages of Neuss, Wevelinghoven, and Xanten.

Jew Crusades Map

Here is a map of the crusaders’ travels through Rhineland (keep in mind that the crusaders first passed Cologne and Mainz before later returning to attack them). Image found at:

The following website is an additional resource for information on Christian-Jewish Relations in the First Crusade and subsequent crusades:


European Interactions during the First Crusade

Near the end of the 10th century, the Saxons, Vikings, and Hungarians officially adopted Christianity, resulting in the stabilization of Western Europe. However, there was much violence between the knights of Carolingian Empire, located in present day France and Germany. After the Empire’s collapse, these knights began fighting each other. Because of this violence, the Church developed the Peace and Truce of God, which established certain days of the year where the knights would not fight. While some popes disapproved of the violence in Europe, other popes justified the violence based on the argument that they were fighting enemies of the papacy.During this time, the papacy and the Roman Emperors became involved in what is known as the Investiture Controversy. This conflict refers to one of the most important instances of discussion of church versus state in Europe. During the 11th and 12th centuries, several popes made claims contesting the authority of European Monarchs. Specifically, there was disagreement over whether the pope or a monarch would have the ability to elect local church officials. A compromise was reached in 1122, with the Concordat of Worms, made by Henry V and Pope Calixtus II, which divided this power to both monarchs and the popes.

A map of Europe during the First Crusade.

A map of Europe during the First Crusade.

In the Byzantine Empire, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches were in a schism. The Great Schism of 1054 referred to the separation of these two churches due to theological disputes and differing practices, such as which type of bread to use in the Eucharist. Though Pope Urban II never refers to this, it is possible that establishing power for the Roman Catholic Church may have been a goal of the Crusades. A majority of Anatolia had been taken over by the Seljuq Turks, however, a lack of unity among different warlords put Byzantium in a position of political weakness, leading to Pope Gregory VII calling for Crusaders to aid Byzantium, an order that was ultimately ignored because Byzantium’s defeat had little immediate significance on the empire, even though its defeat at Manzikert was a surprise for Byzantium.


Sunni-Shia Relations During Crusade Era

The death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 and the resulting schism in Islam had a tremendous influence on the political landscape of the pre-Crusades Middle East. At the onset of the Crusades, the two dominant Middle Eastern Islamic empires were the Shia Fatimids and the Sunni Seljuqs. The delicate balance of power between these two Islamic empires was destroyed when the Christian armies of the First Crusade swept southwards into the Holy Lands in the late 11th century, permanently altering the political landscape of the Middle East.

For further reading, go to “Middle East in 1095”

The Fatimid Caliphate

The Shia Fatimid Caliphate was a 10th to 12th century political and religious dynasty that, at its peak, held vast swaths of territory in North Africa and the Middle East. The Fatimids empire expanded eastward during the 10th century from their original territory in modern day Algeria and Tunisia.  At their height in the 11th century, the Fatimids controlled modern day Palestine, Sicily, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, parts of Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. With the Fatimid conquest of Egypt in 969, the empire became center in Cairo where the Caliph oversaw both political and religious affairs. The Fatimids controlled the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, which gave the Caliphate a sense of prestige and honor that added to Sunni-Shia tension during this time.

Source: Ismailimali Fatimid Art,

Source: Ismailimali Fatimid Art,

The Seljuk Empire

The Sunni Seljuq Empire was an 11th to 14th century power composed primarily of ethnic Turks that was ruled over by a military family of the Ohuz Turkic tribe. The Seljuq Empire reached its height in the mid to late 11th century, when the empire included Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine, and Western Iran. The empire was based in Baghdad, where an intricate system of bureaucratic hierarchy was established to help rule over the empire’s vast lands.

Source: "Seljuq Art,"

Source: “Seljuq Art,”

Effects of the Crusade on Sunni-Shia Balance of Power

The First Crusade greatly altered the landscape of Middle Eastern empires, presenting a host of challenges for the Seljuq Empire and opportunities for expansion for the Fatimid Caliphate.  As the Crusaders pushed south through Seljuq territory, the vast majority of the empire’s resources and attention was focused on the Christian invaders, leaving their southern territory susceptible to a Fatimid invasion. In February 1098, three years after Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade, Fatimid forces took control of Jerusalem from the Seljuqs. However, the Fatimid victory was short lived as Crusader forces sacked Jerusalem in 1099, massacring the Muslim and Jewish population and claiming the city for Christianity.

Source: GokTurk “The Seljuq Empire”"

Source: GokTurk “The Seljuq Empire””

For further reading, please go to “Jerusalem in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam”


Christian/Muslim Intercultural Relations

The relationship between Christians and Muslims during the crusading period (1095-1192 A.D.) is very complex and cannot be described as merely religious differences and left at that. Many factors affected the interactions between these two very different cultures and depending on the scenario, could lead to a truce being brokered between the two, or lead to war.

To say that the crusades were Christians against Muslims is a very shallow understanding of what was actually motivating the Crusaders. The first groups of people to assemble themselves and leave on crusade in 1096, mere months after Urban II’s speech calling for western aid to retake the East from the Muslims[1] slaughtered thousands of Jews in Europe before even making it to the East, if they made it at all. This is due to the belief at the time that to be a good pilgrim and cleanse oneself in the eyes of God, wrongs done to God had to be avenged. When the Jews were blamed for the crucifixion of Jesus, they became an enemy of God, and thus fair game for the fanatic, war parties who followed individual, disorganized leaders focused more on plundering what they could in the name of God. This twisted sense of what Urban II wanted set the stage for the subsequent crusade missions after Edessa is taken by Muslims in 1144. The trouble with Urban II’s speech is that many fanatics took much of the reason for the call to arms and turned it into something that it was not intended to be; for example there are several accounts of Urban II’s speech at Clermont which change tone the further away from 1095 they are written. The version with the most emotionally stable language (known as the Gesta version) was written in 1100 by an anonymous crusader, however the author was almost certainly not present at the original speech. Possibly the closest recording of the speech was written by Robert of Rhimes in 1107, an uncomfortable amount of time between the speech and the writing of it, however Robert was probably present at Clermont and would have at least a basic idea of the tone of Urban’s speech even if the exact wording is probably inaccurate. Robert’s version focuses language on avenging wrongs done to God and describing the poor treatment of Christians in the East, saying “On whom therefore is the labor of avenging these wrongs and of recovering this territory incumbent if not upon you?” Giving a strong tie to the idea that led to the vicious treatment of Jews, however also pointing to the fact that the initial idea of the crusade mission was to help retake the East. This is the ideology that the Franks left Europe with and brought to the East for many generations throughout the Crusades.

The Muslim view on the onset of the Christian attacks were very different than what is usually spoken about (religion) when conversations about the Crusades arise. The East, particularly lands under Muslim control were very fragmented politically and constantly shifting who was allied with whom, for example, the Fatimid controlled Egypt was led by Shia Muslims, while more northern areas, especially in Anatolia, were under Sunni control[2]. The Christian incursion was seen as a minor political issue, and the Christian forces themselves were seen as a new political gamepiece, not as a religious war-party, at least initially. Usama ibn Munqidh speaks of several truces brokered between various groups of Franks (generic term used by the Muslims to denote a westerner), most of which were broken at some point by one side or the other. But more than that, he also accounts hostilities between Muslim groups[3]. The overall Muslim outlook on the crusaders changed with Nurradin and Saladin when they started looking at the Christian forces as an attack on Islam and the fighting became religiously fueled instead of simply political entities shifting from being allies to being enemies.

These ideological differences are what made the Christian/Muslim interactions so much more complex than most people think.

[1] Madden, Thomas. The New Concise History of the Crusades p.9 “Urban’s innovation was to emphasize the liberation of Palestine over the reconquest of Asia Minor and to tie it to the idea of pilgrimage.”

[2] See map of Near East

[3] Usama ibn Munqidh, The Book of Contemplation: Islam and the Crusades p.36 “We [Usama and group of Arabs he was traveling with] spent a miserable night, terrified of the Arabs there.”


Map of Near East after First Crusade:

Works Cited

Abramson, Henry. “Jews and the First Crusade: This Week in Jewish History by Dr. Henry Abramson.” YouTube. YouTube, 26 June 2013. Web. 24 Apr. 2016. <>.

“Albert of Aachen on the Peasants’ Crusade.” The Crusades: A Reader. Ed. S. J. Allen and Emilie Amt. 2nd ed. Toronto: U of Toronto, 2014. 42-48. Print.

“Fatimid Dynasty.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.

“Fatimids in Egypt.” History of Islam. N.p., 2009. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.

Madden, Thomas. A New Concise History of the Crusades. 2005.

Nathan, Eliezer Bar. “The Chronicles of Rabbi Eliezer Bar Nathan, “The Massacres of Jews by the First Crusaders” (1096).” Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations. N.p., 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2016. <>. [Excerpted from Shlomo Eidelberg, trans. and ed., The Jews and the Crusaders (KTAV, 1996), pp. 79-93.]

Real Crusades History. “The First Crusade – Episode 5: The Rhineland Massacre of the Jews, 1096.” YouTube. YouTube, 12 Aug. 2015. Web. 24 Apr. 2016. <>.

“Seljuq.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.

“The Hebrew First-Crusade Chronicles.” European Jewry and the First Crusade. Trans. Robert Chazan. Berkeley: U of California, 1987. 225-42. Print.

“The Islamic World Until 1600.” University of Calgary. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.

“The Seljuk Turks against the First Crusade.” The Seljuk Turks against the First Crusade. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.

Usama ibn Munqidh, trans. Paul M. Cobb. Book of Contemplations: Islam and the Crusades. 2008

Further Reading–West_Schism

The Middle East in 1095

Bab al-Futuh, Cairo, Egypt. Ordered by minister Badr al-Gamali al-Guyushi, 1087 AD. Photo courtesy of Islamic Art and Architecture Collection. artstor

Although it is often painted as such, “Islam” in the late 11th Century was not unified politically, geographically or militarily. Westerners of the time and later historians have described the First Crusade as an epic battle between two forces, but the reality on the ground was radically different. Continue reading

The Christianization of Knighthood


The Peace before War: Establishing Church and Knightly Relations

In the wake of the collapsing Carolingian Empire, Western Europe and especially Southern France became increasing violent, breaking into territories controlled by feuding nobles and warlords. While the rulers and knightly class battled and plundered, it was the peasantry and the church who, being unarmed and easy targets for violence, suffered the most. To reduce the damage and try to bring some measure of control to the situation, the Church began the Christianization of the knightly profession with the Peace of God movement.

In 989 AD, at the Abbey of Charroux in Aquitaine, a gathering was called from the neighboring regions for a clerical decree. The clergy, led by the Archbishop of Bordeaux and several local bishops, declared any knight who robbed the peasantry, clergy, or churches, or who attacked an unarmed clergyman, excommunicated. This message was spread at several other councils and gatherings through the late 10th and early 11th centuries. The widespread belief in and even fear of saintly relics was used to give the proclamation weight, as any available were collected by the preaching clergymen at these gatherings, giving the orders the implicit support of the saints represented.

Abbey of Charroux where the Peace of God was preached in 989

The church worked in the following decades to extend the effects of this “Peace of God”, and further steer knighthood away from the warring and pillaging it formerly comprised. During the early 11th century, the “Truce of God” was preached, forbidding warring on Sundays and later other days as well, and in 1054 at Narbonne, another council included the declaration that no Christian should kill another Christian, since one who does such “sheds the blood of Christ”. Though the latter decree by no means ended warfare among Western Christians completely, it was a further step in reducing the role of the knightly class in fighting each other – and leaving non-Christians as the only church-sanctioned foes. Thus a movement which began as an effort for peace, for the protection of those who were being victimized with no means to defend themselves, was partly effective, removing from knighthood the aspect of preying on their own society, but also began to focus knights into a weapon for the Church to wield against its enemies.

Holy War and the First Crusade

In many respects, Urban II’s call for the First Crusade represents the earliest conception of holy war and, by the nature of its intended audience, a redefined knightly class framed in Christianized ideology. First of all, it is important to establish what constitutes a “Holy War” or bellum sacrum. The important characteristics are purpose and nature of these conflicts. They sought to advance religious aims, were divinely sanctioned and uncompromising.

On November 27 of 1095, Pope Urban preached the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont and his words were especially revelatory of both the future nature of this conflict and the knightly class that would inevitably emerge from this endeavor. At the time, these sermons were intended to promote the peace in Western Christendom, but Urban’s message appealed to the conflicting knightly class directly by stating that fighting each other was useless in the face of the true enemy of all Franks. Furthermore, he described this war as one of liberation. The goal, after all, was to restore the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem, and territory of Byzantium to the realm of Christendom and away from the clutches of the encroaching Islamic threat.

Urban II preaching the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont on Nov. 27, 1095

Urban’s sentiment is readily apparent in Robert of Rheims’ account of Urban’s speech in which he declares,

“On whom therefore is the labor of avenging these wrongs and of recovering this territory incumbent, if not upon you? You, upon whom above other nations God has conferred remarkable glory in arms, great courage, bodily activity, and strength…”

Clearly this is a call to all Franks, but especially those with privilege who have both the means and

duty to restore “…the holy sepulcher of the Lord our Saviour, which is possessed by unclean nations”. In some sense, the Church appropriated feudal ideas of loyalty to appeal to would be Crusaders – describing this battle as a fight in service to the Lord as a mortal vassal.

Rhetoric aside, the Christianization of the knightly class was encouraged and reinforced in concrete ways as well. Those who chose to go to Jerusalem were deemed “Crucesignati” or “signed by the cross” and were seen as penitential pilgrims first and foremost. The promised indulgence or spiritual benefit promised to those who went on the First Crusade also clearly aligned martial action with salvation. Bishop of Lambert of Arras’ account describes the indulgence as basically a promise of a blank slate, quoting Urban as saying

“whoever goes on the journey to free the church of God in Jerusalem out of devotion alone, and not for the gaining of glory or money, can substitute the journey for all penance for sin”

. It was now not only justifiable to wage war, but required in order to please God and take back the Holy Land. In this manner, the knightly martial role became intertwined with the penitential role of Christian pilgrimage. In short, the concept of Holy War and the First Crusade gave knights the opportunity to employ their military skills in the name of God and for the purpose of advancing the goals of the Church.

Christian Symbolism on the First Crusade

Christian symbolism in both authentic relics and places as well as other devotional ownership of such a symbol (i.e. the Cross) played an essential role in the first crusades, and perhaps, to some, a literal source of power which shaped the events from 1095 to 1099.

The interesting and perhaps somewhat foreign aspect of religious symbolism, iconography and physical holy items, albeit relic or repro, is the absolute fervor these early crusaders held in the belief of the literal power of these holy items and their power as the invisible weapons like prayer, needed to fight the parallel war of the armies of god occurring simultaneously with the crusades and directly influencing the result of the terrestrial military conflicts to a very significant degree.

Perhaps the best and clearest example which shows the absolute importance in the power of belief by obtaining holy items can be seen with the Holy Lance (or Spear of Longinus-the Roman soldier who pierced the side of Christ according to the gospel of John with an early first century lance/spear head attached to a wooden staff; of course only the remains of the metal lance itself remained.)  The siege of Antioch was a year long tedious attempt from 1097 to 1098 to capture the city from the Muslims inside as Antioch held important (especially in a region with little to no geographically advantageous locations) spot on the Middle Eastern coast as well as symbolic importance dating well back to antiquity.

Adhemar de Monteuil finds the Holy Lance

Eventually the crusaders succeed and upon taking the city a poor monk and soldier Peter Bartholomew claimed that St. Andrew had come to him showing that the Holy Lance was buried beneath St. Peter’s Church in Antioch and told him to give it to the leading prince Raymond of Toulouse.  After much digging Peter found what would become the Holy Lance, despite skepticism from such religious figures as the papal legate Adhemar of Ley Puy as the true legitimacy of the lance (especially given Bartholomew’s “eccentric” tendencies viewed undoubtedly by the church with concern and thus question the validity of his visions and interactions with St. Andrew and the discover.  

Nonetheless, the magic behind, or reverence towards all other Holy Christian Relics and symbols was undeniably still present. I in fact, devotion even escalated further with the formation of the Christian Knight Orders.  Peter gave the Lance to Raymond, and when Raymond carried not only one of the holiest items in Christendom but arguably the most significant weapon into battle during the battle of Antioch on the June 28th 1198, Christian morale was so high that victory would seem nearly inevitable.  And of course, the crusaders drive away the muslims, win the battle and use the Lance and the source of their power (or at least a good part of it) which ultimately lead them to victory.  Symbolic belief is an extremely powerful motivator, despite the dubious nature of the truth of the lance. Once Adhemar died widespread belief in its power grew – “proven” through the victory at Antioch – and indicated an essential element in the military belief system of these Christian Knights; their values, tactics, standards, modes and operations of practice, and actions which were driven by their faith

The Rise of the Orders

In many respects the military orders of the 12th century were the ultimate personifications of Christian knighthood. These orders combined monastic piety, with the military prowess needed to defend a Latin East hundreds of miles away from Europe.

The first of these military orders did not come out of secular knighthood. Originally dedicated to the care of sick pilgrims, in 1113 the Knights of the Hospital of Saint John (The Hospitallers) broke off from the St. Mary of the Latins abbey and became a separate religious order. In 1136 King Fulk gave control of an Ascalon fortress to the Hospitallers, and eventually the Hospitallers created a military unit to protect Christian pilgrims. By the beginning of the 13th century most of their duties were military focused, and they spent little time aiding the sick and poor.

Perhaps the most famous of these military orders was the Knights Templar. Founded by Hugh of Payns in 1119 under the reign of Baldwin II, the third King of Jerusalem, these knights dedicated their swords, and lives, to Christ. Gormund, the patriarch of Jerusalem, bestowed upon them the monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience with a fourth vow to protect pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem. In 1128 the Templars received formal papal acceptance, and would eventually become a truly international order of warriors protecting Crusader strongholds all over the Middle East.

Symbol of the Knights Templar. This Order’s symbol depicts two knights on a single horse, emphasizing their vows of poverty- a monastic value that all monks obey

Men who took these vows of knighthood did not dedicate themselves to a European lord, but to God himself. Protecting God’s people, and his Holy land, was their ultimate mission. These orders symbolized the complete transformation of the pre-Crusade Miles Christi (Army of Christ), monks who did spiritual battle through prayer, to a militarized Christianity. These knights represented a “new chivalry” where the violence they inflicted was a dedication to God and a means to their own salvation.

With these orders Christianity had completely reconciled the violent demands of warfare and conquest with the Christian principles of peace. Bernard of Clairvaux, a powerful churchman, in praise of the Knights Templar, explained it as this:

“But the knights of Christ may safely do battle in the battles of their Lord, fearing neither the sin of smiting the enemy nor danger of their own downfall, inasmuch as death for Christ inflicted or endured, bears no taint of sin, but deserves abundant glory. In the first case one gains for Christ, and in the second one gains Christ himself, who freely accepts the death of the foe in vengeance, and yet more freely gives himself in consolation to his fallen knight.”

He explains how these knights do not sin when they kill their opponents but in fact honor God. And he will go on to say that Knights of the Templar are not “man-killers”, but “evil killers” destroying the enemies of the Lord and purifying his kingdom on Earth. These orders institutionalized the Crusader ethos and provided a stable military force in the Middle East bound by their oaths of obedience and military discipline.  The formation of the Christian Knight was complete.


Additional resources:

“The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and Other Source Materials. Edited by Edward Peters. Second edition. UPenn Press. 1998. Selections.

Jaspert, Nikolas. “The Crusades.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2016

Newman, Paul B. “Growing Up in the Middle Ages.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.

Madden, Thomas F. A Concise History of the Crusades. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999. Print.


Apocalypticism and the First Crusade


Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, one of the prophesied harbingers of the Last Days. Painting by Viktor Vasnetsov.


At the end of the 11th century, the outlook for Christendom was bleak. The Church had split between East and West in 1054, and the Byzantine Empire, a large Christian empire in the East, was being hemmed in by Seljuk Turks and other Muslim forces. When Alexius I Comnenus, the Byzantine Emperor, requested help from the west, Pope Urban II called a widespread pilgrimage to the Christians of Western Europe in 1095, urging them to come to the aid of the Byzantines and recapture the holy city of Jerusalem.

The Routes of the First Crusade

The Routes of the First Crusade.

Thousands responded to the call of Pope Urban II. Knights, peasants, priests, and even women and children, all embarked on a journey to the Holy Land. Today, historians cite a number of reasons to explain why so many went on a pilgrimage towards Jerusalem, including to absolve their sins, to acquire land or wealth, or to simply spread Christianity’s influence. Yet few argue that many of the crusaders felt that by going on the crusade, they were helping to bring about the Apocalypse, the final battle between good and evil that would bring the end of the world.

Following the assertions of prominent medieval historian Jay Rubenstein, it is clear that those popular explanations are insufficient to explain why the crusaders left their families and possessions and embarked on the First Crusade.  An additional explanation is required: Crusaders were motivated to go to Jerusalem because they fundamentally believed that their pilgrimage would help spur the prophesied end of time. Being a part of a divine event and helping to bring about the Apocalypse was a far more compelling reason to go on the journey to Jerusalem than many of the other common reasons cited today.

Background on Apocalypticism

Much of the inspiration for the crusaders’ apocalyptic thinking comes from the final book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation. This biblical book, also known as the Apocalypse of John, is famous for its vivid imagery and depiction of the coming End of Times. Although the book is initially introduced as a revelation, the author later presents the book as a prophecy of what is to happen during the Second Coming of Christ.

John of Patmos, author of the Book of Revelation, receiving the prophecies.

John of Patmos, who is attributed with writing the Book of Revelation, receiving the prophecies.

In summary, the Book of Revelation predicts the inevitable end of the world and the culmination of history. The revelation is mediated by a series of otherworldly beings, including the prominent Antichrist, a heavenly elder, and angels. Though the book is concerned with a range of revelations of heavenly secrets, the main focus is that of the unfolding process which will lead to the dawning of a new heaven and a new Earth. The author prophecies a period of intense tribulation, but also a period of 1000 years of godly rule with Christ.

An important theme that arises out of the Book of Revelation is the notion that there are clear distinctions between earthly and heavenly. Additionally, the culminating predicted event is a battle between good and evil, or between the the forces of God on one hand, and the forces of Satan on the other. This idea causes apocalypticism to necessarily be linked with duality. In every apocalyptic battle, there are good and evil sides, and they are distinctly different from each other.

Although early crusaders also relied on prophecies from the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels to frame their Apocalyptic thinking, the primary source of their eschatological obsession was the Book of Revelation. Crusaders grew very concerned with finding the portents of the Apocalypse that John predicted. Additionally, many crusaders believed that if they could bring about some of the prophesied events, they could bring about the Last Days.

Crusaders’ Motivation

When Pope Urban II called the First Crusade in 1095, many Europeans felt inspired to join the Crusade because they believed that the Apocalypse was at hand. Urban was calling for an earthly battle in Jerusalem, and the biblical prophecies had predicted a heavenly battle in Jerusalem. It was impossible to not see the link between the two battles. One motivation for pilgrims joining the First Crusade was that they believed that the Apocalypse was nigh, and they wanted to be in Jerusalem when these events took place (Fordham News). Additionally, some crusaders believed that by going to Jerusalem, they could set in motion the events of Apocalypse.


Image of Pope Urban II calling the crusade at Clermont.

One of the key figures of the First Crusade, Peter the Hermit, amassed thousands of enthusiastic followers throughout Germany and France by preaching about imminent apocalyptic battles against evil and the coming of the Last Days (Dallas News).

Manifestations of the Apocalypse During the First Crusade

Signs of the Apocalypse

During the First Crusade, many crusaders believed that the events they were witnessing were directly linked to the Apocalypse. Current events, in essence, were all understood to be signs of the impending Apocalypse or proofs that the Apocalypse was at hand. An early example of this type of interpretation occurred shortly after Pope Urban called the First Crusade in November 1095. The Book of Matthew records an interaction between Christ and his apostles in which Christ explains what some of the signs of the End of Times will be. Christ says, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give forth its light and the stars will fall from Heaven” (Matt 24:29). Early crusaders swore they saw these signs of the Last Days, such as meteor showers, comets in the sky, and red clouds (Rubenstein, 45). These early crusaders most likely believed that the apocalypse was about to come, as the predicted signs had clearly manifested. Albert of Aachen, a 12th-century historian of the First Crusade, recorded that they were living in the Apocalypse. “Know this well,” Albert of Aachen writes, “The days have come that the Lord promised to Blessed Mary to his apostles, that He would raise up to the kingdom of Christians while casting down and trampling the kingdom of pagans.” The dualistic battle between good and evil as predicted in the Last Days was happening.

This image depicts several of the signs of the Apocalypse that crusaders claim to have seen. For example, it illustrates meteors in the sky and death all around.

This image depicts several of the signs of the Apocalypse that crusaders claim to have seen. For example, it illustrates meteors in the sky and death all around.

A powerful way in which early crusaders further understood the First Crusade in terms of the Apocalypse is found through their application of the Book of Revelation to the First Crusade. For example, Revelation 20 predicts a millennium, or 1000 years, of saintly rule. Consequently, some crusade leaders such as Peter Bartholomew believed that they needed to set up a council of saintly rulers and purge any non-believers. An arguably more important application of the Book of Revelation to the crusades occurred when the crusaders finally took Jerusalem in 1099. According to Revelation 14:20, blood of the enemy was predicted to flow for 200 miles. Famously, Raymond of Aguilers depicted in an account of the sack of Jerusalem, when he said, “Let it suffice to say that in the temple and around the portico of Solomon they were riding in blood to their knees, and up to the reins of their horses” (Rubenstein, 291). As in the Book of Revelation, in Jerusalem, the evil enemy (the Saracens) had been wiped out and the streets of Jerusalem ran with blood.  Moreover, it was hard for the crusaders to ignore the eschatological significance of their retaking of Jerusalem and their establishment of what they believed would be the Last Emperor, which was yet another prophecy.

Rhetoric of Opposites

Another major way in which Apocalyptic thinking influenced the First Crusade is through the language that the crusaders used when describing their opponents, the Saracens. Christian eschatology depicted a clear duality of forces: good vs. evil, or Christ vs. the Antichrist. Since the First Crusaders interpreted the events around them through an apocalyptic lens, they believed that they were fighting the Antichrist, who was manifested in  their Saracen opponents. Consequently, in order to fit the Saracens into their understanding of the apocalypse, Muslims were defined and understood to be the complete opposite of Christians, or as demons. (Rubenstein, 12-14).


In this medieval image, the Antichrist is depicted in typical Muslim fashion. He is shown wearing bright red socks and long pointy shoes, both of which Christians would have found to be questionable pieces of style for that time. This “Islamic fashion” as Jay Rubenstein describes it, originated in Muslim Spain and made its way into France. This depiction of the Antichrist in these clothes shows that crusaders envisioned and expected the Antichrist to be Muslim (Fordham News).

For example, the Benedictine historian and theologian Guibert of Nogent depicted the Saracens as the Antichrist in his early 12th-century account of Pope Urban II’s call for the crusades at the Council of Clermont. Guibert’s use of apocalyptic language when discussing Urban’s call for the crusade is evident throughout his account and his view of the Saracens reflects the way in which many crusaders interpreted their fight; a true struggle between good and evil. He argued that the “head of all evil” was present at the Holy Land, and Christians ought to be in Jerusalem to oppose evil, as “it is clear that Antichrist…will attack Christians”. By Antichrist, he means, of course, the Saracens, but his reference to the Apocalypse in referring to warfare cannot be ignored. (Guibert of Nogent, pg. 35)

Extreme Violence

Painting by Emile Signol, 1847

Painting by Emile Signol, 1847. Depicts the violence of the Crusaders as they recaptured Jerusalem, and the Dome of the Rock can be seen in the background.

The early crusaders further demonstrated how apocalyptic thinking influenced their behavior during the First Crusade through their use of extreme violence. The guide to siege warfare is found in the Bible, specifically in Deuteronomy 20, which clearly delineates how to fight battles and when it is appropriate to pillage a city and its inhabitants. Generally, it is acceptable to seize a city when they refuse your initial offer of peace. (Deut. 20). Although most crusaders seemed to rely on Deuteronomy 20 to justify their behavior during the Crusades, Professor Jay Rubenstein argues, “Had the crusaders ever followed this ethos in their European homeland, their actions would have been viewed as atrocities” (203). In other words, Deut. 20 rationalizes warfare, but the rules of warfare were never upheld in Europe. When the crusaders realized victories at places such as Nicaea, Antioch, and finally Jerusalem, however, they tended to completely siege the cities and pillage the conquered people. Rubenstein argues that “the result was a new level of violence, leading to battles that in scale and character were truly apocalyptic” (203). From the violent pogroms against Jews in the European homeland to the brutal massacres of their enemies in seized cities, the crusaders clearly used an apocalyptic frame of mind to justify their unprecedented violent behavior.


Apocalyptic thinking was not new to the Crusades. Since Jesus’s death and through the first millennium CE, Christians had speculated about when the prophecies would be realized and Christ would return. Most times when Christians tried to explain current events in terms of eschatology, however, they were let down. Signs never manifested, prophecies never came true, and the Last Days never occurred. What was remarkable about the First Crusade is that it seemed to follow the predictions set forth in the Hebrew Bible, the Gospels, and the Book of Revelation relatively faithfully. After all, they did manage to establish what they believed to be the Last Emperor in Jerusalem. Jay Rubenstein summarizes:

“The First Crusade was different. It was an apocalypse for a time that worked. The grandest predictions were fulfilled. Christian armies marched east, they witnessed miracles, they bathed in rivers of blood, and they remade history. The crusade, then, became part of an ongoing apocalypse.” (Armies of Heaven, pg. 319)

Essentially, the First Crusade was incredible in that everything lined up. It made sense for the Crusaders to believe that they were playing a part in the End Times. Raymond of Aguilers’ account of the Crusaders finally entering Jerusalem even mirrors Revelation 14:20 where the streets of Jerusalem were covered in blood up to the horses’ bridles. It seems as though everything fit together and all signs pointed towards the Apocalypse.


Landers, Jim. “Book Review: ‘Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse’ by Jay Rubenstein”” The Dallas Morning News. N.p., 23 Dec. 2011. Web. 

“Apocalypse Then: The First Crusade with Professor Jay Rubenstein of the University of Tennessee.” Video file, 62 mins. Posted by Howard Burton, 2013.

Rubenstein, Jay. Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse. New York: Basic, 2011. Print.

Peters, Edward. “Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont: The Version of Guibert of Nogent.” The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres & Other Source Material. N.p.: U of Pennsylvania, 1998. 33-37. Print.

News, Fordham. “Scholar Views First Crusade as Apocalyptic Moment.” Fordham News. N.p., 18 Nov. 2011. Web.

Bonga, Friso. “11th Century Holy War: Ordo, Chivalry, and Apocalypticism during the First Crusade.” Universiteit Van Amsterdam, Apr. 2012. Web.

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Further Resources

Claster, Jill N. Sacred Violence: The European Crusades to the Middle East, 1095-1396. Toronto: U of Toronto, 2009. Print.

Dunn, James. “Archbishop of Canterbury Warns That ISIS Wants to Bring ‘apocalypse’ to Christianity in Its Birthplace, Labelling the Jihadist Group the ‘Herod of Today'” Daily Mail UK. N.p., 25 Dec. 2015. Web.

Laskey, Mark. “Wretched of the Earth: Peasant Armies, Apocalyptic Prophecies and the Christian Atrocities of the First Crusade.” Cvlt Nation. N.p., 7 Apr. 2015. Web.

Jerusalem in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


With a history that dates back to 4th millennium BC, the ancient city of Jerusalem is one of the oldest continually occupied cities in the world.  Situated in the middle of the Levant, the city has always been a valuable stronghold for the control of the constantly contested Holy Lands. The metropolis held social, military, and most importantly, religious significance ever since King David declared it the capital of the Jewish nation in approximately 1000 BC, providing initial meaning to the first of the world’s three major monotheistic religions. Throughout the following millennium, monumental events taking place within the city provided increasing religious significance to both its initial Jewish inhabitants and later to Christians and Muslims.  As Jerusalem’s significance grew, the city became a mainstay of religious struggle between these three similar yet constantly opposing religions, ultimately becoming a symbol of power amidst a faith-based struggle that has raged from biblical times through today.


Jerusalem is deeply intertwined in the history of Judaism. Its past makes it the holiest of Jewish cities, its spirituality continues to attract Jewry, and even its name remains a symbol of hope for the unification of the Jewish people.

In 588 BC, the Babylonians raided the city, and the Jewish people were exiled from their holiest place for over a millennium. During this period of exile the mystic bond between Jews and Jerusalem was forged on the desire to return to the land of Zion [1]. The Jewish people still build synagogues facing Jerusalem and leave walls unfinished to represent the temporary nature of their homes until they return to Jerusalem. Continuing throughout their exile, the longing for renewal remained strong, as is seen in Jewish prayer and rabbinic writings. To this day, Jews pray towards Jerusalem, expressing the hope that God will deliver Jerusalem back to them. Psalms 137:1-6 exemplifies the Jewish longing for Jerusalem:

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, and we wept, when we remembered Zion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember thee not; if I set not Jerusalem above my chiefest joy”

Yet Jerusalem was not just the center of the religious world for Jews. It represents the intersection of the heavenly kingdom with the earthly domain. The city is often described in Hebrew literature as the center of the universe[2]. According to tradition, all great historical events either took place or will take place in Jerusalem, beginning with the creation of the world, continuing through the building of the great temples, and eventually the coming of the messiah and resurrection of the dead. It is for this reason that many Jews make pilgrimages to Jerusalem with the intent of being buried there. The Mount of Olives, believed to be where the resurrection will occur, is the most sought after burial site in Jerusalem.


Jerusalem was hugely significant to Christians and the practice of Christianity. For the Christians, Jerusalem was equal to God’s presence on earth through his son Jesus Christ. In the year 30 AD, the Romans, under the reign of Emperor Tiberius, tried and convicted Jesus of breaking Roman law[3]. Jesus’s crucifixion and suffering at the hands of the Romans was seen as the abandonment of mankind by God. While Jerusalem was seen as the city abandoned by God, it also became the location of God’s salvation and mercy on earth.

Three days after Jesus’s burial, in what was rebuilt to be the Holy Sepulcher, he rose from death as a human incarnation of God. Jesus died for the remission of mankind’s sins and as a result, through his death, humanity was purified. To Christians, this was the ultimate show of God’s salvation and mercy[4]. The death of Jesus in Jerusalem purified the city, transforming it into a place of sacred innocence, purity and spirituality and Jesus’s resurrection was the ultimate defeat of evil and the devil. The Holy Land, as Jerusalem would be called, was touched by God and where many Crusaders believed one could truly commune with Him.

In addition, Jerusalem was said to house one of the most sacred relics of all time, the Holy Lance. The Holy Lance is the spear that a Roman soldier used to pierce the side of Christ to prove to his comrades that Christ was in fact dead[5]. It was rumored that out of the wound poured blood and water which proved Christ’s divinity. The blood was of man, while the water was of God, consequently the lance was touched by God. For the First Crusader’s, relics were a direct method of communing with saints.  Since this relic was touched by God, however, it was a direct line to God making it the most sacred relic known to mankind.


In Islam, the significance of Jerusalem dates back nearly a century and a half to the nascent stages of the religion and is considered the third holiest site to Muslims.  Jerusalem was the first qilba or direction of prayer.  When the Prophet Muhammad and his followers first lived in Mecca and following his migration (hijra) to Medina in 622 AD, all Muslims prayed facing Jerusalem.  After two years in Medina, Muslims changed the direction in which they prayed, from facing Jerusalem to facing the ka’ba in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam[6]. 

Jerusalem also played a crucial role in Muhammad’s ascension to heaven (miraj) where he encountered God directly.  Muhammad was praying at the ka’ba when the archangel Gabriel visited him to journey together to Jerusalem.  The Qur’an states that this Night Journey (isra) occurred from Mecca to “the furthest place of prayer (masjid al-aqsa)” which most believe to be the al-Aqsa Mosque, next to the Dome of the Rock (Qur’an 17:1)[7].  In the hadith or sayings of Muhammad, Jerusalem is confirmed as the destination of Muhammad’s Night Journey.  On his journey to Jerusalem, Muhammad is said to have met other prophets such as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.  It was from the Temple Mount that Muslims believe that Muhammad ascended to heaven.

As the religion expanded rapidly in the years after Muhammad’s death, so did the importance of Jerusalem.  The Dome of the Rock, situated next to the al-Aqsa Mosque was constructed in the late 7th century.  The Dome of the Rock contains the Foundation Stone, which holds religious importance for Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  These two significant structures are enclosed in an area known as the Haram al-Sharif, the “Noble Sanctuary.”  

Jerusalem holds vast significance in the traditions of each of the world’s three most influential monotheistic religions.  Because of this shared importance, the city has been seemingly constantly contested from each side, from classical times, to the Medieval Crusades, and even up to today’s Israeli-Palestinian conflicts.  During the Second Crusade in the early 12th century, for example, crusaders who would come to be known as the Knights Templar, used the al-Aqsa mosque as headquarters, calling it the Temple of Solomon[8].  Ironically, this ongoing struggle between religions who revere many of the city’s sites for the same reasons, showcases the similar underlying themes shared by the three faiths. The Temple of Solomon, for example, is thought to be the location where Abraham’s sacrifice of his son took place—a monumental event in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Additionally, the three sides often constructed their own holy worship sites on and over those of their adversaries, further demonstrating how the related religions value Jerusalem for parallel reasons.  Ultimately, the inability for the three sides to see these comparisons led to much struggle and strife, and until these similarities can be reasoned with, the capital of the Holy Land will remain a site for the grappling of religious power for years to come.

[1] Moshe  Pearlman , “1-3.” Jerusalem, By Teddy Kollek, N.p.: n.p., n.d. 11.

[2] Nitza Rosovsky . “3.” City of the Great King: Jerusalem from David to the Present. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1996. 60-73. 

[3] Christian Violatti , “Jesus Christ.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, N.p., 26 Nov. 2013. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Illinois: Crossway, 2001.

[5] Herbert Thurston, “The Holy Lance.” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 8, New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 23 Apr. 2016

[6] Michael Cook, Muhammad, Oxford: Oxford University Press,  1983, 23.

[7] Omid Safi,  Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters,  New York: HarperOne, 2002, 169. 

[8] Thomas F Madden,  The Concise History of the Crusades, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999, 46.  




“Jerusalems Religious Significance.” Palestine-Israel Journal. N.p., 2001. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.

Cook, Michael.  Muhammad. Oxford: Oxford University Press,  1983.  Print.  

Madden, Thomas F.  The Concise History of the Crusades.  Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.  

Pearlman, Moshe. “1-3.” Jerusalem. By Teddy Kollek. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 11-52. Print.

Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam. New York: Columbia UP, 2008. Print.

Rosovsky, Nitza. “3.” City of the Great King: Jerusalem from David to the Present. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1996. 60-73. Print.

Safi, Omid.  Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters.  New York: HarperOne, 2002.  Print.  

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Illinois: Crossway, 2001. Print.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF JERUSALEM IN JUDAISM.” The Significance of Jerusalem in Judaism. NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.

Thurston, Herbert. “The Holy Lance.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 23 Apr. 2016 <>

Van Der Crabben, Jan. “Jerusalem.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. N.p., 28 Apr. 2011. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.

Violatti, Christian. “Jesus Christ.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. N.p., 26 Nov. 2013. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.