Friday, May 17, 2013

Schoolwork: Essay on the First Crusade as a Religious Experience
Well, Assassin's Creed 1 is actually the third crusade, but it's Jerusalem and the middle east and a crusade, so close enough thematically. Plus it's a great song by a great musician (Jesper Kyd).

It's essay-posting time!

Today I have my final History essay from my class The Middle Ages. For this essay, I focused on the First Crusade. We were given several essay prompts and allowed to choose which on to write toward. One was about the Investiture Controversy, several were about the letters between Abelard and Heloise, and there was an option to create a question of my own. I picked the last remaining prompt, about Jonathan Riley Smith's argument about the First Crusade being a religious experience rather than a politically motivated one like had been previously suggested. Here is the prompt:
According to Jonathan Riley Smith, how was the First Crusade a religious experience for the Europeans that participated in it? What aspects of the pope’s message appealed to lay people (Chapters 1 & 2), how did the message influence piety and an interpretation of events along the way (Chapter 3), and shape religious thinking as the crusaders reflected on their journey (Chapter 4)? To answer this question, do not offer a chronology of the First Crusade, but instead discuss what you see as important aspects of crusade piety for the knights and regular people who walked to the Holy Land, including their thoughts about pilgrimage, saints and relics, scripture, visions, miracles, martyrdom, and/or divine providence.
Overall, I'm pretty happy with the essay. It's not as superbly in-depth as my Beowulf essay, but 'm still proud of it.

As usual, this is my essay, made available so I can potentially receive feedback and to help others learn what I'm learning myself. I'm no expert, so seriously, none of the would-be paper thieves out there should use or even cite this. Still, I think I learned a lot to be able to write the essay, and hopefully you learn something too!
And if you know something about the subject, let me know if I got something right/wrong, or if you have interesting insights or thoughts about it! Same with folks who know things about writing essays! And I do love hearing when just other regular folks get some education out of my work.

Max Hervieux
The Middle Ages – First Crusade Essay
Word Count: 1947
Late in the year 1095, Pope Urban II appeared before the people of Clermont to preach the idea of a great endeavor. There we announced his intention to organize a host of warriors to trek to the Holy Land and rescue their endangered Eastern Christian brethren, and while there liberate the greatest of earthly relics, the City of Jerusalem, from the Muslims who occupied it. The call was pushed hard, and troops were organized. However, some scholars believed that Pope Urban II had non-religious reasons to go. Many suspected that the Pope was trying to channel the destructive local knights against enemies of the church. However, a modern scholar named Jonathan Riley-Smith presented a case for a religiously-motivated crusade that changed the face of First Crusade research. To the pilgrims on the First Crusade, religion was the driving force, motivating, invigorating, and affecting their behavior throughout their journey.
Urban II planned his pitch for the idea of a Crusade very carefully, crafting it to appeal directly to the audience he wanted to take up the Crusade. Despite the incredible response that the Pope's message created, the idea wasn't quite as revolutionary as one might believe. Ideas about holy war, and war instigated by the papacy, are nothing new1, but Urban's tact was different from earlier war propaganda. For one, the language used in communications was, “in comparison relatively restrained.”2 In fact, the idea of going to war on the authority of Jesus Christ himself “was originally introduced in a conventional, even a muffled, way.”3 The idea of a holy war may have been nothing new, but Urban made a smart move by downplaying the Crusade's significance as an act of war and instead “preached the crusade at Clermont as a pilgrimage and many of the measures he took brought it into line with pilgrimage practices.”4 A quest of religion, rather than an expedition of war, was a somewhat new approach to riling up the lay people, and with the recent resurgence in faith across Europe the call fell on ears eager for action. At the same time, the knightly aristocracy across the continent was embroiled in petty squabbling, with well-armed and well-trained castellans raiding territories before retreating to their keeps. These knights were itching for battle, and the Pope provided an non-Christian outlet for their violence. The Pope was willing to permit such incredible violence despite potential arguments of pacifism based upon the writings of St. Augustine. Augustine is considered the originator of Just War Theory, the idea that violence can be justified, even religiously so. “To Augustine the intentions of those who authorized violence and those who participated in it had to be in favour of justice, which worked through love of God and one's neighbor.”5 In Urban's estimation, the situation in the Middle East, both concerning the recovery of Jerusalem and rescue of the Eastern Christians allowed the Crusade to be considered a just war, and the backing from such an important saint reinforced his decisions with the people. Perhaps the most important idea that Urban infused into his message was the language of indulgences, granting crusaders penance for all their sins. The crusaders “believed that participation in the crusade would 'remit sins' and help save a man's soul.”6 Again, however, Urban's indulgence “was fairly conventional, even a little old-fashioned.”7 And it wasn't unconditional either, requiring that only “whoever for devotion only, not to gain honour or money, goes to Jerusalem to liberate the Church of God can substitute this journey for all penance,”8 The corrupt and greedy were restrained in their benefits, with the Pope only trying to draw in the religiously-minded. Of course, there would be materialists who would come, but it would be “hard to believe that most crusaders were motivated by crude materialism.”9 It's obvious how Urban's message was perfectly crafted to appeal to the community of the day, targeting the rising zeal of the people and setting their sights on the publicly-revered Holy City of Jerusalem.
What the Pope didn't expect was the sheer volume of response he would receive from the common people. Urban had planned for the knightly aristocracy to join the crusade, but wasn't prepared for the lay people to respond with such fervor. It's true that the Christian world was experiencing a surge of enthusiasm, but if Urban's message wasn't tailored for them (and we've now seen how carefully Urban designed his message) then something else must have inspired them to act. Sure enough, several aspects outside of the Pope's control served to stir up the common people. First was “the way nature foretold the liberation of Jerusalem.”10 There were “great earthquakes,” “pestilences,” “famines” and “terrors”11 preceding the Crusaders' outset from Europe. There was an eclipse of the moon “during which it turned red,” described as when for a “short period half the sky turned the colour of blood.”12 Twice more in 1098 the sky turned red, and again in 1099 “another red aurora filled the eastern sky.”13 These portents were seen as signs from God that the Crusaders would take Jerusalem, although some earlier events (such as a meteor shower half a year before the speech at Clermont) only were considered signs of such in hindsight. These signs, to the superstitious Christians, wrapped the Crusade in a “magical penumbra”14, seeming to reveal God's approval and desire for Urban's Crusade. Additionally, the French had been experiencing a severe drought that was several years long.15 The drought had resulted in multiple awful harvests, followed by famines, and the French reacted very well to the idea of leaving on a journey. Fortunately for the people of France, the drought ended in 1096 before the Crusaders had set out in force, but the preparations had already been made and they couldn't back out.
One of the most bizarre reasons that the people responded so well was a wealth of visions that struck people in the wake of papal visits. At the time, a great many people were blessed with grand visions, usually of religious figures. We can't completely rule out divine guidance, but the far more likely cause of the visions was the outbreaks of ergotism that were in the area at the time. Ergotism is “an unpleasant disease that was caused by eating bread made from mouldy rye. Epidemics in France often resulted in mass pilgrimages.”16 The theme of visions, however, continued throughout the entire Crusade. Many people, such as Peter the Hermit, were charismatic individuals who claimed to have experienced visions of the divine in various forms. There was hysteria whipped up by these “demagogue” figures, dragging many people together to join the crusade force.17 The people were also surprisingly obsessive over Jerusalem, and bursts of Millenarianism came up in conversation, but ultimately it's hard to believe “that hysteria affected more than a minority of crusaders.”18 Between the natural world acting up in coincidence with Urban's message and the emergence of powerful demagogues, in addition to the already-noted increase in religious zeal throughout Europe, reveals just how much of an impact religion had as a motivating force for the crusaders.
Even aside from being a motivating force, religion continued to affect the minds of the entire force during the First Crusade. For almost all of the crusaders, religion was very core to their being, and its impact was often incredibly inspiring and invigorating. The natural disasters that happened during both before and during the crusades often drew crusaders to new heights of activity. Before heading out on the journey, many, even the infamous castellans, devoted much material wealth to religious houses, hoping to both renounce the world and to appeal to God for success.19 Before battles they heard sermons and gave confession to cleanse and excite their spirits, and some sermons in particular, such as the large number given on the Mount of Olives (from a variety of individuals, including Arnulf of Chocques and Peter the Hermit).20 The most extraordinary acts of inspiration were driven by the discovery of relics. The acquisition of the Holy Lance (allegedly - many doubters existed21) led the besieged crusaders at Antioch to go on the offensive, and successfully repelled the enemy's forces. So great was the excitement over the Lance that wild rumors began circulating around the crusader encampment about such things as the papal legate personally bearing the Holy Lance or there being no injuries in the vicinity of the Lance, or one about an army of angels and ghosts aiding the knights.22 Along with the Lance, the Crusaders eventually recovered the relic known as the True Cross23, which was carried at the vanguard of each following battle. The very sight of the relic became a source of spiritual invigoration for the warriors, and the role of this and many other relics played a heavy role in the crusaders' lives on the march.24
Another major influence of religion on the crusaders' behavior was to drive them to make spontaneous decisions based on faith. Indeed, often these decisions were dreadfully unwise for the crusaders in a practical sense, but they were convinced they were spiritually justified or even mandated. Countless cases of looting and plundering of local land and towns was sometimes driven by practical needs25, but there were cases where the force made its assaults with their faith as not just justification but reason. Among the most shameful of these acts for the Church was performed before the force even got out of Europe – assaults on native Jewish populations. The crusaders, overcome with zeal, starting lumping in the Jews with their Muslim targets, taking out their anger over the betrayal of Jesus.26 The attacks were perpetrated with the intent to convert the Jews, rather than looting their territory, and the knights were not above using force to incite conversion.27 The later sack of Jerusalem as they breached the walls was terrifying in its brutality, and was driven as much by religious fury at those who they considered to have stolen Jerusalem from them as it was by desperate elation after the hardships of the march. Other faith-based decisions included fasting immediately before combat, to the extent that “one wonders how they managed to fight at all.”28 Faith also motivated actions such as the theft of St. George's arm from its reliquary.29
Religion played an enormous part in the crusaders' attitude and actions from the very beginning of the crusade to the very end. Despite Pope Urban II's precisely-targeted speeches meant to call upon the knighthood, the religious resurgence of Europe, in combination with other incidents beyond his control created a crusading fervor that motivated the soldiers for years of grueling marching and fighting. The entire force was changed by the religious attitude in the air, and many even returned with a brand-new religious frame of mind.30 In the end, religion cannot be ignored as an extremely significant aspect of the crusading psyche.
1Jonathan Riley-Smith, The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986), 16.
3Ibid. p.17
4Ibid. p.22
5Ibid. p.27
6Ibid. p.28
7Ibid. p.29
9Ibid. p.47
10Ibid. p.33
13Ibid. p.34
14Ibid. p.33
15Ibid. p.34
16Ibid. p.35
17Ibid. p.34
18Ibid. p.35
19Ibid. p.36
20Ibid. p.82
21Ibid. p.96
23Ibid. p.98
24Ibid. p.93
25Ibid. p.63
26Ibid. p.50
27Ibid. p.53
28Ibid. p.85
29Ibid. p.94
30Ibid. p.121

There. Hope you enjoyed it!
End Recording,

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