Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Crusaders, Cistercians and Templars

"Go forth confidently then, you knights, and repel the foes of the cross of Christ with a stalwart heart. Know that neither death nor life can separate you from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ, and in every peril repeat, 'Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.' What a glory to return in victory from such a battle! How blessed to die there as a martyr!" - St. Bernard of Clairvaux, In Praise of the New Knighthood.

The White Monks
Monasticism as a form of religious life, usually conducted in a community under a common rule, had been in existence in Britain since the 5th century. When Saint Augustine arrived in Canterbury in 597 AD, he introduced the Benedictine Rule to England. The Rule, written by Benedict of Nursia (c.480–550), considered the founder of Western monasticism, was widely popular for monks living communally under the authority of an abbot and popularly known as the 'black monks' by the colour of the choir robe (cuccula) worn over their habits.

However, by the 12th Century many Benedictines houses were considered to have become lax and no longer strictly followed the Rule of Saint Benedict. As a consequence the Cistercian Order was founded favouring solitude and the building of their monasteries in the remote places such as moors and mountain valleys. Around this time the Augustinian Order was also founded, followed by the Orders of Friars in the 13th Century.

The Cistercian Order, known as the 'white monks' for their undyed woollen habits, derives its name from Cistercium, the Latin name for the village of Cîteaux in eastern France. Here, in 1098, a group of Benedictine monks, under Robert of Molesme, founded Cîteaux Abbey with the focus on a return to literal observance of the Benedictine Rule.

In the early 1110s a young Burgundinian nobleman named Bernard, with 30 or so companions, entered the monastery at Citeaux. Bernard was to become one of the most admired and influential churchmen of his age and instrumental in the rapid proliferation of the Order. Three years later he left Citeaux and established an Abbey after Hugh, Count of Champagne, gifted a wild tract of land to the Order, in the Vallée d’Absinthe in the Diocese of Langres, some forty miles east of Troyes. Bernard cleared land here and named the abbey Clairvaux, meaning 'Valley of Light'.

Rievaulx Abbey
The first Cistercian Abbey in England was established in 1128 at Waverley on the River Wey in West Surrey by 12 monks from France.  In 1132 the first Cistercian house in northern England was established by twelve monks sent out from Clairvaux who founded Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire. In the same year 13 monks who were expelled from the Benedictine house of St Mary's Abbey, in York, after attempting to return to the Rule of St Benedict, established the second Cistercian house in the north at Fountains Abbey in 1135. At its peak there were over 50 Cistercian Abbeys in England, most of these were dissolved by Henry VIII in the 1530's. Today there are just three active Cistercian houses in Britain.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre 
The Greek historian of Christianity Eusebius of Caesarea records in his 'Life of Constantine' that in the 2nd century AD in the Old City of Jerusalem the Roman Emperor Hadrian had a temple dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite deliberately built over the rock-cut tomb of Jesus. Around 326 Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, the first Christian Emperor, ordered the pagan temple be destroyed and a Christian church to be built in its place. It is here that Helena is said to have rediscovered the "True Cross". The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was constructed as two connected churches over the two most important sites in the Christian religion; Cavalry, the site of the crucifixion, and the site of Jesus's empty tomb.

The Church suffered badly from damage by fires and earthquakes over the ages, yet early Muslim rulers, such as the Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab, protected the city's Christian sites after Jerusalem's submission following the siege of 636-7. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre remained a Christian church, and when Umar visited the Church he is said to have stopped there a short while to pray.

However, in 1009 the most important site in Christianity was razed to the ground when the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered the complete destruction of The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in his intent to remove all Christian places of worship from the Holy Land. Reaction in Europe led to expulsions of Jews from many French towns. In 1027–8 the Fatimids and the Byzantine Empire reached an agreement in which the new Caliph Ali az-Zahir (Al-Hakim's son) allowed the Church to be rebuilt. The rebuilding was complete by 1048 with the Church site consisting of a court of resurrection with five small chapels attached to it, commemorating scenes from the Passion.

Yet, pilgrims arriving in Jerusalem during the 11th century reported finding much of the sacred site in ruins as control of Jerusalem continued to change hands  between the Fatimids and the Seljuk Turks. Christians had been making pilgrimages to the Holy Land since the 6th century to witness the birthplace of their religion but when the Seljuk Turks took control of Jerusalem Christians were barred from the Holy City. Loss of access to the most important site in Christianity was unacceptable to the Latin West.

The First Crusade
History insists that Pope Urban's motive in calling for the First Crusade was in response to the appeal of Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos to the threat of Seljuk Turkish invasion of Asia Minor. However, there can be little doubt that the fate of The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was of major concern, if not openly declared as the ultimate goal of the First Crusade.

Migrating tribes of Seljuk Turks began arriving from the East in the late-10th century and by 1055 they had taken Baghdad. In 1071 they defeated the Byzantine army at Manzikert in eastern  Anatolia which opened the whole of Asia Minor to conquest by the Turks, threatening the capital city of Constantinople. The same year the Turks also went south, taking territory in northern Syria from the Byzantines and Jerusalem from the Fatimids.

In 1074 the Byzantine Emperor Michael VII sent a request to Pope Gregory VII for military assistance, in desperation, willing to overlook the differences between the Latin and Orthodox churches that resulted in the Great Schism of 1054. However, Gregory did not feel it was the right time to send a crusade to fight in the east, although the papacy had approved the crusade in Spain eleven years earlier.

The Seljuk Turks westward advance continued and by 1076 they had taken Damascus from the Fatimids. In the same year, after the Fatimids had retaken Jerusalem, the entire Muslim population and a large number of Jews in the city were massacred by the Turks. Christians were spared from slaughter but expelled from the city. Clearly Anatolia and the Middle East was not a safe place for pilgrims venturing to the Holy Christian sites.

The Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus had recovered land along the Black Sea coast and around the shores of the Sea of Marmara during the 1080's, now made a special appeal to Pope Urban II asking for mercenaries from the West.

On 27 November 1095, at the Council of Clermont, in France, at which several hundred clerics and noblemen gathered, Urban delivered a rousing speech summoning the people to embark on a righteous war and go to the aid of their fellow Christians in the East and take back Jerusalem, preserve the holy sites from desecration and to ensure continued freedom for pilgrims to journey to them.

Four main crusader armies, estimated at around 30,000 Christian warriors, left Europe in August 1096. After taking Edessa and Antioch on the way, they marched along the Mediterranean coast reaching Jerusalem in early June 1099. Following the siege of Jerusalem a massacre ensued as the knights of the First Crusade entered the holy city, taking The Church of the Holy Sepulchre from the Fatimids on 15 July 1099. In the aftermath Godfrey of Bouillon was established as the new King of Jerusalem and, significantly, as Protector of The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The First Crusade had been a remarkable success, even if eyewitness accounts of the bloodbath appear to demolish claims by historians of exaggeration in the scale of the slaughter. Failure would almost certainly have resulted in no hope of any further crusades, but the First Crusade proved that Latin armies could venture into foreign lands and take back control of Christian sites. It is often said that Pope Urban II died in 1099 after receiving news of the conquest of Jerusalem in July 1099, but he died two weeks before news of the Christian victory was received in Europe.

The call for the First Crusade has been interpreted as Urban's attempt to reunite the churches of Rome and Constantinople, however there is little evidence from his own writings to support this.  Historians argue that there was no immediate threat from the Islamic world with Islam and Christendom coexisting in relative stability for centuries.

The concept “to crusade” is rooted deeply in the theology of Medieval Roman Catholicism of Western Europe and has been the subject of much debate. The concept of the “crusade” was to engage in a war which was both holy and penitential; a war believed to be waged on God's behalf and from the belief that acts of penance could be performed because it was authorised by the Pope as the Vicar of Christ.

The First Crusade (1095–1099) was the first of seven major military campaigns fought over the next two centuries and succeeded in establishing the “crusader states” of Edessa, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Tripoli, easing Seljuk Turk pressure on the Byzantine Empire. Yet from Egypt to Syria there were calls for the expulsion of the crusaders; the war for the Holy Land had only just begun.

The Crusader States in Outremer

Soldiers of Christ
The Historian's view is that The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ (the first name of the Templars) had been born from the need to provide protection to pilgrims en route to Jerusalem in the aftermath of the First Crusade. However, gaps in the Templars history has led to a multitude of conspiracy theories with claims that they were a secret society holding a secret agenda for staying on in Jerusalem.

However, we do know that after Jerusalem had fallen to the crusaders in July 1099 a small group of Latin soldiers stayed on and began to follow a religious way of life in The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a place of worship built on the site of Christ's empty tomb. The group led by Hugues de Payens, from Champagne, and Godfrey of Saint-Omer proposed to Baldwin II, the Patriach of Jerusalem, that they should form a lay community for the salvation of their souls.

Christian pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem to visit the Holy Sepulchre frequently came under attack from bands of Muslims. Baldwin II was well aware of the dangers facing travellers to the holy city and persuaded de Payens and his companions that they should save their souls by protecting these pilgrims. The Latin soldiers decided that the New Kingdom of Jerusalem needed arms more than monks and subsequently formed a military-religious Order vowing to protect pilgrims on their journeys to Christian sites in the Holy Land. Christmas that year de Payens and his companions took vows in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to protect pilgrims, and the order of The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ was born. The risk to pilgrims was underlined at Easter 1119 when 300 Christian pilgrims were slaughtered on the road to River Jordan.

In 1120 The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ received approval at the Church Council at Nablus and Baldwin II granted them his palace in the former al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. As this building was known as The Temple of Solomon the group became known as “The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon” with its members known simply as “Templars”. The new Order now seeked approval from the Pope; this was to come at the Council of Troyes in 1129.

The Templars were not only to give protection to pilgrims but also defended the new crusader states in Outremer ('the land overseas'). By the time of the Second Crusade their military power had grown to such an extent that they were instrumental in directing the military campaign.

In 1125 Hugh, Count of Champagne, embarked for a third time to the Holy Land, joining the Knights Templar which then barely comprised of more than a dozen knights or so, with their first Grand Master (magister militum Templi) Hugues de Payens who had accompanied him as vassal in Jerusalem 1114-16. With Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, de Payens created the Latin Rule, the code of behaviour for the Order of the Knights Templar. In 1129 at the Council of Troyes, convened by Pope Honorius II, Bernard of Clairvaux obtained official recognition and approval for the Order of the Knights Templar, seen as a defining moment in the origin of the movement. The Templars now answered directly to the Pope.

In the early 1130's Bernard of Clairvaux, realising the crusades needed fighting men not wailing monks wrote “In Praise of the New Knighthood”. After all Bernard had a vested interest in the Order as his maternal uncle Andre de Montbard was one of the founding members.

The Second Crusade
When the first crusader state of Edessa fell to the Selijuk Turks in 1145 Pope Eugene III (1145-53) wrote to  to King Louis VII of France (1137-80) calling for a Second Crusade to recover the territory. It seems Louis was already minded to go to the Holy Land, but his barons did not share his ambitions. Louis called on Bernard Abbot of Clairvaux, considered the greatest spiritual authority of the time, for support. On 31st March 1146 Bernard preached to a large crowd in a field at Vézelay, in Burgundy, with King Louis VII present. Unlike the First Crusade, the new venture attracted much nobility; inspired by Bernard's speech thousands took the cross and enthusiasm for the crusade soon spread across Europe.

Odo of Deuil, a witness to Bernard's stirring speech at Vézelay recorded that, “[Bernard] mounted the platform accompanied by the king, who was wearing the cross, and when heaven's instrument poured forth the dew of the divine word, as he was wont, with loud outcry people on every side began to demand crosses. And when he had sowed, rather than distributed, the parcel of crosses which had been prepared beforehand, he was forced to tear his own garments into crosses and sow them abroad.”

The choice of  Vézelay was no accident: it stood at the beginning of one of the four major pilgrimage routes through France to Santiago de Compostela, the shrine of St James in north-western Spain; around 1050 the monks of Vézelay claimed to be in possession of relics of Mary Magdalene. The potent spirituality of the place clearly held great significance. In 1166, while in exile, Thomas Becket had delivered his Whitsunday sermon at Vézelay announcing the excommunication of the main supporters of his English King, Henry II, and in 1190 Richard I of England (The Lionheart) spent several months at Vézelay Abbey before departing for the Third Crusade.

A few months later in the summer of 1146 Bernard went to Germany to bring a halt to the anti-Jewish pogroms of Radulf, a fellow Cistercian. While there he also persuaded the German emperor, Conrad III (1138-52), to join the crusade. No reigning monarch had previously taken the cross but now, in a matter of months, Bernard had recruited two.

Following Bernard's call the Crusaders would embark on a Holy War from all corners of Western Christendom and journey by sea or land from the tip of England, down through France and Italy, crossing to Greece and Constantinople on course for the Holy Land. In the end the overall objective of the Second Crusade (1145-49) was to free Iberia from Muslim control and defeat pagans in north-eastern Europe in addition to the recovery of Edessa (Urfa).

On his election as the Third Grand Master one of Everard des Barres first tasks was to convene a meeting of the General Chapter of the Templars in Paris in April 1147 to discuss plans for the Second Crusade. King Louis VII, Pope Eugene III, several Archbishops and around 130 Templar knights gathered at the European headquarters of the Templars, the Paris Temple. It was around this time that Pope Eugene authorised the use of the Red Cross on the Templar uniform; the Templar Knights wore a white mantle over their chain mail, as the Cistercians had worn a white choir robe over their monk's habits.

This can leave little doubt that the Templars were the driving force behind this crusade from the very beginning. Indeed, Everard de Barres had gone ahead of the crusade to Constantinople to negotiate the passage of the French and German Latin armies with the Byzantine Emperor, Manuel I Comnenus.

In mid-May 1147 Conrad III and his German army departed for the Holy Land. The French contingent under Louis VII and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, left a month later in mid-June. Conrad arrived in Constantinople in September, followed by Louis in early October. Conrad and his army then left Constantinople without waiting for Louis, only to have his main force destroyed by the Turks at Dorylaeum.

Louis opted for a more westerly route toward Attalia, but while passing through the passes of Pisidia in the Cadmus Mountains, his army suffered badly in the harsh winter conditions and he incurred heavy losses to the Seljuk Turks. Louis's army was on the verge of breaking up and he had little choice but to surrender control of the French Latin forces to The Master Templar Everard de Barres who divided the force into units, each under command of a Templar, and arrived safely at Attalia on the Mediterranean. Louis intended to take his main force to Antioch by sea, but there were so few Byzantine ships that he had to abandon the infantry, most of whom perished as they marched overland through Seljuk territory.

Arriving at Antioch in March 1148 Louis took what was left of his forces directly along the coast to Jerusalem instead of Edessa, the recovery of which had been the catalyst for the crusade. Now without any financial resources, Louis sent a request to the Templars for a loan of 2,000 marks. Everard des Barres set off to Acre to amass the funds. This loan was the first recorded financial deal made by the Templars who were to become bankers for the nobility of Europe.

Conrad, who had returned to Constantinople after being taken ill, finally arrived at Acre by sea with the remnants of his army. On 24 June 1148 both he and Louis met with Baldwin III, the king of Jerusalem (1143-63), and the Templars to plan strategy at the Council of Acre. King Baldwin and the Templars preferred target was Damascus because of its Christian history. Everard des Barres led his Templar knights along with the Latin forces on an unsuccessful siege of Damascus between 24 July and 29 July 1148. The siege ended in a humiliating defeat which led to the disintegration of the Crusade. Opinion differs as to whether the crusaders were beaten by the harsh desert conditions with no shade or water outside the thick walls of Damascus, or that many turned away on hearing that King Baldwin had promised to hand the city over to the Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders.

The Second Crusade failed in its primary objective, the recovery of Edessa, and failed to make any significant impact in the Holy Land with the unsuccessful siege of Damascus. The only positive results were in Iberia with the recovery of Lisbon and Almeria in 1147, and in Tortosa in which 400 years of Muslim rule came to an end when the Count of Barcelona took the city in December 1148 with the aid of crusaders returning from the East.

Andre de Montbard, now the Templar Seneschal, remained in Jerusalem after the Crusade. He despatched several letters to the Grand Master Everard des Barres requesting his return to Jerusalem with financial and military reinforcements. However, a reply was never received as des Barres had decided to give up his position as Grand Master, officially abdicating in April 1151, and becoming a Cistercian monk at Clairvaux Abbey where he died on 12 November 1174. In 1156 de Montbard gave up his role as the fifth Grand Master (1153–1156) of the Order and followed des Barres into retirement at Clairvaux, demonstrating the closeness between the two Orders.

Blame for the failure of the Second Crusade was placed firmly with the papacy who had inspired the crusade, but had done little to organize or coordinate it; yet historians tend to agree that the root cause of the failure was due to Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany being poor and inexperienced commanders who did not cooperate in their battle tactics.

Bernard's Apologia
After the failure of the Second Crusade Bernard felt compelled to issue an apology to the Pope in which he blamed the sins of the crusaders as the cause of their misfortune and failures. Consequently this was to be the last Crusade in which the armies were accompanied by large groups of pilgrims and other non-combatants; from now on the Crusades were to become more strictly military expeditions, with military objectives.

Bernard died on 20 August 1153, aged 63; Canonised twenty years later by Pope Alexander III in 1174; he was the first Cistercian monk to be named a Saint. By the end of the 12th century, the Order of the Cistercians had spread throughout Western Europe, supplanting the  Cluniac Order as the most influential and powerful Monastic Order. Such was the influence of Bernard of Clairvaux that he was regarded by many as the true founder of the Cistercians, who have often been called Bernardines. Bernard was buried at Clairvaux Abbey. When the abbey was dissolved by the French revolutionary government St Bernard's remains were transferred to Troyes Cathedral.

Significantly, the first Grail romance, Perceval, the Story of the Grail, written between 1181 and 1190, by the poet Chrétien of Troyes, is dedicated to Philip, Count of Flanders. Philip of Alsace, Count of Flanders from (1168 to 1191), was also buried at Clairvaux Abbey. Philip had succeeded his father Thierry of Alsace, who was frequently away on crusade. Thierry participated in four pilgrimages to the Holy Land, including the Second Crusade. Tradition claims thar Thierry returned to his capital Bruges on 7th April, 1150, with the relic of the “Precious Blood” a cloth that Joseph of Arimathea had used to wipe blood from the body of Christ after the Crucifixion. The Basilica of the Holy Blood was built under the direction of the Count of Flanders to house the venerated relic of the Holy Blood.

Chrétien left his story of the Grail unfinished, perhaps purposefully, and never fully developed the objects of his 'graal procession'; opinion tends to agree that if he had finished his Story of the Grail then he would have described the items of the Grail Procession as relics of the Passion; Chrétien hints as much in writing that 'un graal' ('a grail': a serving platter) contained a single mass wafer that sustained the Fisher King.

Certainly the Grail stories following Chrétien feature relics of Christ's Passion as the items of the Grail  Procession. Following Chrétien, a Bavarian knight and poet known as Wolfram von Eschenbach (c.1170-1220) wrote a version of the Grail story entitled “Parzival”. In the Parzival, Wolfram refers to the Order of Graal Knights as “Templeisen” which is usually interpreted as a reference to the Knights Templar.

The Order of the Knights Templar was formed to defend pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land, but their history is not exactly overflowing with examples of the Templars salvation of Christian travellers. Instead, it records many massacres and much bloodshed in their conquests, massive financial and military power; the gaps filled in by theories of arcane practices and covert agendas. And underneath all this lies the story of the Holy Grail, inescapably tied to the Templars.

Copyright © 2016 Edward Watson

Edited 03/09/16

Thomas Ashbridge, The Crusades: The War for the Holy Land, Simon & Schuster, 2012.
Thomas Ashbridge, The First Crusade: A New History, Simon & Schuster, 2005.
Malcolm Barber, The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple, Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Barbara Frale, The Templars: The Secret History Revealed, Maverick House, 2009.
John France, The Second Crusade: War, Cruel And Unremitting, pp.60-63, in Thomas F. Madden, editor, Crusades: The Illustrated History, Duncan Baird Publishers 2004.
Michael Haag, Templars: History and Myth: From Solomon's Temple to the Freemasons, Profile Books, 2009.
Helen Nicholson, A Brief History of the Knights Templar, Robinson, 2000.
Jonathan Phillips, Martin Hoch, editors, The Second Crusade: Scope and Consequences, Manchester University Press, 2001.
Jonathan Riley-Smith, The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading, 2nd Revised Edition, Continuum, 2009.
Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Atlas of the Crusades, Times Books, 1991.
Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades: Volume 1 - The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Penguin, 1991
Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades: Volume 2 - The Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Frankish East 1100-1187, Penguin, 1990.
Conrad Greenia, trans. In Praise of the New Knighthood (Liber ad milites Templi: De laude novae militae), St. Bernard of Clairvaux, from Bernard of Clairvaux: Treatises Three, Cistercian Fathers Series, Number Nineteen, © Cistercian Publications, 1977, pages 127-145.

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