An open letter on the present day refugee situation posted on the website

On the OSMTH-org website the following message on the refugee situation was posted:

"1 September 2015, Jerusalem

Dear leaders of the world and people of good conscience,

I write to you from Jerusalem to address the very serious refugee situation affecting countries across the Middle East and now Europe. I myself am a refugee, as well as a bishop. Both my faith and my history oblige me to speak up for these women, men, and children who are washing up on beaches, are found decomposing in trucks on the highway, are crossing borders of barbed wire, and are barely surviving in makeshift camps. The last weeks have seen not only an increase in the numbers of these refugees, but also an increase in tragic outcomes for many. This is a shameful situation, and one which the international community cannot ignore. It must be remembered that refugees are not vacationers. They did not leave their homes because they were looking for adventure. They are displaced as a result of poverty, violence, terror, and political conflict. Frustration and fear lead them to risk their lives and their life-savings in search of safe havens where they can live and raise families in peace. We must remember that these are not “waves” or “masses” or “hordes”—these are human beings who deserve dignity and respect. As a refugee and as Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, I have two messages for world leaders:
  1. I believe it is the responsibility of the world community, including the European Union, to have a clear policy to accept the stranger among us. “Welcoming the Stranger,” a set of affirmations from faith leaders developed in collaboration with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, is a good place to begin and a good model to follow. Most major religious traditions in the world advocate welcoming the stranger, showing hospitality to all. In Matthew 25 Jesus says the nations of the world will be judged by how they treat the poor, the hungry, the immigrant: “‘And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”
  2. All political leaders are responsible for this current refugee crisis, either directly or indirectly. This is the result of a global system, not merely a local crisis. The international community has not helped solve the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, including the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Economic and political interests have taken priority over peacemaking and dialogue. Our region has become so chaotic that it opens the door to extremists and terrorists; our people are becoming desperate. The Middle East needs justice and peace, not only to end the flow of refugees, but so that displaced people can return to their homes in dignity, and live in free democratic states. My words may be strong. They may be direct. But this humanitarian crisis requires even stronger actions. These people, our brothers and sisters, are crying: “Who will welcome us? Where is justice?” God hears the cries of the poor, the oppressed, and the refugee. I pray that soon, political leaders and policy makers in the Global North will also hear their cries. This will begin when leaders approach refugee communities not merely as problems to be solved, but as fellow children of God deserving accompaniment, dignity, and human rights.
For this reason, I urge all world leaders and people of good conscience to act quickly, for the sake of the humanity we share.

Bishop Dr. Munib Younan
Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land"

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Christian worship in the 13th and 14th century Muslim Holy Land

The expulsion of the Crusaders from the Holy Land in 1291 did not end Arab relations with Western European Christians. Western monks, most notably the Franciscans, continued to live among the Muslims in the Holy Land. The nature of the relations of the Franciscans with the Mamluks serves as an interesting counterpoint to earlier Arab views on the Military Orders.

Franciscan tradition maintains that in 1219 St Francis himself obtained permission from the Sultan Al-Salih Isma'il (1245-1249) for the Franciscans to be allowed to worship unmolested in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Franciscans are also said to have been used by the Sultan as ambassadors to Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254). Throughout the late thirteenth century, as the Mamluks were driving the Crusaders from the Holy Land, Franciscans apparently remained on relatively good terms with the Arabs and were afforded special treatment by the Sultans.

After the fall of Acre in 1291, Pope Nicholas IV (1288-1292), a Franciscan, begged permission from the Sultan al-Ashaf for Latin monks to be allowed to remain in Jerusalem. The Sultan granted this request of the Pope and bade him send some clergy, monks, and men of peace to Jerusalem. So the Pope chose some discreet, learned, and faithful friars from his own order. With the help of a judicious payment in 1300 of 32.000 ducats from Rupert of Sicily, the Franciscans were given the Cenacle (also known as the upper room) on Mount Zion as their headquarters, as well as chapels in other Holy places in Jerusalem. This presence of the Franciscans in Jerusalem was thus permitted by the Mamluks before it was officially authorized by pope Clement VI in 1342, when he established the Franciscans as "Caretakers of the Holy Land (Terrae Sanctae Custodis), a position they still maintain.

Thus, within a few decades of the fall of the Crusader kingdom and the expulsion of the Military Orders, the Mamluks were permitting Western monks to visit, worship and remain in the Holy Land. But of course, the Templars and Hospitallers were not included in this new policy of toleration. Arab opposition to the Military Orders was thus clearly not simply antagonism towards Christianity or monasticism. Rather, their fourteenth century patronage of the Franciscans, described as "men of peace", perhaps in specific distinction to the military functions of the Templars and  Hospitallers,indicates that the Arabs were willing to accommodate peaceful Western monastic activities in the Holy Land. (....)

In light of the preceding two centuries of invasions and warfare and the Mamluk fear of a possible renewal of crusades in the early fourteenth century, the overall Mamluk policy toward a continued western monastic presence in the Holy Land was remarkably enlightened. Some contemporaneous European policies showed much less tolerance towards Jews and Muslims in Spain and other parts of Europe.

This blog draws freely on the paper "Muslim perspectives on the military orders during the crusades" by William J. Hamblin, published in BYU Studies. Illustration Mount Zion, Jerusalem (source)

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Changing Templar significance in Muslim eyes in the 12th century Holy Land

During the early phases of Nur al-Din's and Saladin's rise to power, the Military Orders were apparently not viewed as a special threat. In the latter half of the twelfth century Arab sources recognize the military orders as distinct groups among the Franks.

These sources demonstrate some understanding of the internal organization of the Military Orders. They correctly note that the warrior monks are called "brothers" (Latin fratres = Arabic ikhwa), live in a monastic house (Latin domus = Arabic bayt), and have a special relationship with the pope. But the Orders are not perceived differently than other Frankish soldiers and nobles.

The nature of Arab views of the orders during this period is reflected in the treatment of captive knights,  which can be contrasted with Saladin's later treatment of the knights of the Orders after the battle of Hattin (July 1187) (...). On June 18, 1157, the Grand Master of the Templars Bertrand of Blanchefort was captured by Nur al-Din, along with eightyseven knights near Banyas. He and his knights were held to ransom like any other Frankish warriors and were released in May 1159 through intervention of Manuel, emperor of Byzantium. Two decades later in 1179, the situation was still much the same. (....) For this study it is important to note that in 1179, a mere eight years before the battle of Hattin, Saladin was still willing to release the Templar Grand Master for an appropriate ransom.

In the later decade of Saladin's life, the countercrusade accelerated rapidly, with Saladin escalating his jihad and triumphing against the Crusaders. By the 1180s the Orders were increasingly viewed as a serious threat to Islam for three reasons: their military prowess, their intransigence in making peace and their spiritual pollution of Muslim holy places, specifically Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock

This blog draws freely on the paper "Muslim perspectives on the military orders during the crusades" by William J. Hamblin, published in BYU Studies.Illustration Battle of Hattin (source)

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Spiritual devotion, the greatest threat of the Knights Templar

The muslim perspective of the intransigence of the Military Orders is best reflected in the writings of Abu al-Hasan Ali bin Abi Bakr al-Harawi (ca 1145-1215), a courtier, military theorist, and propagandist in the service of Saladin.

A noted scholar and traveler, al-Harawi seems to have served as a type of secret agent for Saladin. As a part of ongoing military reforms, Saladin ordered the preparation of at least three manuals on statecraft and warfare, one of which was written by al-Harawi, entitled al-Harawi's Discussion on the Strategems of War.

Al-Harawis's manual offers some interesting insights into Muslim prejudices concerning the Crusaders. In describing the Latin clergy, Al-Harawi wrote:
[The Sultan] should not neglect to write to the clergy [concerning surrender] .... For they have little religious sentiment and are capable of treachery and disloyalty. They desire the things of this world and are indifferent to the things of the next. [They are] irresponsible, thoughtless, petty,  and covetuous, .... being concerned with rank and status among kings and nobles. [They] have a permissive religious judgment regarding their own [actions].
 On the other hand, al-Harawi's view on the Hospitallers and Templars is quite different:
[The Sultan] should beware of the [Hospitaller and Templar] monks, .... for he can not achieve his goals through them. For they have great fervor in religion, paying no attention to the [things of this] world. He can not prevent them from interfering in [political] affairs. I have investigated them extensively and have found nothing which contradicts this.
In other words, the Military Orders were a threat not only because of their military strength but because of their absolute spiritual devotion to their cause as well. And that devotion, when it entailed the destruction of Islam, represented an unacceptable threat to Muslims in the age of Saladin.

This blog draws freely on the paper "Muslim perspectives on the military orders during the crusades" by William J. Hamblin, published in BYU Studies. Illustration Saladin (source)

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Christian monastic presence and influence in the pre-crusade Muslim world

monastery of Dair Abu Maqar (source)
Since the earliest days of Islam, monasticism was a protected institution of a protected religious minority. This protected status of Christianity and monasticism in early Islamic society is emphasized by the important roles some Christians played under islamic rule.

Under the Caliphs the literary and scholarly skills of Christian monks were highly prized, with many monks serving as clerks and even
high ministers. The most famous is perhaps the great defender of icons John of Damascus (655-750), who was originally a prominent minister for the Umayyads at Damascus before taking orders and retiring to Mar Saba near Bethlehem, where his cell is still exhibited to visitors. Christians such as Hunayn ibn Ishaq (Johannitius) were the leaders of the famous translation academy Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom) at Baghdad in the ninth century

Somewhat paradoxically, Coptic monasticism in Egypt flourished under Islam and may have reached its height in the tenth century. This was because under earlier Byzantine rule, Coptic monasticism was suppressed as heretical, whereas it was tolerated by the Muslims. Although there were certainly attacks against monks and monasteries by Arabs, these tended to be incidents of brigandage or extortion by corrupt officials rather than formal government policy. Throughout the Middle Ages, relations between the Egyptian government and the Coptic monks generally remained good. For example, the late thirteenth century Egyptian Mamluk sultan Bbaybars 1 (noted for his pursuit of Jihad or holy war against the crusaders) was a guest of the monks at a monastery of Dair Abu Maqar (Saint Macarius) while traveling in Wadi Habib.

Thus, despite minority status and intermittent persecutions, Orthodox, Syriac, Coptic and Nestorian monasticism all survived in Islamic lands up to the period of the crusades. Based on the Qur'an, the traditional islamic interpretation was that monasticism was a well intentioned human institution whose advocates did not always live up to its principles. It was not, however, revealed by God. This was the prevailing Arab attitude towards monasticism at the beginning of the crusades

This blog draws freely on the paper "Muslim perspectives on the military orders during the crusades" by William J. Hamblin, published in BYU Studies.

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The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Templar predecessor?

Recently, I stumbled on the following article on Wikipedia, regarding the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. This blog quotes freely from this article.

"The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (Latin: Ordo Equestris Sancti Sepulcri Hierosolymitani, OESSH), also known as the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, is a Roman Catholic papal order of knighthood, which was founded as the Order of Canons of the Holy Sepulchre. It traces its roots to Duke Godfrey of Bouillon, "Advocate of the Holy Sepulchre", leader of the First Crusade and first ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.[1] It was recognised in 1113 by a Papal Bull by Pope Paschal II.[2]

The order’s early members included not only the Regular Canons (Fratres) but also the Secular Canons (Confratres) and the Sergentes. The latter were armed knights chosen from the crusader troops for their qualities of valour and dedication; they vowed to obey Augustinian Rule of poverty and obedience and undertook specifically to defend the Holy Sepulchre and the holy places, under the command of the King of Jerusalem.

After the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the right to create new Knights was the prerogative of the representative of the highest Catholic authority in the Holy Land: the Fransiscan Custos of the Holy Land.

In 1496, Pope Alexander VI ordained that the office of Grand Master would be vested in the papacy. In 1847, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem was re-established by Pope Pius IX and the order was reorginised. From 1949, Cardinals have been Grand Masters and the Pope remains Sovereign of the order, which thus enjoys the protection of the Holy See. Its headquarters is at Palazzo Della Rovere in Rome, close to the Vatican City.[3]

Pilgrimages to the Holy Land were a common if dangerous practice from shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus to throughout the Middle Ages. Numerous detailed commentaries have survived as evidence of this early Christian devotion. While there were many places the pious visited during their travels, the one most cherished was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, first constructed by Constantine the Great in the 4th century AD.

Tradition maintains that long before the Crusades, a form of knighthood was bestowed upon worthy men at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The history of the chivalric Order of the Holy Sepulchre runs common and parallel to that of the religious Canons Regular of the Holy Sepulchre, the Order continuing after the Canons Regular ceased to exist at the end of the 15th century."

The date of establishement of this order and the information in several sources that suggest that the knights that were later to found the Order of the Knights Templar were in a way related to the canons (or may well have been, at a time, canons themselves), suggests that this order may have been the predecessor of the Templar Order. A predecessor that, it seems, continued to exists, uninterrupted, for nine centuries now.

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The Knights Templar in Arab sources of the 12th century

In the period 1118-1156, the Military Orders played a relatively minor role in the Holy Land. In fact, they are not well documented even in Latin sources. Among the Arabs their existence went completely unnoticed. In 1157 the rising importance of the Orders began to attract the attention of Muslim writers. The first surviving mention of the Orders is found in Ibn al-Qalanisi's History of Damascus, which mentions the participation of both the Hospitallers and Templars in the battle of Banyas in 1157.

Here we also find the first use of the Arabic technical terms for Templars and Hospitallers. The latter were called simply the isbitariyya, a straightforward arabized form of the Latin word hospitalis, which means a place of lodging for wayfarers. The arab term for Templars, however, is the somewhat obscure dawiyya, whose origin and meaning is unknown but which is thought to perhaps have derived from the Latin devotus, one devoted to God's service.

Most Arab texts from 1157 to 1180 simply mention the Orders as Frankish military units participating in a conflict or owning a castle, without giving them any particular attention. A very revealing tale however comes from Usamah ibn-Munqidh, a Syrian nobleman and lord of Shayzar Castle. He wrote a delightfully garrulous anecdotal biography in which he describes an encounter with the Templar Knights at the Arab alAqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, summarized here..

There are a number of interesting aspects to this story. For one thing, it seems the Templars allowed Muslims to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, after it had been converted into a Christian religious complex. Somewhat paradoxically from the modern perspective, for Usamah the Knights Templar are examples of moderate toleration, the voice of reason when compared to the uncomprehending pilgrim from the West. At any rate, Uusamah certainly had no animosity towards the Templars whom he calls his friends. All of this was to change with the rise of the two great counter-crusading Sultans Nur al-Din of Syria (ruled 1146-1174) and Saladin of Egypt and Syria (ruled 1171-1193).

This blog draws freely on the paper "Muslim perspectives on the military orders during the crusades" by William J. Hamblin, published in BYU Studies. Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem, source Wikimedia Commons

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Lessons in Crusader cuisine

"The “window” of the Apollonia Fortress’ (Israel)  dungeon affords a view of the kind of Mediterranean scene that is fast disappearing: gravel cliffs sloping sharply down to turquoise and pale green inlets, grouper fish darting around a reef, clearly visible in the transparent water, and one man sunbathing on the rocks, completely naked. (...) Crusader nobles awakened to this vista every morning, peering out at the European ships that anchored across from the port and the boats that made their way back and forth to fill the city’s storerooms with precious goods.
Apollonia’s natural harbor never developed into a port as large as Acre, where dozens of ships would anchor in the 13th century, to be loaded with locally- produced sugar bound for Europe. But the ruins of Apollonia are enough to make one see that the constant movement of people, raw materials and cooking techniques was already occurring hundreds of years before the word “globalization” became part of the modern vocabulary.

Sugar cane, lemons, oranges, eggplant, bananas, rice and other agricultural products originally cultivated in the Far East were adopted by Western civilization via the Middle East. The legends that grew up around the West’s first encounters with these unfamiliar foods and the way they spread throughout Europe were largely connected to the Crusades and the knights who flooded the Middle East with blood on their way to the Holy Land. They hungrily gorged themselves on sugary sweets and almonds, it’s said, and brought these treats back with them to their native countries.

But the historic truth, as usual, is a bit more complex, since most of the knights who settled in the Crusader kingdom never returned to Europe. Today it is widely believed that the reconquest of Spain and Sicily from the Muslim Empire, rather than the Crusades, introduced the foods and flavors of classic Arabic cuisine into the lands of the Mediterranean and then to Western Europe.

Whatever the case, the West’s encounter in the Middle Ages with Arabic cuisine, which in many respects was more advanced than Western cooking of the time, was a source of great excitement among the Crusaders. (...)

In the Middle Ages (...) food defined a person’s identity and status in the world. This is true to a great extent today as well, but it was even truer when people believed that the nobleman’s physical build required him to eat the dainty flesh of fish, fragile, high-flying birds, and roast game. A peasant whose body was not designed to digest such foods and nevertheless sampled them, was liable to take sick, according to popular belief at the time, and so he was supposed to make do with simple, crude vegetables that grew close to the ground. Once in a while, the poor would season their bean and root vegetable stew with a paltry bit of fat from an animal’s less desirable parts.

Meanwhile, the upper middle class ate hardly any vegetables. And as for carbohydrates, white bread made from wheat was food for lords only. In Europe, the peasants ate black bread made from rye or oats, and delivered any wheat, a much rarer commodity, to whoever was above them in the social hierarchy. Thus, the Crusaders were quite surprised to find that in the Holy Land, everyone ate white bread and pita made of wheat.

In Europe, cooking employed mainly animal fat, usually lard, and food was so greasy that bumps were carved in bowls to keep it from slipping out of people’s hands. In the Middle East, the main sources of fat were olive oil and sesame oil.

Another surprise was the abundance of available spices and the broad use of herbs. In medieval Europe, food was seasoned primarily with black pepper and a little salt, which was also used to preserve, smoke and dry foods. In Arab cuisine, by comparison, seasoning was considered a real art. Extensive use was made of spices such as ginger, saffron, cinnamon and cloves, which the Arab traders brought from the spice lands of the East, and of seasonings produced from indigenous herbs.

The Crusaders appear to have internalized the principles of seasoning so well that if you tried to follow Crusader recipes exactly as written, you’d end up with dishes quite unappetizing to the modern palate. Seasoning in Crusader times was not just meant to improve the taste of the food, but had a host of other purposes as well. For one thing, it was a status symbol that reflected a person’s ability to purchase expensive spices from faraway markets. And the various colors that spices gave to food had mystical meanings – for example, the golden hue produced by yellow saffron was an allusion to the possibility of eternal life. The spices also had medicinal purposes.

But most often, the heavy seasoning was intended to cover up the awful taste and quality of the raw ingredients. At a time when there was no refrigeration, the meat was frequently in a bad state. Such dubious meat, buried under layers of spices to hide its flavor, gave the central bazaar that served the Crusaders in Jerusalem its name – the Rue de Malquisinat (“The Street of Bad Cooking”)."

This blog quotes freely from the paper "Lessons in Crusader cuisine" by Luis Matos, published in The Templar Globe. First illustration Apollonia Fortress (Israel), source. Second illustration and quotes from the paper "Lessons in Crusader cuisine" by Luis Matos, published in The Templar Globe.

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Muslim protection of Christian monasticism before the Crusades

Although pre-Islamic arabia is often viewed, with some justification, as somewhat of a cultural backwater, the Arabs nonetheless had extensive contacts with both the Sassanid Persian and Byzantine empires.

Through the contacts with Byzantium, and especially through interaction with the Christianized Arab Ghassanid tribe, pagan Arabs first came into contact with Christian monasticism. Arab poets make a few references to Christian monks; one perhaps allegorical allusion describes a Bedouin wandering lost in the desert by night, who sees in the distance the flickering light from the lamp of a monk reading in his cell and finds shelter with him.

But such minor incidental references in poetry are insufficient to give us anything but the vaguest hints about how pre-islamic Arabs viewed monasticism. For a more complete understanding of how the muslim view developed we must turn to the Qur'an, where monasticism is discussed in four passages that laid the foundation for subsequent muslim attitudes toward monks during the crusades. On the positive side, the Qur'an describes monks as leading people near -although not fully- to the path of God.

This positive attitude toward monasticism was further emphasized by the story of the monk Bahira, found in the earliest surviving biography of Muhammad, written by Ibn Ishaq. As a young teenager Muhammad journeyed with a caravan to Syria. (The biography) reveals a number of implicit attitudes about monasticism. First, there is a clear preference in early Islamic sources for hermitic (solitary) monks over coenobitic (communal) monks. The favorably depicted monk in early islamic sources is generally the lone ascetic devoting his life to prayer and contemplation in the wilderness. In a sense, Muhammad himself pursued this ideal for his early biographers describe him as a hanif, a nondenominational monotheist who for one month each year withdrew to mount Hira' near Mecca for tahannuth, devotional prayer and contemplation. (...)

In addition to this basically positive assessment of monks, however, the Qur'an also outlines three major problems with monasticism. First, monasticism places human intermediaries between God and mankind. Second, monasticism was not ordained by God. However well intended, it is a human invention. Finally, monks are accused in the Qur'an of corruptly using their positions as rulers in society to garner personal wealth and power.

Yet, despite the problems with monasticism enumerated in the Qur'an, monks -and Christians in general- were considered "People of the Book", followers of God who had received an early portion of God's revelation but not the fullness revealed to Muhammad in the Qur'an. As such they became a tolerated religious minority within Islam. This attitude is reflected in the early Islamic conquests in the seventh century, when the churches and monasteries of the Christians were given special protection in peace treaties. (...) Thus, since the earliest days of Islam, monasticism was a protected institution of a protected religious minority.

This blog draws freely on the paper "Muslim perspectives on the military orders during the crusades" by William J. Hamblin, published in BYU Studies.Illustration: Muhammad's encounter with the Christian monk Baḥīrā, source

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Counts of (West Frisian) Holland, the cursades and the Templars

Count Dirk VI of West-Friesland (Holland)
Proof seems to be missing of participation from Holland in de Crusades. This appears to be false.

Until about 1300 the former county Holland was still calles 'Frisia'. The name Holland dates back to 1101, and even then it was a limited area only. The counts of Holland were called the counts of West Friesland. About Frisians who participated in the Crusades, sufficient information is to be found in the sources. The Frisians were involved in many Crusades, both within Europe and to the Holy Land. Although it is not always easy to identify the Frisians as Frisians from the present Dutch region. Frisians lived in the coastal areas from northern France to far up in Northern Germany.

One of the many evidences for the involvement Frisians from the current Netherlands, can be found in the archives of the bishop of Utrecht. In 1218 Pope Honorius issued a call for help in the Crusades against the Cathars. This message reached the Utrecht bishop by the Archbishop of Keulen. An army of the Frisians which responded to this call, this was ambushed. A large number perished. Even long before the official call of Pope Urban II in 1095, the West Frisian Dutch count Dirk III (993-1039) had travelled as a pilgrim to the Holy Land. After him at the times of the crusades followed the counts Dirk VI (1121-1157) between 1138-1140, Floris III (1157-1190) in 1184 and between 1189-1190 (deceased of exhaustion in Antioch) and William I (1203-1222) between 1189-1194 and 1217-1219.

It is clear that the (West Frisian) Dutch counts were closely involved in the Crusades and could have been able to come into contact with the Knights Templar. Especially in the case of William I (1203-1222) it is obvious that he could have met the Templars. After all, he spent five year in the Holy Land. He was probably present at the siege of Akko in 1189-1191. Similarly, Count Otto I of Guelders and Zutphen, followed the court of the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in 1189 to the Holy Country. He participated in the conquest of Acre and returned in 1190 back to the West.

Unfortunately, we do not find proof of this in the oldest sources of the county Holland, the so-called `Annales Egmundenses`. In it the story is told of the siege of Ashkelon in 1153 and the part plaid in that siege by the Templars. Another interesting detail tells of the countess Sophia (1119-1176) who undertook several trips to the Holy Land accompanied by IJsbrand of Haarlem, a member of the most ancient nobility from Holland. Countess Sophia died Jerusalem in 1176 and was buried there in the "German hospital". That's weird, for at that time the Teutonic Order did not yet exist. This may have been the hospital of the predecessor of the German order the `Ordo fratrum hospitalis sancta Mariae Theutonicorum Ierosolimitanorum`, who, according to the Chronicle of Egmond, held a hospital until 1187. Another source, the Tielse chronicle, mentions that Countess Sophia was burried at the Templar hospital.

In any case, it is most probable that the West-Frisian Counts have been in contact with the Knights Templar at the time of the crusades.

This blog is an Engl;ish translation of part of a Dutch paper by Jean Roefstra in Militiae Christi, Volume 1, 2010

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Saint Francis of Assisi, early missionary to the Muslim world

Legend of St. Francis, Sermon to the Birds,
upper Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi
source Wikipedia
Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order, was born at Assisi in Umbria, in 1181 or 1182. He died there on 3 October, 1226. Many of the stories that surround the life of St. Francis say that he had a great love for animals and the environment. Therefore October 4, Saint Francis' feast day, is celebrated as World Animal Day.

Less known is that Francis visited Egypt and attempted rapprochement with the Muslim world. This had far-reaching consequences, long past his own death, since after the fall of the Crusader Kingdom, it would be the Franciscans, of all Catholics, who would be allowed to stay on in the Holy Land and be recognized as "Custodians of the Holy Land" on behalf of the Catholic Church.

Francis of Assisi was a contemporary of the crusading Knights Templar, which at the time of his life was a metaphor of the novea militiae. At the time of Francis' youth the crusading forces had just lost Jerusalem to the muslim forces of Saladin (October 1187). This triggered the Third Crusade (1187-1192), led by Richard de Lionheart, who, instead of retaking Jerusalem, negotiated a treaty with Saladin. The treaty allowed mecrhants to trade and unarmed Christian pilgrims to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem, while it remained under Muslim control.

Although the son of a wealthy merchant, Francis of Assisi's family encouraged him to seek his fortune as a soldier. Handsome, gallant and courteous, he soon became a favorite among the nobles of Assisi. He fought in many battles as a knight of Count Walter of Brienne. Yet, even during this stage of his life, Francis had an uncommon sympathy for the poor and the meek. While still in his twenties, this knight Francis was inspired by a holy vision to abandon his worldly life for one of religious contemplation. He relinquished his inheritance and entered the cloth. In 1208, he founded the Franciscan Order. In the spring of 1219, Francis journeyed to the Holy Land and was present at the siege of Damietta.

Pope Innocent III declared a new crusade to begin commence in 1217. The majority of the crusaders came from Germany, Flanders, and Frisia, along with a large army from Hungary. The crusaders laid seige to Damietta in Egypt on May 27, 1218. They began their siege and despite resistance from the unprepared sultan Al-Adil, the tower outside the city was taken on August 25. However, the Franch army could not gain Damietta itself. During the continuing siege in the ensuing months diseases killed many of the crusaders. The local Muslim commander Al-Adil also died and was succeeded by Sultan Ayyubid Al-Kamil. Meanwhile, Pope Honorius III sent Pelagius of Albano to lead the crusade in 1219. Sultan Al-Kamil tried to negotiate peace with the crusaders. He offered to trade Damietta for Jerusalem, but Pelagius would not accept these offers. After hearing this Count William I of Holland left the crusade and sailed home.

In August or September 1219, Francis of Assisi arrived in the crusader camp. He gave a sermon to the crusading army, including the Knights Templar contingent. The ongoing siege of the city of Damietta and the negotiations thereon Francis sought an opportunity to meet the Sultan Al-Kamil face to face in an attempt to convert him to the Christian faith. Francis sought permission to go to the Sultan from the Papal Legate who was hesitant to grant permission since Al-Kamil had reportedly stated that "anyone who brought him the head of a Christian should be awarded with Byzantine gold pieces". Eventually when confronted with the insistence and persistence of Francis, the Papal legate allowed Francis and one companion, Brother Illuminato, to go into the Muslim camp.

St. Francis before the Sultan Al-Kamil
of Egypt witnessing the trial by fire
(wall fresco, Giotto.)
source Wikipedia

Early documents, which may have a high myth character, all agree that upon arrival Francis and Illuminato were treated very roughly by the Muslim soldiers. One account states that they were insulted and beaten yet showed no fear even when threatened with torture and death. They kept repeating to their captors the word for "SULTAN" (which lack of other language seems odd because at the time fluency in Arab was common in crusader circles) and were eventually dragged before him. Francis and Illuminato informed the Sultan that they were messengers sent from God. An early writing purports to contain the essence of their first words to the Sultan: "If you do not wish to believe we will commend your soul to God because we declare that if you die while holding to your law you will be lost; God will not accept your soul. For this reason we have come to you." They added that they would demonstrate the truth of Christianity to al-Kamil and his imams.

The Sultan was captivated by the sincerity of the men's concern for his eternal salvation. Al-Kamil willingly listened to Francis and permitted them great liberty in their preaching. The Sultan told his imams that beheading Francis and Illuminato would be an unjust recompense for their efforts, since they had arrived with the praiseworthy intention of seeking his personal salvation. He said to Francis: "I am going to go counter to what my religious advisors demand and will not cut off your heads. You have risked your own lives in order to save my soul." The Franciscans were the guests of the Sultan for many days. During that time the Sultan made certain that the men's wounds were taken care of. They left without converting the Sultan, but some sources insist that in 1238 Al-Kamil was baptised on his deathbed.

In the meantime, by November 5, 1219, the crusaders had worn out the sultan's forces, and were finally able to occupy the city of Damietta itself. The sultan withdrew to al-Mansourah, a fortress further up the Nile. After this there was little action until 1221, when al-Kamil offered peace again, but was again refused. The Crusaders marched out towards Cairo, but al-Kamil simply opened the dams and allowed the Nile to flood, and finally the Crusaders accepted an eight-year peace. Al-Kamil retook Damietta in September 1221.

In the following years there was a power struggle between Al-Kamil and his brother al-Mu'azzam, and al-Kamil was willing to accept a peace with emperor and King of Sicily Frederick II, who was planning the Sixth Crusade. Al-Mu'azzam died in 1227, eliminating the need for a peace, but Frederick had already arrived. After al-Mu'azzam's death, al-Kamil and his other brother al-Ashraf Khalil negotiated a treaty giving all of Palestine (including Transjordan) to al-Kamil and Syria to al-Ashraf. In February 1229 al-Kamil negotiated a ten-year peace with Frederick II and returned Jerusalem and other holy sites to the Crusader kingdom.

The treaty of 1229 is unique in the history of the Crusades. By diplomacy alone and without major military confrontation, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and a corridor running to the sea were ceded to the kingdom of Jerusalem. Exception was made for the Temple area, the Dome of the Rock, and the Aqsa Mosque, which the Muslims retained. Moreover, all current Muslim residents of the city would retain their homes and property. They would also have their own city officials to administer a separate justice system and safeguard their religious interests. The walls of Jerusalem, which had already been destroyed, were not rebuilt, and the peace was to last for 10 years.

Perhaps this remarkable peace was a late offspring of the visit of Francis to Al-Kamil in 1219.

sources main source text and several pages on Wikipedia 

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Templar Houses and local society in Britain

"This article has set out a small selection of the evidence surviving in the records of the ‘Templar’s affair’ in the British Isles that may deepen scholars’ knowledge of the Templars’ relations with society at large.

It appears that at least some Templar houses were integrated into their locality, with travellers passing through the house on a regular basis, lodging there or visiting the chapel. Many local people were employed by a Templar commandery, on a full-time basis all year round or on a part-time seasonal basis. In addition, through the provision of corrodies and charitable giving, a Templar house could be a significant local provider of care to the elderly or needy. The evidence set out here indicates that the level of provision varied from house to house, and that some houses were more significant to their locality than others.

However, as this article has barely scratched the surface of the surviving evidence, there is great potential for further research in this area(....) The documents relating to the investigations into the Templars in the British Isles between 1308 and 1312 contain many examples of contact between the brothers and their local communities which, taken together, suggest that the relationship between the order’s houses and their localities could be close, even though this relationship might infringe the letter of the order’s privileges and regulations."

This blog quotes from the text of a paper by Helen J. Nicholson published in Knighthoods of Christ: Essays on the History of the Crusades and the Knights Templar Presented to Malcolm Barber, ed. Norman Housley (Aldershot etc.: Ashgate, 2007), pp. 195-207. Published article Copyright © 2007; this edition © 2015; Illustration adapted from this source

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Eastern presence in pre-crusade southern France

Southern France has, long before the start of the Crusades at the end of the 11th Century, been a gateway to the Orient. As Joan Evans describes in "Life in Medieval France" (Phaidon Press Ltd London, 1969, p 4-5: 

"In all the territory once belonging to Provincia Narbonensis, including Toulouse and a part of Guyenne, Roman influence is strong, but there is also a second influence, the influence of the East. The Mediterranean brought the whole coast from Nice to Perpignan and the country behind it into close connexion with half-Eastern Spain and even with Africa and the commercial cities of Asia Minor. The sea might be stormy, but it was safer than the highways of France. As early as the time of Charlemagne the coast towns had relations with the Bagdad of Haroun-el-Raschid, with Byzantium, Egypt, and Syria, and imported purple stuffs, spices, Indian pearls, Egyptian papyrus, and even monkeys and elephants.

Benjamin of Tudela, writing in 1160, describes Montpellier as a very good city for commerce to which Christians and Mohammedans come from all quarters to trade, so that its streets are thronged with Arabs of North Africa, merchants of Syria, Lombardy, Rome, Genoa, Pisa, and England.

Even when Southern France found herself in conflict with an Eastern people, as she did in 1018 when a Crusade was undertaken against the Moors, conquest only preceded assimilation. The leaders of the army gained great riches, and stayed to lead an Oriental life in Moorish palaces. A Jewish merchant has left a story of waiting upon one of these French leaders in his palace at Barbastro, and finding him in Eastern garments seated upon a divan, surrounded by evidences of his riches, while a tearful Arab girl played the lute and sang songs in a language that he could not understand.

Thus the Eastern element was important in the development of the life of the south-western cities in particular. Indeed, the foundation of Montpellier itself is traditionally ascribed to fugitives from the Saracen city of Maguelone, destroyed by Charles Martel in 737. From its considerable Arabic and Jewish population may be derived the tradition of medical knowledge, which in the twelfth century made Montpellier second only to Salerno as a University of Medicine. Another sign of Eastern influence is the Oriental character of the architecture of Périgord, as Eastern as that of St. Marks at Venice. Saint Front de Périgueux, built after 1120, shows the classical single nave, without divisions or side chapels, surmounted by a characteristically Eastern series of cupolas."

Illustration: La cathédrale Saint-Front, Périgueux

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"Just warfare" and the rise of the military religious orders in the 12th century

"In an ideological sense, the growth of the military orders was fostered by a theological shift in attitude of the Church towards just warfare. Prior to the First Crusade, the Peace of God movement had developed a policy within the Church that knights should be restricted from fighting among themselves and instead put their energies into fighting for the Church. Prior to this, the knightly class had been in almost a constant state of civil war amongst themselves and with the Church.

At the Council of Clermont in 1095, Pope Urban II advocated for the service of secular knights for the church by declaring that “you have promised more firmly than ever to keep the peace among yourselves and to preserve the rights of the church, there remains still an important work for you to do.” By deliberately trying to encourage secular knights to fight for God in the Crusades, the Church created an acceptable form of warfare within Christian ideology.

While Urban was not encouraging monks to go on Crusade, the military orders could not have existed without the ideology behind his speech because of Christianity’s traditional pacifism. The key element to this new ideology was the idea of miles Christi. The term miles Christi was essential to the ideology of the military orders and is critical in understanding their rise to power. Coming into use through the writings of St Augustine and literally meaning “soldier of Christ,” it reflects the duty of a Christian knight to protect Christendom from outside evils. As the monk fought the spiritual enemies of the Church from within his monastery, the soldier of Christ fought Christianity’s physical enemies. Instead of committing the sin of murder, the traditional Christian view of warfare, a miles Christi was actually doing penance for his sins.

The Hospitallers and the Templars fought Islam in the Holy Land and the Teutonic Knight was hugely instrumental in fighting paganism in eastern Europe. The knights of the military orders were by definition miles Christi and their development and rise to power would not have been possible without the widespread acceptance of this idea.

To the Church, the military orders provided the perfect outlet for the knightly class even when there was no official crusade being promoted. Therefore, the Church was more than willing to support them and allow their power to grow both in the Holy Land and in Europe. As the dominant European ideology, the Church’s changing theology played a large role in the growth of the military orders, and was aided most directly by the theological support of St. Bernard.

Illustration Templar and Hospitaller Knights, source; This blog quotes form a publication based on a 2014 paper by Sarah E. Hayes in the Gettysburg Historical Journal,

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The Knights Templar and the Ismaili Assassins linked?

Historians point out repeatedly analogies linking the Shia Ismaili to the Templars: both orders used initiation and were military and held the title of "Guardian of the Holy Land".

The Templars would have come into contact with the Nizari Ismailis of the Old Man of the Mountain, Hassan ibn al-Sâbbâh. This as a secret society whose members are called by the Sunnis Hachichiyin (hashish consumers). A term converted to "Assissini" by the Crusaders, in Italian "assassino" and in French "assassin". Amin Maalouf gives in his novel "Samarcande" a different etymology; the word would have come from asâs (base, foundation). "According to the texts that have survived of Alamut, Hassan liked to call his followers "Assassiyoun", those loyal to Assas, the Foundation of Faith (Assas also means Guardian in Arabic). And it was this word that, misunderstood by foreign travelers, seemed to be related to "hashish"

The meetings would have taken place in the Muslim fortress of Alamut in the North Syrian mountains. Al-Sâbbâh reigned on this eyrie with its fidâiyyûn or fedaïn, true brotherhood of warrior monks. On this citadel four flags flew: white for purity, yellow for devotion, red for war and a green one for the secret knowledge of Allah.

In the rites of Alamut, the rank of Knight is conferred not by princes, but by the sheiks (spiritual masters). At their dubbing the Knights of Islam drank from a cup. Cronicles from the Syrian Muslims mention several grades of knighthood, conferred among Ismailis, the first having occurred in 578 AH (1182). In their castles, members of the Ismaili order wore a garment that was similar to the one of the Knights Templar: a white dress with a red belt.

In the constitution of the two orders, Templar and Ismaili, the hierarchy is identical, the degrees are the same. The Templars would have gone as far as arming Knights of the Ismaili and of Greek Catholics hostile to the papacy. The Druze of Lebanon, Shia close to the Ismailis, would have passed to the Templars esoteric teachings. However, in 1172, ambassadors of the Ismailis, received by the king of Jerusalem, were murdered by brothers of the Temple.

Jean de Joinville, biographer of St. Louis, reports on the visit to Acre in 1248 of the Old Man of the Mountain, where he was received by King Louis IX. The two sovereigns exchanged gifts. The Old Man of the Mountain asked the help of Louis against the Mongols who were invading Persia. The King of France received the Embassy of Great Mongol in December.

This blog is a mainly an English translation from a part of the article "Les Templiers" (in French) by Jean-Paul Decoeurtyte. For more information on the same subject also see Illustration Hassan-i Sabbāh (c. 1050–1124), the leader of the Nizārī Ismā‘īlītes military and the founder of the order known as Assassins. Source

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Knights Templar and martyrdom: the most original form of Christian sanctity

In battle, martyrdom "for the good cause" is and has always been present. As it was in the ranks of the Knights Templar. In their case, "martyrdom" had both a religious and a temporal value.

The Templars were the first religious military order dedicated to warfare, and, to them, the anticipation of a meritorious death in battle was a key characteristic that was unique to their profession.

Not only the order's Rule and early theological texts addressed to the Templar community, such as the writings of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, but also a wide range of external sources, including chronicles and trial records, suggest that the Templars were particularly associated with martyrdom as the most original form of Christian sanctity, namely in imitation of Christ's own sacrifical death.

The article mentioned at the end of this blog aims at shedding light on this neglected aspect of Templar spirituality and discusses the implications of this concept's manifestation throughout the orde's history.

Qoute from the paper:
"Martyrdom in the Order of the Knights Templar must be understood as an extremely multilayered and versatile concept. It sometimes reveals itself openly, for example in the works of Bernard of Clairvaux or the carefully constructed stories of Templars suffering martyrdom prior to being received into heaven. Sometimes, however, the concept’s influence is more difficult to discern, for example in the area of liturgy or the members’ personal experience. Thus, alternative ways of uncovering the concept need to be found. A key to this might be the “special importance [of] the motifs of the Lamb, the military sign, and the crown of victory,” as has been suggested by Penny Cole.

In any case, a core assumption with regard to martyrdom is Christ’s sacrifice for humanity. To the Templars, this was the central point of reference and the legitimization of their military and liturgical activities.That the Templars were potential martyrs is old news. However, their particular concept of martyrdom has received insufficient attention thus far, and the concept’s implications for the order’s activities remain largely unexplored. The  power of such a concept that puts a salvific meaning to an event feared by people throughout the ages can hardly be underestimated, especially in an environment charged with eschatological anticipation and violence like the Crusades. In the case of the Templars, the concept of martyrdom was not an empty construct devised by distant theologians; rather, it was one of the main pillars of their spiritual conception and had a considerable impact on their members’ reality."

Rather, Joachim, Embracing Death, Celebrating Life: Reflections an the Concept of Martyrdom in the Order of the Knights Templar; In: ORDINES MILITARES XIX (2014) Yearbook for the Study of the Military Orders

Illustration: Effigies of Knights in Temple Church, London source

Knights Templar stables at Jerusalem not built by Solomon but by Herod


In the eighteenth year of his reign (20–19 BCE), king Herod the Great (74/73 BCE – 4 BCE) rebuilt the Second Temple in Jerusalem on "a more magnificent scale".The new Temple was finished in a year and a half, although work on out-buildings and courts continued another eighty years.

To comply with religious law, Herod employed a thousand priests as masons and carpenters for the rebuilding. The finished temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, is often referred to as Herod's Temple. The Wailing Wall (Western Wall) in Jerusalem was for many years the only section visible of the four retaining walls whose construction was begun by Herod to create a flat platform (the Temple Mount) upon which his Temple was constructed. Recent findings suggest that the Temple Mount walls and Robson's Arch may not have been completed until at least 20 years after his death during the reign of Herod Agrippa II. (source of this paragraph: Wikipedia)

"When Herod built the Temple Mount courtyard he made it 485 m long and 315 m wide. The courtyard sloped southwards, and the southern part of the plat-form therefore had to be raised to keep the surface level. Herod filled in only the lower part of the space between the retaining wall and the natural slope, and built the remaining space, to the top of the platform, in the form of vaults, with their ceilings supported by pillars. The south-east corner of the Temple Mount, which had a retaining wall 48 m high, was filled with rubble and soil to a height of 32 m; over this filling was a hall, its roof forming the pavement of the courtyard, and above this rose the upper wall.

The walls of the Temple Mount were 5 m thick and consisted of enormous ashlar blocks weighing up to 150 tons. This formidable structure made the Temple into a mighty fortress, unequaled in the architecture of antiquity. Josephus writes (Antiquities XV, ): ". . . which wall was itself the most prodigious work that was ever heard of by man". The southern wall had a height equal to that of a modern fifteen-story building.

Herod constructed two halls with an area of 500 sq. m, the ceilings supported by eighty-eight pillars in twelve parallel rows with thirteen aisles between them, thus raising the level of the courtyard by 12 m. The arches were 9-10 m high, the length of the halls from east to west was 83 m and the width, from north to south, 60 m. There were additional structures which changed the shape of the halls somewhat.

The pillars consisted of large, square blocks, over 1 m high; and each pillar was 1.2 m thick. At the bases of the pillars were rings for tethering horses. The Single Gate, now walled up, can be seen at the southern end of the sixth row of pillars, from the east, and the Triple Gate is at the south end of the twelfth row; it is clearly visible from outside the wall. Tunnels and aqueducts were found underneath the Double and Triple Gates, and a drain ran under the halls.

During the Second Temple period these halls were entered by the Huldah Gates, and stairs led to the upper level of the Temple courtyard. When the Crusaders took Jerusalem they identified the halls of pillars as the stables of King Solomon, as did Nasir i-Khosrau and other Moslems.

The Crusaders used the halls to stable the horses of the Knights Templar, whose headquarters were in the El Aksa Mosque. The Crusaders entered their stables through the Triple and Single Gates (both now walled up), which they rebuilt.
(from Menashe Har-El, This is Jerusalem, Canaan Publishing House, PO Box 7645, Jerusalem 1977)"

Upper illustration and quoted text from Solomon's Stables and the Southern Gates by Tuvia Sagiv.

See many more illustrations on former and present day architecture of Temple walls, ancient Jerusalem and Herod's Temple here.

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Cistercian Clairvaux Abbey - 900 years

"The event "Clairvaux 2015" is to celebrate the 900 years of this jewel of European memory. A young monk of 25 years of age, Bernard de Fontaine went to make his abbey a model, copied throughout Europe.

Clairvaux, which was to have 339 daughter abbeys, was as much an architectural model with its ribbed vaults as well as an economic and spiritual model. It is this authentic Cistercian adventure that is told by the exhibition-event organized by the Department at the Hotel-Dieu with more than 150 works and rare items on the history of Clairvaux Abbey.

Co-organized by the County Council, the Renaissance Association Abbey and the Ministry of Culture, this "Clairvaux 2015" event celebrates an abbey finally refound, after a decade of major restorations. And it hides another birthday, that of thirty years of the opening of the abbey to the public: "It was not until 1985, said Jean-François Leroux, that for the first time in eight centuries, people who were neither monks nor detainees were able to enter Clairvaux."

Neither sculpture nor painting or stained glass. Only the architecture, with its ribbed vaults illuminates this pure Abbey of silence. A symbol that evokes the spiritual success of Clairvaux. But this success was primarily economic. Like the Templars with their Commanderies, the Cistercians relied on a network of barns located at up to 44 agricultural and industrial operation centers. Despite the Hundred Years War and the Black Death, the small business prospered. In the fourteenth century, Clairvaux and his nine hundred monks manage 25,000 hectares of land, 15,000 hectares of forests, 230 ha of vineyards, 133 houses and 43 mills, not forgetting the forges and salt and iron mines."

Illustrations and text (translated and slightly adapted) from this French brochure on the Clairvaux 2015 Event. 

Watch on Youtube this great 3D animated movie that tracks the evolution of this famous Cistercian abbey through time.

Toledo, Spain: medieval bridge between ancient, classical, arab and western knowledge

King Alfonso X The Wise at the Toledo school of translators
source Wikipedia
The Toledo School of Translators is the group of scholars who worked together in the city of Toledo during the 12th and 13th centuries, to translate many of the philosophical and scientific works from classical Arabic, classical Greek, and ancient Hebrew.

The School went through two distinct periods separated by a transitional phase. The first was led by Archbishop Raymond of Toledo in the 12th century, who promoted the translation of philosophical and religious works, mainly from classical Arabic into Latin. Under King Alfonso X of Castile during the 13th century, the translators no longer worked with Latin as the final language, but translated into a revised version of Castilian. This resulted in establishing the foundations of the modern Spanish language.

Traditionally Toledo was a center of multilingual culture and had prior importance as a center of learning and translation, beginning in its era under Muslim rule. Numerous classical works of ancient philosophers and scientists that had been translated into Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age "back east" were well-known in al-Andalus (Islamic-era Spain) such as those from the Neoplatonism school, Aristotle, Hippocrates, Galen, Ptolemy, etc., as well as the works of ancient philosophers and scientists from Persia, India, and China. These enabled Arabic-speaking populations at the time (both in the east and in "the west" or North Africa and the Iberian peninsula) to learn about many ancient classical disciplines that were generally inaccessible to the Christian parts of western Europe, and Arabic-speaking scientists in the eastern Muslim lands such as Ibn Sina, al-Kindi, al-Razi, and others, had added significant works to that ancient body of thought.

Some of the Arabic literature was also translated into Latin, Hebrew, and Ladino, such as that of Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, Muslim sociologist-historian Ibn Khaldun, Carthage citizen Constantine the African, or the Persian Al-Khwarizmi.

Spain's multi-cultural richness beginning in the era of Umayyad dynasty rule in that land (711-1031) was one of the main reasons why European scholars were traveling to study there as early as the end of the 10th century. As the Arabic-speaking rulers who initially came in 711 intermingled and intermarried with local populations, the co-existence of Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, and the local Romance vernacular had seen the emergence of new pidgin vernaculars and bilingual song forms, as well as the creation of new bodies of literature in Arabic and Hebrew. The environment bred multi-lingualism. This era saw the development of a large community of Arabic-speaking Christians, known as (Mozarabs), who were available to work on translations. But translating efforts were not methodically organized until Toledo was reconquered by Christian forces in 1085. The new rulers inherited vast libraries containing some of the leading scientific and philosophical thought not only of the ancient world, but of the Islamic east, the cutting edge of scientific discourse of the era—and it was all largely in Arabic.

Another reason for Spain's importance at the time is that Christian leaders in many other parts of Europe considered many scientific and theological subjects studied by the ancients, and further advanced by the Arabic-speaking scientists and philosophers, to be heretical. The Condemnations of 1210–1277 at the medieval University of Paris, for example, were enacted to restrict the teachings of several theological works, among which were the physical treatises of Aristotle and the works of Averroes (the Latinized name of the Muslim philosopher-physician of al-Andalus, Ibn Rushd).

The translations of works on different sciences, such as astronomy, astrology, algebra, medicine, etc. acted as a magnet for numerous scholars from all over Europe who came to Toledo eager to learn first hand about the contents of all those books that had been out of reach to Europeans for many centuries. Thanks to this group of scholars and writers, the knowledge acquired from the Arab, Greek and Hebrew texts found its way into the heart of the universities in Europe. Although the works of Aristotle and Arab philosophers were banned at some European learning centers, such as the University of Paris in the early 1200s, the Toledo's translations were accepted, due to their physical and cosmological nature.


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