Philosophy and Christian context of the Crusades

The philosophy of the crusades is summarized by Christopher Tyerman as follows:

"The crusades were wars justified by faith conducted against real or imagined enemies defined by religious and political elites as perceived threats to the Christian faithful. The religious beliefs crucial to such warfare placed enormous significance on imagined awesome but reassuring supernatural forces of overwhelming power and proximity that were nevertheless expressed in hard concrete physical acts: prayer, penance, giving alms, attending church, pilgrimage, violence.

Crusading reflected a social mentality grounded in war as a central force of protection, arbitration, social discipline, political expression and material gain. The crusades confirmed a communal identity comprising aggression, paranoia, nostalgia, wishful thinking and invented history. Understood by participants at once as a statement of Christian charity, religious devotion and godly savagery, the ‘wars of the cross‘ helped fashion for adherents a shared sense of belonging to a Christian society, societas christiana, Christendom, and contributed to setting its human and geographic frontiers. In these ways, the crusades helped define the nature of Europe."

When I read this, I sense that the same may be true for all religiously inspired wars and conquests, such as the early islamic conquests. These began with the Islamic prophet Muhammad in the 7th century. He established a new unified polity in the Arabian Peninsula which saw a century of rapid expansion. The resulting empire stretched from the borders of China and the Indian subcontinent, across the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and parts of Europe (Sicily and the Iberian Peninsula to the Pyrenees).

Quote from Christopher Tyerman "God's War - a New History of the Crusades", 2006 The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press Cambridge, Massachusetts, added with information from Wikipedia. Illustration: Guy de Lusignan and Saladin in Battle / Mathew Paris, c.1250, source Wikiwand

Key qualities of the Cistercian Order: simplicity, practicality and self-sufficiency

"The promotion of the tenets of their faith on one hand and desire to return to the simplicity of early monasticism on the other, permitted the Cistercians (...) art and architecture. (...) As St Bernard envisaged the Earth as the work of Divine Architect, he himself as a head of his order, actively participated in many practical aspects of founding new Cistercian monasteries, including solving concrete architectural problems. (...) Their churches and monasteries, usually build in wild and remote places, emulating the model of Monte Cassino and 'the desert of Citeaux, were simple yet beautifully constructed structures, without unnecessary ornamentations and gildings as not to disturb the monks from work and pray routine.

Yet it wasn't the beauty, although that came almost as an afterthought, which characterised most of the Cistercian endeavours. It was the simplicity and practicality. It is precisely because they wanted to prove to themselves and others that simple monastic life is the panaceum for all the world's ills, that they excelled in anything which required and promoted self-sufficiency, and that included science needed for providing sustenance and general survival of the monks.

Because their monasteries were usually located in remote locations, they developed a highly sophisticated hydraulic engineering and pioneered the use of water wheels. Their metallurgists were well known for their kills and the forges and factories were always located within the monastery complex, which shows us that it was the monks themselves who worked there and not the lay workers."

Source (slightly edited by TN): Igor R. Murawski Features of Cistercian monasticism in the twelfth century. Illustration:
Cistercians at work in a detail from the Life of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, illustrated by Jörg Breu the Elder (1500)

Templars in Art: The Abduction of Rebecca



Templars in Art: Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) Rébecca enlevée par le Templier (The abduction of Rebecca, 1858)


Throughout his career, Delacroix was inspired by the novels of Sir Walter Scott, a favorite author of the French Romantics. This painting depicts a scene from Ivanhoe: the Jewish heroine Rebecca, who had been confined in the castle of Front de Boeuf (seen in flames), is carried off by two Saracen slaves commanded by the covetous Christian knight Bois-Guilbert. The contorted, interlocking poses and compacted space, which shifts abruptly from the elevated foregound to the fortress behind, create a sense of intense drama. Apart from the still life at lower left, the only element of calm is Rebecca herself.


The painting is kept at Metropolitan Museum of Art, (Met Fifth Avenie in Gallery 801). The present picture is Public domain published by the MetMuseum. Text from the same website. Another version is kept at the Musée du Louvre

The Knights Templar - bleuprint of militarized fraternities

Formed in the setting of the Chapter of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem from a brotherhood of Champenois and Burgundian knights, the Templars received their rule at the Council of Troyes in 1129. They inspired all the foundations that followed by showing the way of militarization to charitable fraternities. The hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, appearing in the context of the First Crusade, engaged in fighting in the Holy Land and in the Iberian Peninsula from the 1130 and 1140s, Just like the Sainte-Marie des Teutoniques hospital, established at Acre around 1190, and militarized eight years later, and Saint-Lazare which came forth fom a leper colony in Jerusalem around 1130 and involved in the Crusade a century later.

Operated under the influence of the Temple, this military conversion was also encouraged by the rulers of the Holy Land and the Iberian Peninsula who wished to involve these new powers in the defense of their states. Parallel to the experiences of the Holy Land, but this time on the front of the Reconquista, brotherhoods of knights supervised by the Cistercians were formed to defend and populate cities and territories that had become Christians. These gave birth to military orders marked by a "national" imprint. The Order of Calatrava was basically Castilian, control of The Order of Alcántara was an issue between Castile and León, The Order of Santiago was rather close to the Castilian monarchy, but gave birth to a branch independent Portuguese in 1290. While the Order of Avis was specifically Portuguese. At the other end of Christianity, in the first third of the 13th century, the militant spirituality of Cîteaux also gave birth to the militias of Porte-Glaive and Dobrin, responsible for supporting the evangelization of the Baltic areas.

Despite their diversity, these orders all share a common origin: they came forth from associations of knights attached to the defense of a city or a castle and were all sponsored by a canonical or monastic institution. This brotherly crucible, conforming to the evangelical spirit but enriched with a military dimension, constituted the spiritual essence of military monasticism. In the 13th century, they continued to inspire armed brotherhoods dedicated to the fight against heresy and the control of morals, supported by the Dominicans in Northern Italy - militias of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary - or by the papal legates in Languedoc - militias of the Faith of Jesus Christ and of Faith and Peace.

source (in French, translated by TN): Les ordres militaires et hospitaliers: une nouvelle religion by Damien Carraz