Jerusalem was taken by the Muslim caliphate in 638CE ending centuries of Roman rule. The late Roman – or Byzantine – period had seen the city become one of the great centres of Christendom. Its patriarch was one of five leading patriarchs in Christianity – the others being Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome. At the centre of the city was the church of the Holy Sepulchre built under the Emperor Constantine and covering the sites of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus.
Throughout the early period of Islamic rule, Christians continued to visit Jerusalem on pilgrimage and revere the holy sites. But in the eleventh century, the Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim – widely assumed to have been mentally disturbed – demolished the city’s churches reducing the Holy Sepulchre to rubble. To add to Christian woes, reports circulated of pilgrims being systematically robbed and worse as they made their way to the city.
Me at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in 2012
In 1099, a Crusader army stormed Jerusalem ending four hundred years of Muslim rule. Contemporary accounts suggest a huge massacre ensued of Jews, Muslims and anybody who got in the way. The blood, it was said, splashed on the crusader stirrups. Even allowing for a certain degree of hyperbole, it does seem to have been a violent event.
The crusaders were western knights who had been heeding the call of Pope Urban to defend the holy places in the east. This they did with gusto! The pope in turn had been responding to a call from the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople to defend what was left of his empire from the forces of Islam. After two centuries of the Byzantines enjoying a position of relative strength in relation to the caliphate, they had suffered a terrible defeat against the Turks at the battle of Manzikert in 1071. This defeat would eventually lead to the complete transformation of Anatolia from Greek speaking and Christian to Turkish and Muslim.
Into this very volatile situation came a group of French knights led by Hugues de Payens. They approached King Baldwin II of crusader-controlled Jerusalem and the patriarch in 1118 with the novel idea of setting up a militaristic order of monks that would protect pilgrims. This was very much in keeping with the ethos of a church that carried a bible in one hand and a sword in the other. It was a muscular and very medieval approach to the defence of Christ.
The band of knights were allowed to base themselves in what had been the Al Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount. This site had housed the long destroyed Jewish temple and was revered by Christians. In turn, it had become a holy place for Muslims. Now under crusader rule, the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock – both early Muslim buildings – became the temple of Solomon and the Templum Domini respectively. Basing themselves in what they believed had once been the temple of Solomon – the new order of knights called themselves the Poor-Fellow Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon. Or the Knights Templar for short.
How a Roman soldier who was martyred by the emperor Diocletian came to be the patron saint of England is a long story. And I’ve touched on it in other blog posts. Today, our local community here in south London celebrated St George’s Day with some battle re-enactment. It was France (booo!!!) versus England (hurrah!!!). Lots of good fun and a surprise – France was allowed to win! I snapped some of the action on my iPhone.
Often viewed as one of the most evil monarchs England every endured – Richard III was immortalised by Skakespeare (100 years after the king’s death) as a wicked hunchback capable of murder and deceit. Richard was notorious for allegedly having his two young nephews confined to the Tower of London and then killed in secret.
He was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, bringing to an end the House of York and ushering in the House of Tudor. The whereabouts of his body had been a mystery until it was discovered under a car park in the English city of Leicester. Scientific analysis of the bones confirmed the identity and this week will see his formal burial in Leicester cathedral.
Richard III – not all bad according to some
There had been demands for him to be returned to York but he will be interred in Leicester. Should you ever visit that city, I advise you to raise a pint in his memory at a pub named in his honour: The Last Plantagenet.
Now – I have to say that Richard III does not fall within the Templar period, he reigned 150 years after the order was suppressed. But it’s this week’s major medieval event in the UK with media from twenty countries attending. And it seemed wrong not to mention it.
Here’s some memorabilia that I picked up in York from campaigners who – very seriously – are determined to clear his bad name. They think he’s been a victim of Tudor propaganda.
During the Templar period, the patron saint of Venice wasn’t Saint Mark but Saint Theodore of Amasea. He was one of those martyrs during the Roman period. His statue was placed on top of a pillar in what is now Saint Mark’s square but the original medieval statue – now removed to a museum – was actually cobbled together from bits of Roman statuary. This wasn’t an uncommon practice and given that the saint was high up on a pillar, nobody would have noticed the odd artistic arrangement.
That head and that bust and that halo never sat together originally
A loose connection between body parts
The shield isn’t even the same colour as the arm or the torso
Got a feeling that dragon was added later
I photo’d this on my trip to Venice last year and found it quite amusing. The torso is clearly a Roman emperor wearing decorative military armour. The head doesn’t fit but is also Roman – possibly the ancient king Mithridates of Pontus. The legs, however, do look medieval. Somehow, the ensemble seems to work.
Venice is full of these slung together bits of Roman artwork put to the service of medieval buildings – Saint Mark’s cathedral is a right hodge podge including items stolen by the crusaders from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.
I’ve got a large collection of very old books, which I browse for this blog. And in one 1826 almanack, there’s a few pages about a disturbing custom practised in the Middle Ages: the stoning of Jews. It appears that from the sabbath before Palm Sunday to the last hour of the Tuesday before Easter, “the Christians were accustomed to stone and beat the Jews”. Any Jewish person not wishing to be assaulted, just had to pay whatever monies were demanded.
Jews had a rough time during medieval Lent
This looks suspiciously like extortion under a religious guise. This sort of anti-semitism was pretty rife at the time with Jews seen as the Christ-killers as well as disliked for their role as money-lenders – a role that Christians had more or less forced them into, by excluding them from other professions.
In 1262, Londoners broke into many Jewish homes and murdered seven hundred people in cold blood. King Henry III handed over their ruined synagogue in Lothbury (a street that still exists) to the friars of the sackcloth. Another synagogue became the church of St Olave in a street called Old Jewry (which you can still see as well).
Interesting news article HERE from the Scunthorpe Telegraph about the Templars in Lincolnshire – a county in eastern England. It name checks Bottesford Preceptory, one of several Templar estates in the county. A Preceptory, by the way, was a Templar manor and would include farms, mills, workshops, living quarters, a great hall and a chapel. There was a vast network of Preceptories across Europe stretching from Wales to the Holy Land.
Lincoln cathedral – well worth a visit by Templar fans!
Templar preceptories in Lincolnshire included Witham and Aslackby as well as Great Limber and Temple Bruer. It must be said that today’s remains give little away – in some cases, there’s nothing left. Temple Bruer, for example, was used for military exercises but you’ll only find a farmyard there now.
If you are planning a visit to Lincolnshire, you do have the splendid medieval cathedral at Lincoln and nearby medieval buildings to sate your interest in this period of history.
If you have any further information about the Knights Templar in Lincolnshire – do share!
The greatest Templar adventure you’ll ever read
Christmas in the year 1144 – the city of Edessa falls to the Seljuk Turks. For weeks, the crusader stronghold has been besieged by Muslim forces and on this most holy day to Christians, it capitulates. On the 26th December, the Turks storm in. This book – Quest for The True Cross – tells how in those turbulent hours, the True Cross is stolen by brigands and sold to the Saracens. Eventually, it’s spirited away to the Muslim kingdom of Al-Andalus (modern Portugal and Spain). Only one man can retrieve that sacred object – the Templar knight, Sir William de Mandeville.
But William has his own problems. Stationed in Jerusalem, the bloodshed and savagery of the crusades has taken a heavy toll on his mind. At night, he’s convinced a demon comes to visit and taunt the young knight for his personal failures and weakness. Back in England, his own family has rebelled against King Stephen and brought great dishonour to the name De Mandeville.
Together with his Syrian servant Pathros and an English peasant boy Nicholas, William journeys to Al-Andalus to retrieve the True Cross. But when he arrives, he discovers the only way to get the cross is to conquer the impregnable city fortress of Al-Usbunna. Somewhere within that Muslim metropolis is the very wood upon which Christ was crucified. A combination of courage and foresight will be needed to get inside the walls of Al-Usbunna and find the True Cross. And in so doing – William will be able to slay his demon.
You can find out what happened by downloading Quest for the True Cross!
Quest For The True Cross available on Amazon – click HERE
Quest For The True Cross available on Nook from Barnes and Noble – click HERE
Quest For The True Cross available on iTunes – click HERE
Quest For The True Cross available on Kobo – click HERE