Crusading movement

The Crusading movement was one of the most important elements and defining attributes of late medieval western culture. It impacted almost every country in Europe, the western Islamic world, touching many aspects of life, influencing the Church, religious thought, politics, the economy, and society. It had a distinct ideology that was evident in texts describing, regulating, and promoting crusades. It began with a call from Pope Urban II for an armed pilgrimage to recover the Christian holy places in Jerusalem. In 1095, he promised participants spiritual reward during a church council in Clermont, France. The expedition led to the founding of four crusader states in Syria and Palestine and inspired further military endeavours and popular movements, now known collectively as crusades. Roman Catholic church leaders developed the movement by offering spiritual reward to those who fought for the defence of the holy places and extended this to fighting Muslim rulers in the Iberian Peninsula, pagan tribes in the Baltic region, primarily in Italy against enemies of the Papacy, and non-Catholic groups. Supporters who were unable or unwilling to fight could acquire the same spiritual privileges through donations.

Fresco from San Bevignate depicting the Templars battling the Saracens, possibly the battle of Nablus (1242)

The legal and theological foundations were formed from the theory of Holy War, the concept of pilgrimage, Old Testament parallels to Jewish wars instigated and assisted by God, and New Testament Christocentric views on forming individual relationships with Christ. Participants in crusade were viewed as milites Christi, or Christ's soldiers. Volunteers took a vow and received plenary indulgences from the Church. Motivation may have been the forgiveness of sin, feudal obligation to participate in their lords' military actions, or honour and wealth. The movement impacted almost every country in Europe and the western Islamic world, touching many aspects of life, influencing the Church, religious thought, politics, the economy, and society.

Muslims, Jews, pagans, and non-Catholic Christians were frequently killed in large numbers. Islamic holy war known as Jihad revived; schism grew between Catholicism and Orthodoxy; and antisemitic laws were made. Crusading ventures expanded the borders of western Christendom, consolidated the collective identity of the Latin Church under papal leadership and reinforced the connection between Catholicism, feudalism and militarism. The republics of Genoa and Venice flourished, establishing communes in the crusader states and expanding trade with eastern markets. Accounts of crusading heroism, chivalry and piety influenced medieval romance, philosophy and literature. Societies of professional soldiers under monastic vows emerged as military orders in the crusader states and at western Christendom's Iberian and Baltic borderlands. Trading in spiritual rewards prospered, scandalising pious Catholics, and developing into one of the causes of the 16th-century Protestant Reformation.


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