Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we herald the date that marks the end of the Middle Ages and the final (?) fall of Rome.

It is the 29th of May 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


Sure, it’s true here on the almanac that we are driven by dates and days. But this is partly a reflection of the human condition wherein we attach significance to certain days and events as a means of collective remembering- who we are, where we’ve come from, and maybe where we are headed. You do it whenever you celebrate an anniversary or birthday. Speaking of which, it was on the 29th of March- 15 years ago in 2009, that I first became a father when my wife gave birth to Walter Coert van Voorhis. Happy birthday son. And, take this as your yearly reminder that your birthday coincides with one of the more drastic, deadly, and demoralizing sieges in world history- an event seen as tragic for the hopes of a united Christendom and the official marker of the end of the Middle Ages. Coert, Happy Birthday, and remember that it comes on the anniversary of the great siege of Constantinople on the 29th of May in 1453.

Sieges and battles aren’t often inflection points on this show, but a few battles would be as devastating as what was then called “Christendom” and would give rise to the coming religious revolution.

By the 1400s, the once glorious capital of Constantinople had seen better days. It was once the new center of the Roman Empire. Its founder, “Constantine the Great,” had converted to Christianity, and the once hostile Roman Empire followed suit (that is, to the extent that a whole nation can convert- a perennial question and issue for the church). And sure, it was still the largest capital in Europe. Yes, it was home to the largest Cathedral of its day: the Hagia Sophia. However, the former great capitol had been under siege for centuries because of its strategic location.

Check out a map—find “Istanbul” and see it on that little land bridge that separates Bulgaria, Greece, and Europe from Turkey on the other side. This is the bridge between East and West—Europe and Asia. Note that it connects the Black Sea and Russia to the Mediterranean.

Constantinople- the capital of the Byzantine Empire, had been threatened by Islamic forces in the past- this was the beginning of the Crusades, with Constantinople calling on Rome and Western Christians to help them.

But those crusades, a historical embarrassment, became even more bungled by the 4th Crusade when it was Western Christians who sacked Constantinople from insider her walls.

But it wasn’t until the 15th century that its famed walls would come down for good.  

Seeing the weakness of Constantinople by the 1400s the Ottoman Turks saw it as a new capital as they had been driven westward by the Mongols. It was Mehmet II who saw the one time capital of the Eastern Roman Empire as a suitable new capital for the Turks.

The siege began on Easter Monday, the 2nd of April in 1453. The once impregnable city would give way to the sheer force of Ottoman armies. A reasonable picture of the opposing armies, in terms of trained soldiers, could number the Ottoman forces at around 100,000 and the Byzantine at around 10,000.

As the Ottomans had moved westward in the previous centuries, they had grown by conversions (forced and otherwise) and had engaged Western and anti-Byzantine Christians for support. One famous example of this was the Ottoman's use of “the Basilic,” one of the largest cannons ever made- to shoot a 1200 lb cannonball about 1 mile and was crucial to destroy the Greek walls. The Cannon was built by a Hungarian Christian for the Byzantine emperor, who refused to pay, and it was sold to Sultan Mehmet instead.

There would be a “brain drain” with many scholars in the East leaving for the West. This would mark the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Early Modern Era or Renaissance.  

And it would be these Ottomans, in the decades after settling the new Istanbul, that would begin to set their sites on Western Europe and Vienna- a stronghold for the Holy Roman Emperor and Habsburgs. In fact, I may have told the story before that the Reformation likely didn’t take place in 1517 if not for the threat of the Ottomans, who since 1453 had been knocking on the door to the West and scaring the Pope and Emperor, who were then less likely to alienate the rebellious germans in their ranks… a story for another day. But the beginning of the end of the Middle Ages and the lead-up to the Reformation and Renaissance is marked with one of the most important sieges of all time and the sacking of Constantinople on this day in 1453.



 The last word for today is from the daily lectionary and, Holy Cow! A text from Numbers- a blessing we say to our little ones every Sunday.

The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

“‘“The Lord bless you
    and keep you;

the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;

the Lord turn his face toward you

    and give you peace.”’


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 29th of May 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who knows that in Canada, the Ottomans are referred to as Chesterfields… he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who just learned that a Chesterfield is technically a sofa with large, rolled arms that are the same height as the back, while an ottoman has neither back nor arms- I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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