It is the 15th of July 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Sam Leanza Ortiz, filling in for Dan van Voorhis, who is on vacation.
Today we look back nine centuries to the First Crusade to remember the capture of Jerusalem which was secured on this day in 1099.
Before getting to the siege, let’s step farther back to briefly go over the origins of the Crusade and how they got to Jerusalem
The call to holy war, to literally take up “the way of the cross” on Crusade, came from Pope Urban II in late 1095. Responding to pleas for help from the Byzantine Emperor, Alexius I Comnenus, Pope Urban II, first at Clermont, and then to all of France called for a crusade, lamenting the Muslim hold on historic Christian lands.
Indeed, Jerusalem had been under Islamic control since the seventh century. Now entering the twelfth century, the Seljuq Turks were poised to expand their empire into modern-day Turkey and the Balkan peninsula.
Christians, West, and East, likely still had in living memory, the freshness of the wounds rendered in the Great Schism of 1054 in which the Eastern Church split away from her Latin sister. Nevertheless, the threat of domination from the Turks was motivation enough for the eastern emperor to look to the West for help.
Pope Urban II’s rallying speech received an immediate response as wealthy laymen rushed to their homes to prepare for the long journey. The eagerness among these freshly minted Crusaders was understandable, considering Urban's offer on the table. Aside from the special cross-laden badges each crusader received, those who took up arms received the promise of the full remission of sins –– an offer too good to pass up in the Middle Ages.
Thousands of men began their long journeys as soon as humanly possible. The journey from Western Europe to the Eastern Mediterranean was perilous. Liberal estimates guess that one-third of Crusaders made it to Jerusalem. More conservatively, some suppose that a meager 10% survived.
For those that survived the journey, arriving in Jerusalem marked the high point of pilgrimage. This, the Holy City, was why they had come.
Armies encamped around the city starting in June, and they eventually breached from the north and the northwest. The siege itself was brutal, sparing few Muslims and Jews from the slaughter. One chronicler, Raymond of Aguilers, wrote in a nod to Revelation that crusaders rode through the city with blood reaching the bridles of their horses.
In a twist of irony, Crusaders would spend their breaks from the massacres praying at either the site of the Templum Domini (today the site of the Dome of the Rock) or at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, merging Old and New Testaments in their triumph.
Once the city was liberated from its erstwhile inhabitants, the victors celebrated with an eight-day feast, an octave of sorts. This would become the basis for the Feast of the Liberation of Jerusalem, which Christians would celebrate through the medieval period.
The second, third, and fourth crusades would be the last crusades of note. Unless you count the 1989 installment of the Indiana Jones series where Harrison Ford and Sean Connery save the Holy Grail from Nazis.
The successes of this First Crusade would indeed be the high point of the Crusading period. That it was so successful had vast implications in the Latin Church, shaping the literary and fine arts of the period, creating new "Crusader States" in the Eastern Mediterranean, and two military orders charged with protecting those in Latin kingdoms.
Unfortunately, these military orders and successive crusaders would fail to live up to the First Crusade. In 1291, they would lose control of the Holy City that was liberated on this day in 1099.
The final word for today comes from the Book of Revelation, the 21st chapter, as we see a new Jerusalem freed from death and destruction:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying:
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man,
and He will dwell with them.
They will be His people,
and God Himself will be with them as their God.
‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,’
and there will be no more death
or mourning or crying or pain,
for the former things have passed away.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 15th of July 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie.
This episode was written and read by Sam Leanza Ortiz.
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.