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Cómo ser neotemplario hoy y la búsqueda espiritual en Occidente

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NOTA previa de A. Almazán:
 
Este texto forma parte de la conferencia pronunciada por frey Patrick Emile Bracco en Sigüenza dentro de los actos conmemorativos del 880 Aniversario de la fundación de la Orden del Temple, año de 1998 de la era de Cristo; actos organizados por el Gran Priorato Español de la Orden Soberana y Militar del Temple de Jerusalén (OSMTJ). En esta reunión estaban presentes los grandes priores de España, Portugal, Escocia y Escandinavia. Asimismo había delegados de los prioratos de Hungría, Inglaterra, Francia y Alemania.
 
Patrick Emile Bracco era, a la sazón, comendador y nuncio de la OSMTJ de España en Francia, Apoderado de la Comendadoría de las Tierras Ocitnas, y representante en Niza, París, Montpellier, Toulon y Limoges-Poitiers.
 
En nuestra opinión el espíritu rector de esta disertación de Bracco plasma lo que diversos investigadores del Temple y del neotemplarismo francmasónico estiman lo que posiblemente latía en los auténticos y orales (no escritos) “Estatutos Secretos del Temple”.
 
Obsérvese la crítica que realiza a muchos grupos neotemplarios e incluso a miembros de la propia OSMTJ no inmersos en ese “espíritu templario” que él expone. Asimismo véase su reiterada insistencia en la subsistencia de un esoterismo cristiano en el seno del Temple y de su constante tener presente a Dios, a Gloria de cuyo Nombre el Temple elevó su divisa y acción.
 
La conferencia tuvo lugar el 1 de octubre, víspera de San Saturio. Reitero, por mi parte, que nunca he formado parte de ninguna asociación neotemplaria, aunque como periodista especializado en estos temas he asistido a algunas celebraciones neotemplarias como invitado e incluso conferenciante.
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CÓMO SER TEMPLARIO HOY: EL CAMINO DE UNA BÚSQUEDA ESPIRITUAL EN EL MUNDO OCCIDENTAL
 
PATRICK EMILE BRACCO
En nuestros días, a través de toda Europa o América, se constata un florecimiento de movimientos templarios, como si el hecho de añadir la palabra Temple o Templario a cualquier grupo bastara para darle título.
 
Es cierto que en el seno de algunos de estos grupos se encuentra un verdadero espíritu caballeresco cristiano. Pero al lado de esto, ¿de cuántas manifestaciones patológicas podemos ser testigos?
No hablaré de estos bravos “Templarios” que no presentan más que el aspecto de guardianes de cementerios encargados de realizar el plan de las sepulturas, o todavía de estos hiper-especialistas históricos, más ratas de biblioteca que auténticos hombres de terreno. En todos estos casos, el espíritu templario está bien lejos. Pero ¿en qué términos podemos definir hoy el espíritu templario?
 
Cuando era aceptado como templario, este último debía conformarse con ciertas obligaciones de la Regla del Temple, que eran: la obediencia, la castidad, la pobreza, la fraternidad, la hospitalidad y el servicio a los ejércitos. No olvidemos que el Temple era una orden monástica y que sus miembros debían seguir sus reglas de una manera estricta.
 
El espíritu templario reposaba sobre ellas y su respeto representaba una apuesta sublime donde el honor y la fe tenían partes iguales.
 
Este espíritu animaba a los hombres que debían ser, a la vez, santos héroes, especulativos y hombres de acción, administradores y jefes de guerra. Debían aceptar, además, que la acción personal servía a la comunidad y no a la reputación de un hombre, por alto que estuviese en la jerarquía. Y todavía más que la gloria del Temple, servir a la gloria de Dios. Se trataba de ser digno del blanco manto y digno de sí mismo, saber conducirse en este mundo de ilusiones como un verdadero servidor de Cristo.
Pero hoy día, ¿cómo se puede, por una parte, conciliar estas obligaciones con la vida profana y, por otra parte, defender el ideal cristiano en un mundo donde reina la indiferencia?
 
Nuestra Orden actual no tiene una vocación monástica, así como también las obligaciones del Templario deben ser interpretadas con detenimiento. El mundo y las cosas han evolucionado desde el siglo XII, también es preciso saber adaptar estas reglas.
 
La castidad no debe ser una ausencia de relación carnal con el ser amado, sino más bien una huida de toda impureza y de todo desahogo malsano.
 
Tratar de reencontrar el verdadero sentido del amor físico, dándole su lugar como en el amor afable, una fusión de dos seres humanos no sólo por unos instantes, sino por toda una vida.
La pobreza: tampoco es cuestión aquí de comprometer a los Caballeros en la pobreza absoluta, sino hacerles comprender que en un momento se puede perder todo en la vida, pero la verdadera riqueza no está en los bienes exteriores, sino en lo que hay en el corazón.
 
Es preciso saber también, y esto concierne a otras dos obligaciones que son la fraternidad y la hospitalidad, que el templario debe saber compartir con su hermano menos afortunado que él (recordemos el simbolismo de dos templarios sobre el mismo caballo) y que él debe saber abrir su puerta y su corazón a los desgraciados que pueda encontrar en su camino.
La obediencia: cuando se entra en una orden, cualquiera que sea, el primero de los mandamientos es la obediencia. La obediencia y el respeto por las reglas son los únicos medios de mantener las estructuras de un organismo en función, sin no la anarquía se instala y nosotros tenemos demasiados ejemplos alrededor de nosotros para querer seguirlos.
 
El servicio a los ejércitos: la Orden del Temple no está aquí para batirse de una manera física; no llevamos espada, ni armadura; no es cuestión de restituir cualquier compromiso militar. Pero recordemos que, en caso de conflicto, hemos elegido un ideal espiritual, y que este ideal haría falta saberlo defender con las armas en la mano si fuera necesario.
 
Temo que muchos Hermanos, presentes o ausentes, no hayan ponderado de una manera suficientemente seria el peso de su compromiso en nuestra Orden. ¿Cuántos no han sido seducidos más que por la apariencia, el porte del manto blanco, el título de Caballero, pero los actos, los hechos, dónde están? ¿Qué han hecho ellos por la Orden en general y por su evolución en particular?
 
Si no se nace Caballero, se puede, sin embargo, llegar a serlo y para ello se debe tomar y seguir un cierto camino que comienza por una iniciación. Esta iniciación va a permitir al hombre profano que quiera entrar en el Temple, separarse de las coacciones exteriores y de su historia personal. Va a alejarse de su medio inmediato, limitado y obtuso por confiar al Universo y a la Humanidad todo, dándole una dimensión sagrada.
 
El sentido de esta ceremonia invariable es ayudar al nuevo Hermano a afrontar la angustia provocada por un compromiso profundo y permanente. Esta ceremonia vivida por los que obtienen el título y por los Hermanos crea un lazo entre los adeptos y, si es vivida intensamente, puede provocar una auténtica comunión.
 
Comprendemos que estas ceremonias iniciales son muy importantes en el sentido de que pregonan un deseo de despertar el hombre dormido y de hacerle tomar conciencia de un posible estado superior, lo que era una de las misiones del verdadero Temple.
 
Nosotros, que hemos elegido la vía de la Caballería Templaria, sabemos que la meta que nos hemos fijado no es la Jerusalén Terrestre, sino la Jerusalén Celeste.
 
Para hacer actos de beneficencia o tener una conducta moral irreprochable, no es necesario entrar en el Temple. En nuestro caso, esto debe ser la consecuencia directa de una búsqueda situada mucho más alto. Hace falta, pues, comprender que el Temple es también el vehículo de una búsqueda esotérica para cada Caballero, y la síntesis de esta búsqueda es la formación de una encrucijada de civilizaciones y de corrientes espirituales primordiales, cuyos participantes se harían Guardianes de la Tradición, transmitida por vía esotérica desde el cristianismo primitivo (comprendemos mejor así las relaciones entre los Templarios y los musulmanes durante las Cruzadas, mucho más hechas de comprensión mutua que de traición del cristianismo por parte de los primeros).
 
Guardemos el espíritu abierto a la diferencia y practiquemos la tolerancia, así podremos tener ya un estado de espíritu apto para una comprensión más sutil de las cosas.
 
Cuando comienza a existir, el hombre se interroga sobre el sentido de su vida; desgraciadamente las respuestas que aporta a estas interrogantes son vagas e insatisfactorias, y se ve obligado a contentarse con opiniones, de creencia o de fe. El sentido de esta verdadera búsqueda existencial no será dado más que por un camino interior, guiado a la vez por la Fe, la voluntad de alcanzar el logro marcado y la intuición; tres cualidades indispensables para cualquier éxito temporal o espiritual.
 
La corriente templaria es una de las grandes vías occidentales que ha llevado en su seno los medios de desarrollar esta búsqueda espiritual y, más allá de esta simple búsqueda, ha propuesto a los templarios realmente dignos una realización mucho más importante… Quien tenga orejas que oiga…
 
Hemos dicho que nuestra meta era la conquista de la Jerusalén Celeste, la que cada uno lleva en lo más profundo de sí y que le permitirá, si llega a conquistarla, trascender el simple estado mortal que tenía hasta ese momento. Para confirmar esto, miremos el símbolo que llevamos en el hombro izquierdo: es una cruz, sin el hombre crucificado, y no por ella directa y únicamente ligada al cristianismo, pero sí a una tradición muy anterior que creía que el hombre caído estaba estrechamente atado a los cuatro elementos de la manifestación y que sólo por el centro de esta cruz podía extraerse el hombre elegido y digno de figurar con los justos a la derecha del Padre Eterno.
 
Comprender, mis Hermanos, que el Temple ofrece esta posibilidad a los que tienen bastante coraje, voluntad y perseverancia para emprender y mantener tal camino, pero el resultado al final es digno de la gracia que nos ha hecho Dios permitiéndonos estar aquí, pues no olvidemos que este trabajo no se hace únicamente en un sentido egoísta, sino también, y sobre todo, por la Más Grande Gloria de Dios: “Non nobis, domine, non nobis sed nomini tuo da gloriam”.
 
Patrick Emile Bracco
(in templariosymas.blogspot.pt)

Confraria do Bodo

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Pombal, topónimo que deu o título a um estadista tão admirado como contestado, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Mello, é terra de história grande ligada aos templários e à fixação de fronteiras na reconquista cristã pelos cavaleiros do Templo. Terá sido o Mestre Templário Gualdim Pais, recém-chegado do Oriente, que numa das primeiras iniciativas da sua acção mandou erigir o castelo de Pombal com o intuito de dar continuidade a uma linha de castelos que defendesse o território conquistado aos mouros. Com 900 anos de história, o Castelo de Pombal conta, por isso, um pouco da história nacional e absorve o cariz do Mestre Gualdim Pais que neste edifício aplicou o vanguardismo da arquitectura militar da época.

Num concelho rico em paisagem e em história, surge como força aglutinadora a festa do Bodo, assumida como elemento central na identidade dos pombalenses. Esta festa de tão importante que é foi o motivo que levou à constituição da Confraria do Bodo. Por ser tempo e espaço de encontro entre os naturais de Pombal, mas também subsidiária da tradição antiga, esta confraria quis assim associar-se à  história e à cultura de uma festa que se faz de vontades individuais e colectivas e da sua relação com o divino. Por isso, é preciso, primeiro, explicar devidamente a origem das Festas do Bodo.

Sendo esta uma história bonita onde a dádiva, sempre a dádiva, é a forma de retribuir a graça da divindade é também o resultado do entrecruzar da história, de protagonistas que deram um pouco de si à localidade e transformaram a sua paisagem cultural. Amplamente ligado à devoção e à crença na divindade, a Festa do Bodo de Pombal traduz na sua essência a vontade do povo em agradecer o feito divino dividindo, repartindo, partilhando o bolo, pão de trigo com farinha não levedada.

Conta-se que, em certo ano, uma praga de gafanhotos e lagartas invadiu as searas e os campos, as casas e os quintais e até os vasos utilizados pelas mulheres para transportar a água obrigando a que a água fosse coada antes de utilizada. Logo o povo decidiu realizar uma procissão da Igreja de São Pedro até à Capela de Nossa Senhora de Jerusalém invocando protecção. Após missa e promessa de grande festa caso a calamidade passasse, desapareceram os bichos infestantes e o povo deu graças pelo milagre. No ano seguinte, uma senhora de nome Maria Fogaça chamou a si a organização das festas prometidas e com todo o aparato realizou festas de acordo com a graça recebida no ano anterior. É, então, que se dá novo milagre. Por forma a agradecer a benesse divina, são feitos dois enormes bolos cujo destino é a partilha pelo povo. No entanto, quando estes estão prestes a ser colocados no forno um deles cai torto e é num ímpeto de coragem e devoção que um dos presentes, invocando Nossa Senhora de Jerusalém, entra dentro do forno endireita o bolo e sai ileso. De novo, o povo reclama milagre e vê no bolo o símbolo da divindade que quer dar graças a quem nele confia. Nascem, assim, as festas do Bodo, do pão doce que se partilha em sinal da graça divina.

Numa festa que vai além da lenda encontram-se relações com práticas das festividades do Espírito Santo. De facto, de acordo com a obra Arte de Furtar, atribuída a Padre António Vieira, «Na vila de Pombal, perto de Leiria, há um forno em que todos os anos se cose uma grande fogaça para a festa do Espírito Santo; e entra um homem nele, quando mais quente para acomodar a fogaça e se detém dentro quanto tempo é necessário, sem padecer lesão alguma do fogo que, cosendo o pão, não cose o homem». Esta festa é, por isso, o resultado da vontade de muitos protagonistas, do contributo que cada um deles deu a um acontecimento que respira as vicissitudes culturais, as mentalidades e a idiossincrasia que atravessaram aquele lugar.

Herdeira deste passado onde a lenda se cruza com a história num território onde a diversidade é o denominador comum, Pombal vê surgir a Confraria do Bodo como reconhecimento da importância destas festas na unidade do concelho. Constituída, em 2005, por pombalenses que se encontravam por ocasião das Festas do Bodo, esta Confraria encontrou a sua vocação, quer na importância das festas enquanto momento de reunião e de partilha à mesa, quer na importância do património natural, edificado e cultural de um concelho que se espraia do maciço calcário da Serra de Sicó até ao encontro com o Atlântico, na Praia do Osso da Baleia.

Num território geograficamente tão diverso, também a gastronomia é diversa e abrange produtos como o Queijo do Rabaçal, o azeite, o mel, o cabrito, a morcela de arroz, o arroz na versão malandrinho que a espécie carolino permite, os doces conventuais do Convento do Louriçal, as cavacas e os beijinhos de Pombal, enfim, tudo o que um concelho que vai da serra até ao mar pode oferecer. É, sobretudo, a diversidade à mesa de um concelho que não se esgota numa só realidade.

Trajados de azul, estes confrades defendem o património cultural das Festas do Bodo. No entanto, fazem-no no entendimento de que, quase sempre, a gastronomia é acompanhada de um rico património cultural imaterial que faz com que o acto de se alimentar não seja apenas uma satisfação de uma necessidade física, mas seja, igualmente, um acto cultural. Tal é verdade com toda a pujança por terras de Pombal onde a presença de tantas e importantes personalidades, que definiram o que hoje é Portugal, deram também o seu contributo para a súmula de tradições que caracterizam as Festas do Bodo. Uma festa que é uma linha de continuidade no tempo que vai juntando quem por ali nasceu ou passou. Uma festa que junta os confrades e os faz exaltar a partilha do bodo na convicção de que na dádiva se agradece o alimento que é de todos e para todos.

in sol.pt por Olga Cavaleiro

The Struggle Of King Arthur And Mordred

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The story of England’s heroic King Arthur and his arch enemy Mordred has been a popular tale since the medieval era. It has been told and retold and been the subject of paintings and films as well as a succession of books. There are many differences between the narratives. For instance, sometimes Mordred is depicted as Arthur’s illegitimate son from his half-sister, or he might be portrayed as the son of the King of the Orkneys. He is also sometimes described as a member of King Arthur’s court who rebelled against him. However, the conflict between these two warriors and Mordred’s death in battle with Arthur are subjects of general agreement.

From the British Isles the legend of Arthur was carried to the European Continent and later to other English speaking countries around the world. The popularity of the first name Arthur in so many countries can also be traced to the fame of this legendary hero monarch. Today it is going to be hard to find someone educated in one of these lands who has not heard of King Arthur and is also able to name a few other of the characters and places featured. Although parts of the story are so well-known, its history and significance are not so widely appreciated.

The Origins of the Legend

Historians continue to speculate if King Arthur, Mordred and the other scenes and players in the legend have any historical basis. For the most part the story is associated with fifth or sixth century Wales. If a prototype for Arthur did exist he might have been a Celtic chieftain rallying his forces to fight off the Saxon invaders. References have been found to figures that might have been the model for King Arthur in some of the scare writings that survive from the Saxon period in British history, but none of the associations made are conclusive. Two Medieval writers share the responsibility for publicising the tale and incorporating in it many of the elements familiar to us today.

In 1138 Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote a history of the Kings of Britain. Many allege that he drew more on his imagination than on any older records that had come to his notice. Others claim that some of what he wrote corresponds with information in earlier documents that have now come to light. Whatever the authenticity of his facts, Geoffrey introduced his readers to a King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Merlin the Wizard and of course, King Arthur’s arch enemy Mordred. In this version of the tale King Arthur goes to fight against the Roman Empire in Gaul (France of today). The evil Mordred takes advantage of the opportunity to usurp Arthur’s throne and take Queen Guinevere as his wife. The news reached King Arthur on campaign. He returns to his kingdom and fights a fierce battle with Mordred at a place called Camlann, Mordred is killed but Arthur is mortally wounded.

In the late medieval period Thomas Malory published a revised and comprehensive version of the Arthur stories, entitled “The Death of Arthur” (Le Morte d’Arthur). The publication of this work coincided with the introduction of the printing press. Malory’s work became one of the first books printed in England and standardised many aspects of the Arthur legend, for example, the idea of Arthur and his knights sitting at the Round Table dates from this publication. The bitter enmity between Arthur and Mordred continues to form a key part of the story but in a key change from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s narrative Queen Guinevere remain loyal to King Arthur.

Why have these tales survived the years?

The fact that the reader of this article is likely to be familiar with tales of Arthur and Mordred is a testimony to their enduring power. Yet they are more than simple stories. The Arthur tales have contributed culturally to the shaping of Britain’s identity. Over all these years they continue to serve a useful purpose. People are attracted by the idea that there was once an age when chivalrous knights rode about the British countryside fighting treacherous enemies like Mordred, or even supernatural dragons and other monsters. During World War Two, tales of Arthur’s bravery against the country’s enemies provided a rallying point for resistance to German aggression. Today the interest is probably largely of an escapist nature. Regardless of whether or not there is a basis in history, it seems that tales of Arthur and Mordred still serve a purpose in our hi-tech age.

By: Jane Richardson in newhistorian.com

Saint George Versus the Dragon

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Saint George is traditionally considered the patron saint of England. His legendary victory over the dragon is seen as symbolic of the power of the English people to subdue their powerful enemies. His red cross on a white background is the basis of the British Union Jack flag. In earlier years it was carried into battle as a standard. The image of George the dragon slayer has been used since the 1800s on English gold coins. However, none of the stories connected with this figure describe him as coming from the British Isles. The story reached England in the medieval period – the time of the Crusades. People were attracted to this tale of bravery and chivalry. In the course of time its foreign origins were forgotten and it began to be seen as an English tradition. It is not a coincidence that George has been the second most popular name given to English monarchs.

The George and the Dragon story

There are several versions of this story. Usually it is set in North Africa. One story recounts how the brave knight arrived in Libya after a very long and arduous trip by land and sea. Here he met a hermit who told him about a terrifying dragon that was terrifying the people of Libya. The dragon had an unpleasant habit of devouring young maidens. The problem the country faced was that all the young maidens had been eaten with the sole exception of the king’s daughter. It was her turn to be the dragon’s lunch tomorrow. The King of Egypt was offering his daughter in marriage to any brave knight willing to rid the land of this dragon.

This was exactly the kind of challenge George was searching for. He galloped off the valley where the beast lived just in time to see the princess of Egypt being led to this grisly death. He comforted her with the news that he was off to kill the dragon and she need not fear. True to his words he rode on to the cave where the dragon lived. The huge beast with a fifty foot long tail and a huge head was understandably furious at this intrusion on its territory. It came out of its cave roaring like thunder. George charged at the dragon and speared it but its scales were so thick his spear broke. George was dismounted but found refuge under a magical tree conveniently on hand for some emergencies. The tree’s magical powers shielded him against the dragon’s poison. When he had recovered from the failure of the first attack he went after the dragon again with his sword. The dragon doused him in poison and his armour fell apart. Everything was almost lost but George noticed just in time that there were no scales under the wings of the beast. He struck it under its wings with his sword and at last succeeded in dispatching the monster.

Interpretations

On the most basic level George and the dragon is an attractive fairy story. We learn about the triumph of good over evil in a manner that leaves no room for alternative interpretations. On a deeper level it is easy to detect in the persona of the dragon a symbolic representation of our fears of the unknown, or situations we perceive as very threatening. The dragon can be seen as almost insurmountable obstacle or approaching terror threatening our very existence. The conquest of the dragon shows that we have the abilities to overcome our most dreaded enemies with sufficient determination and courage. These ideas appeal to individuals. They also clearly held appeal for an island nation fearing invasion from its more powerful Continental neighbours.

If you want to connect the dragon slaying with some episode in early history, there is no evidence that Saint George is modelled on a person whom we know lived in a certain historical period. However, it is interesting to note that many cultures have stories featuring dragons. Some scholars suggest that one explanation for this maybe the survival of dinosaurs into a much later period than we used to believe. The theory has always been that dinosaurs died out before man came on the scene. These scholars postulate that early man might have seen dinosaurs and conceivably needed to defend himself against them. If this really was the case there may have been a real prototype for Saint George – an ancient warrior who fought and killed one of these prehistoric monsters. His exploits would have been talked and sung about for generations and so this story may have a germ of truth in its origins. More prosaically the stories of dragons may have been sparked by the discovery of dinosaur skeletons, which would certainly have the power to terrify a superstitious and uneducated farmer. In truth, we will probably never know.

By: Zoran Krdzic in newhistorian.com

 

Researchers Discover Gothic Cathedrals Blended Iron and Stone

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By using radiocarbon dating on the metal found in Gothic cathedrals, a team made up of specialists in various disciplines has found that iron was used to strengthen stone during the construction process. Their study sheds a whole new light on the mechanical skill and intents of cathedral builders.

The study was the result of a collaboration between the Laboratoire archéomatériaux et prévision de l’altération (CNRS/CEA), the Laboratoire de mesure du carbone 14 (CNRS/CEA/IRD/IRSN/French ministry of Culture and Communication) and “Histoire des pouvoirs, savoirs et sociétés” of Université Paris 8, according to Science Daily. The team of researchers had to collaborate and use their various skills in archaeology, history, chemistry and material science to determine exactly when iron and steel were incorporated into the construction process.

Gothic architecture thrived in the middle of the twelfth century near Paris, and included substantial amounts of steel2 or iron reinforcements, as shown by archaeological and historical investigation. However, it is often said that cathedrals are living buildings, because over the centuries they have undergone renovation projects for the purposes of modification, conservation, and reparation. This means it can be difficult to determine whether certain elements were a part of the original construction process, or later additions.

Previously, even if these metals had been found to be a part of the initial design, the date of their original assimilation would have remained open to debate. Scientists were often unsure if the iron was added later, or if it had been blended into the original construction materials. By combining their diverse abilities, the teams of scientists have proven that the mixed metal reinforcements were indeed a part of the initial design phase.

The researchers accomplished this by measuring the amount of trace quantities of 14C in the metal. Up until the Middle Ages in Europe, iron ore was smelt in furnaces using charcoal, some of whose carbon was released and entrapped in the metal in the form of carbide flakes. This carbon can now be extracted from the metal, and the tree that provided the charcoal can be dated, thus making it possible to estimate the age of the metal, according to Science Daily.

The method above seems reasonably simple, however, it had never been reliable enough to provide any sort of absolute dating. That’s where Laboratoire de mesure de carbone 14 came in, as well as Laboratoire archéomatériaux et prévision de l’altération, who in collaboration with archeologist and historian colleagues at the CNRS, confirmed the sequence of the construction process by cross-referencing radiocarbon dating with archeological evidence.

Under these circumstances, it has been proven in absolute terms (with a few years as a margin of error), that the integration of metal elements occurred in the initial design and construction phase of cathedrals in Bourges and Beauvais.

This new method of dating will help researchers understand a little better how medieval architecture worked. The team will soon apply it to samples from the Sainte-Chapelle, as well as using it to date temples and the iron trade in the Khmer Empire.

Photo Credit: wikimedia commons user: Vammpi

By: Sarah Carrasco in newhistorian.com

Sicilian Vespers

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On the morning of the 31st March, 1282, the Sicilian Vespers came to an end. The night of rioting and massacre which had started on Easter Monday proved crucial in the history of Sicily and also had a significant impact on the broader history of the Mediterranean in this period.

The revolt, which gets it name from the Hour of Vespers ceremony where it supposedly began, started on the 30th March and is believed to have been triggered by an Angevin soldier stopping a Palermitan woman outside the church of Santo Spirito di Palermo, to search her for weapons. Although details of the event of course vary depending on the source, it seems the soldier somehow offended the woman, triggering a riot against the Angevin-French among the local community.

Reflecting the deeply ingrained tensions in Sicily’s multicultural society, the rioting spread through Palermo and then the whole of the island. The local Sicilian population attacked and killed Angevin people wherever they could be found, going as far as murdering monks and nuns. The rioters supposedly used a simple test to determine the Sicilian population from Angevin. Anyone believed to have originated from Anjou was asked to say the word “ciciri”, something native French speakers could not do in a convincingly Sicilian accent.

In the annals of Medieval history, the revolt was a unique event. A spontaneous, popular uprising which affected political change. Following the night of the 30th to the 31st March the Angevin-French fled Sicily, and the people of the island eventually secured the support of the King of Aragon who sent troops there in August 1282. Although the revolt seemed to have occurred without any pre-planning, it is important to acknowledge that the uprising against the Angevin-French rulers was not completely without premeditation.

Since 1266 Charles of Anjou, with the support of the papacy, had ruled Sicily from Naples. Deeply unpopular in Sicily, Charles’ strict rule incurred the wrath of normal Sicilians, but his unpopularity in a broader context was just as significant. A group of Italian nobles, known as the Ghibellines, supported the authority of the Holy Roman Emperor rather than that of Charles and the papacy. Peter III of Aragon, a rival of Charles for the Neapolitan throne and one of the main beneficiaries of the uprising, also had a clear interest in altering the status quo on Sicily. The Night of the Sicilian Vespers may have been a demonstration of popular dissatisfaction at Charles’ tyranny, but there were a diverse range of groups with an interest in ending the Angevin presence on Sicily.

The revolt was followed by series of sea skirmishes and land battles between Angevin and Aragonese forces, sometimes referred to as the War of the Vespers. The fighting finally came to a close in 1302, with the Peace of Caltabellotta. The treaty saw Charles II, the son of Charles of Anjou, concede Sicily to King Frederick, a relative of Peter of Aragon. Sicily was now firmly under the sphere of Spanish influence, a situation which would persist for another five centuries.

Historians have since argued that the Sicilian Vespers, and the subsequent war, proved crucial in the failure of the crusades in the Eastern Mediterranean. Charles of Anjou and the Vatican had been planning to send troops to take Constantinople when the uprising started. The need to divert resources to Sicily put this campaign on hold. Although one of many factors which ultimately led to the failure of the crusades, it is not a coincidence that the fall of Acre in 1291, a pivotal defeat for Christians in the Middle East, took place during the War of the Vespers.

Indeed, the significance of events in Sicily in the broader context of Mediterranean history in this period can be seen in the theory that the Aragonese and Sicilian forces received financial support from Byzantine. Although the scope and nature of this support cannot be confirmed, it hints at the complex political workings of the period.

The Sicilian Vespers revolt was an expression of popular dissatisfaction at the harsh rule of Charles of Anjou over Sicily. This moment of rebellion by Sicilians however, can only be truly understood in the broader context of Medieval history.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: Enzian44

By: Daryl Worthington in newhistorian.com

The Travels of Marco Polo

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Originally dictated in a Genoese prison cell, ‘The Travels of Marco Polo’ straddles the line between travel literature and adventure story. The teller of the story, Marco Polo, claimed that the work was based completely on fact, compiled from his travels around the world. The book was hugely popular in Medieval Europe, despite being widely referred to as ‘The Million Lies’.

Marco Polo was not the first European to venture into Asia, but he traveled much further to the East than any before him, and, according to the book at least, became much more integrated into the cultures there. The real key to the work’s success is the imagination and energy put into the descriptions of Asia, Africa and the Mongol Empire. The work often seems fantastical, partly because some of the things Polo described were indeed made up, but also because the language used is so colourful it seems unbelievable.

The adventure to the East actually started when Nicolo and Maffeo Polo, Marco’s father and uncle, set off for Constantinople in 1260. From this journey they ventured into the lands of the Mongolian tribes, eventually reaching the court of Kublai Khan. The Polos returned to Europe, eventually arriving in their home city of Venice in 1269. Upon his return, Nicolo discovered he had a son, Marco Polo. The Polos, who had promised Kublai Khan they would come back to Mongolia with Catholic missionaries, eventually set off on their return to Asia with Marco and two Catholic friars, in 1271. Although the friars eventually gave up on the journey, the Polo’s returned to the Khan’s court, where Marco became a confidant of Kublai Khan.

Marco Polo remained in the Khan’s court for seventeen years, and was sent on a variety of missions and errands, allowing him to travel in previously uncharted territories. Through his service he explored much of what is now China, as well as venturing into India, and crossing over to Sri Lanka. A recently revealed map, attributed to Polo and signed for authenticity by his three daughters, is believed to sketch out the coast of Japan and Alaska. The origins and veracity of the map have not been confirmed, but some researchers have claimed that it proves Polo’s travels actually took him as far as the shores of North America.

‘The Story of Marco Polo’ details his experiences in this period of his life. It includes descriptions of the journey from Acre (in what is modern day Israel), through Persia and then onto the Khan’s palace in what is now Beijing. The Polos traveled over a series of overland trader’s routes, what would eventually become known as the Silk Road. As well as providing detailed descriptions of Polo’s experiences in the Khan’s court, the book is just as crucial for its depiction of the journey along the Silk Road, providing information on the cultures and landscapes the Polo family encountered.

Some critics question the validity of the text, pointing out that there is no mention of Polo in the detailed records of the Khan’s court from the thirteenth century. They also point out that despite Polo’s extensive stay and travels in Asia, he never made reference to major landmarks, such as the Great Wall, or distinctive cultural traits, such as eating with chopsticks or foot binding.

Polo himself eventually returned to Europe in 1295. He became involved in a conflict between Venice and Genoa, during which he was captured and imprisoned. While incarcerated he met Rustichello, a writer from Pisa who started to write down Polo’s stories.

Whether these stories were a complete fabrication, or just heavily embellished by Polo or Rustichello, they remain a fascinating document. The book was pivotal in shaping opinions on Asia and the Mongol Empire, long after its publication. Whether the book is factually accurate or not, it cannot be denied that the stories within, as well as the history of Polo himself, make it a fascinating read.

By: Daryl Worthington in newhistorian.com