Jerusalem

La Sábana Santa

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La Sábana Santa de Turín, mejor conocida como Síndone, es una de las dos piezas o reliquias de las que se cree contienen imágenes formadas de manera milagrosa de N.S. Jesucristo.

La Sábana Santa de Turín, mejor conocida como Síndone, es una de las dos piezas o reliquias de las que se cree contienen imágenes formadas de manera milagrosa de N.S. Jesucristo. La otra pieza es el Sudario de Oviedo.
Cuando en la primera de ellas se descubrió impresa la figura de una persona, se suscitaron una serie de investigaciones muy serias y rigurosas por parte de prestigiosos científicos, tanto como teólogos y filósofos. Han aparecido numerosas sociedades dedicadas únicamente al estudio del tema, que organizan simposios y congresos con regularidad. Pero, ¿qué hay detrás de todo ello? ¿Cómo fue que se dio tal fenómeno? A través de esta serie de artículos nos dedicaremos a recorrer el fascinante camino que se ha seguido durante varias décadas de indagaciones sobre la Síndone.

La Síndone es una sábana de lino de 4.36 metros de largo por 1.10 metros de ancho, tejida con espina de pescado. Sobre ella se ven las huellas de una imagen –frontal y dorsal– de un hombre muerto por crucifixión, y se observan dos líneas oscuras y dos triángulos blancos, vestigios de quemaduras causadas durante un incendio en 1532.

Una de las primeras pistas históricas señala que la sábana –más probablemente el sudario– es llevada a Edessa (la actual Urfa, al este de Turquía), donde se usa para la conversión de Abgar V, rey de Edessa (reina del 13 al 50), al cristianismo. Poco después de que su hijo volviera al paganismo se le pierde la pista. En el año 216 Edessa es anexada al imperio romano, año en que probablemente el manto regresa a la ciudad, aunque no parece ser exhibido de manera alguna, sino hasta que aparece, en el año 525, en uno de los nichos encima de una de las puertas de la ciudad.

En el 943, un ejército enviado por el emperador bizantino Romano, llega a la todavía musulmana Edessa. El general promete no invadir la ciudad, además de pagar una cierta cantidad de dinero y la libertad de 200 prisioneros musulmanes, a cambio del manto con la imagen de Jesús. Después de muchas negociaciones, se llega a un acuerdo y la sábana es llevada a Constantinopla, donde el 15 de agosto de 944 se recibe con grandes celebraciones y se le instala en la capilla Pharos del palacio imperial de Constantinopla, depósito de muchas otras reliquias sagradas.

En 1204 la Cuarta Cruzada toma Constantinopla y la ciudad es saqueada; en la confusión el manto desaparece y durante un siglo nada se sabe, excepto por documentos de la Orden de Caballeros Templarios. En 1306 se halla una pintura en una de las casas de los Templarios en Templecomb, Inglaterra, de la que se sugiere que representa el rostro del hombre de la Síndone. El 13 de octubre de 1307 los Templarios son arrestados por orden del rey Felipe el Hermoso, acusados de herejía e idolatría. Sus altos dignatarios Jaques de Molay y Geoffrey de Charny son quemados en la hoguera el 19 de marzo de 1314, mientras la Síndone sigue desaparecida.

Según el Memorando de D’Arcys, en 1355 se tienen la primeras ostensiones de la Síndone en la capilla de Lirey, cerca de Troyes. Su propietario era un caballero del lugar llamado Geoffrey I de Charny, quien muere el 19 de septiembre de 1356 en la batalla de Poitiers. La Síndone pasa al poder de su viuda Jeanne de Vergy y, más tarde, se entregó a Margarita de Charny, hermana de Geoffrey II de Charny. Pasó el tiempo y, en 1418, a raíz de las guerras con Inglaterra, la Síndone se traslada de Lirey al castillo de Montfort, por razones de seguridad, y luego a St. Hippolyte sur Doubs, en Alsace-Lorraine, cerca de Suiza. El 22 de marzo de 1453, Margarita, ya anciana y sin hijos, recibe de regalo un castillo y un estado de parte del Duque Luis de Saboya, a cambio de “valiosos servicios”, los cuales son interpretados como la entrega de la Síndone a la familia Saboya, quienes serán sus propietarios durante cinco siglos.

En 1578 la Síndone se traslada a la catedral de Turín, lugar que será su residencia permanente, excepto en tiempos de guerra, y se le instala en el altar, en un lugar construido especialmente, de donde se cambiará en 1694 a la capilla real para depositarse en una urna especial, lugar en que permanece por tres siglos.

Antonio Lara Barragán Gómez OFS

Islam Peace and Jihad

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The editor of the Templar Globe just found this interesting article that brings us the view of a Pakistan islamic journalist. To form a better view of the issued that are part ou our history we have to read both sides of the accounts.

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The Book and the Prophet they hold in such contempt are the only religious head and the book that glorify Jesus and Gospel. If Jesus commands the respect he has today it is owing to the declaration by Muahammad and the Quran that Jesus was a Miracle of God and his mother was pious and virgin when she gave birth to Jesus. If this was not the stand of Islam, Pope can very well understand what the majority of the world could have called Jesus as. But Islam gave Jesus his true place in the history of the world by describing him as Messenger and Word of God.

o The Bible advocates much greater violence against the detractors than the Quran The following verses are from the Bible, New International Version (NIV), 1984:

* Do not allow a sorceress to live. Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death. Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed. (Exodus 22:18-20)
* This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbour.’ The Levites did as Moses commanded and that day about three thousand of the people died. (Exodus 32:27-28 )
* The LORD said to Moses, ‘Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites…. The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps…. (Moses ordered) “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man. (Numbers 31: 1-18 )
* (Jesus said) “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me. (Luke 19:27)
* He (Jesus) said to them, ‘But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. (Luke 22:36 )

Christians who are always blaming Quran for asking Muslims to “kill the unbelievers” must stop this tirade, as Jesus asked for the “enemies” to be killed “in front of me.” The Old Testament is replete with the accounts of bloody battles that killed thousands of persons. In this context, following remarks from an article are important:

“Is Christianity only a religion of Peace and Love? I do not think that anyone can honestly and objectively examine American or European history and answer “yes” to that question. Christianity can encourage Peace and Love – but it certainly need not, and it quite often has done just the opposite. Although the people responsible for violence might have found a way to express their hatred without Christianity, it cannot be ignored that Christianity offers a convenient divine mandate for hatred and violent acts against a wide range of people………Violent inclinations in Christianity are apparent right from the beginning……The course of modernity has been one strewn with blood, bones, and bodies – much of which can be attributed to Christianity.” (Atheist.com)

In another article, “The Real History of the Crusades”, Thomas F. Madden, despite his huge defence of the crusades against Islam, admits:

“…I was frequently asked to comment on the fact that the Islamic world has a just grievance against the West. Doesn’t the present violence, they persisted, have its roots in the Crusades’ brutal and unprovoked attacks against a sophisticated and tolerant Muslim world? In other words, aren’t the Crusades really to blame?….. Ex-president Bill Clinton has also fingered the Crusades as the root cause of the present conflict. In a speech at Georgetown University, he recounted (and embellished) a massacre of Jews after the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 and informed his audience that the episode was still bitterly remembered in the Middle East. (Why Islamist terrorists should be upset about the killing of Jews was not explained.) Clinton took a beating on the nation’s editorial pages for wanting so much to blame the United States that he was willing to reach back to the Middle Ages. Yet no one disputed the ex-president’s fundamental premise…… The Crusades are generally portrayed as a series of holy wars against Islam led by power-mad popes and fought by religious fanatics. They are supposed to have been the epitome of self-righteousness and intolerance, a black stain on the history of the Catholic Church in particular and Western civilisation in general. A breed of proto-imperialists, the Crusaders introduced Western aggression to the peaceful Middle East and then deformed the enlightened Muslim culture, leaving it in ruins. For variations on this theme, one need not look far. See, for example, Steven Runciman’s famous three-volume epic, History of the Crusades, or the BBC/A&E documentary, The Crusades, hosted by Terry Jones. Both are terrible history yet wonderfully entertaining.….The Crusades were wars, so it would be a mistake to characterise them as nothing but piety and good intentions. Like all warfare, the violence was brutal (although not as brutal as modern wars). There were mishaps, blunders, and crimes. These are usually well-remembered today. During the early days of the First Crusade in 1095, a ragtag band of Crusaders led by Count Emicho of Leiningen made its way down the Rhine, robbing and murdering all the Jews they could find. Without success, the local bishops attempted to stop the carnage. In the eyes of these warriors, the Jews, like the Muslims, were the enemies of Christ. Plundering and killing them, then, was no vice. Indeed, they believed it was a righteous deed, since the Jews’ money could be used to fund the Crusade to Jerusalem….. Jews perished during the Crusades, but the purpose of the Crusades was not to kill Jews”. He takes lot of pains in proving the better side of crusades, which of course is opposite to the analysis of most of the neutral historians. This is why he calls his analysis “the real history”. But the negative side of crusades is extremely ugly. Not only Muslims but Jews were also brutally massacred in the process. In the first Crusade, the Christian fighters, in order to avenge the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, massacred tens of thousands of innocent Jews, Muslims, and even Orthodox Christians who had the misfortune to dress or look like Muslims. On July 15, 1099, they reached Jerusalem where streets were drenched with the blood of Muslims and Jews. Those who survived were sold into slavery. In 1144, in the Second Crusade, the Jewish communities of Germany faced another slaughter in Jesus’ name. During the Third Crusade in 1170. Jews in York, Lynn, Norwich, Stamford, and other towns of England were massacred. In 1198, Pope Innocent III began the Fourth Crusade. He ordered Jews to wear badges to identify themselves, and then ordered them to be killed to atone for Jesus’ death. After the formal ending of Crusades, thousands of young Crusaders burned their way across Europe exterminating more than 150 Jewish communities. The worst victims were of course Muslims. In the First Crusade, nearly all of the Muslims inside Antioch. were killed by the merciless crusaders. . Then the crusaders attacked Marrat an-Nu’man where the crusaders (The Templars, known for their religiousness) slaughtered a hundred thousand people. The attack on Jerusalem witnessed the worst kind of brutalities that ever occurred before in the history. No Muslim was given mercy. Old, young, men, women and children were brutally massacred. The blooded flooded the streets, reaching as high as knees. Muslims were thrown from the tops and burnt. The crusaders mounted the Mount of Solomon and killed hundreds of thousands. In contrast when Salaadin recaptured Jerusalem, no Christian was harmed. Those who wanted to leave the city were allowed to do so; those who wanted to live were allowed to live by paying tribute. Those who could not pay tribute were condoned. The irony is that Crusaders themselves lost millions of lives in the fights; often Christens killed fellow Christians with the same brutality with which they massacred Muslims and Jews.”

Islam, Peace and Jihad

Peace” in Islam does not merely refer to the absence of war. It is a much more comprehensive term that includes peace at physical, mental, family and social (national and international) levels. This implies absence of all forms of diseases and weaknesses at individual level, and absence of all forms of mischief in society. The verses of the Holy Quran are full of messages that speak of tolerance, endurance and peace. Equally strong are messages against chaos, mischief, suppression and oppression. In fact when one goes through the Holy Book, one can easily feel the intensity with which Islam wants to achieve its aim of grand peace. True, in exceptional circumstances, it allows armed struggle, but it prefers to avoid violence. And whenever it allows violence, it is only aimed at preventing greater violence or widespread chaos. Let us examine the following verses:

· “..but if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression.” (2:193)

· “Therefore if they withdraw from you but fight you not, and (instead) send you (Guarantees of) peace, then Allah hath opened no way for you (to war against them).” (4:90)

· “But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in Allah.” (8:61)

· “……………with those Pagans with whom ye have entered into alliance and who have not subsequently failed you in aught, nor aided any one against you. So fulfil your engagements with them to the end of their term: for Allah loveth the righteous.” (9:4)

· “If one amongst the Pagans ask thee for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of Allah and then escort him to where he can be secure. That is because they are men without knowledge.” (9:6)

· “Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loveth those who are just. Allah only forbids you, with regard to those who fight you for (your) Faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support (others) in driving you out, from turning to them (for friendship and protection). It is such as turn to them (in these circumstances), that do wrong.” (60:8-9)

· “Whenever two factions of believers fall out with one another, try to reconcile them. If one of them should oppress the other, then fight the one, which acts oppressively until they comply with God’s command. If they should comply, then patch things up again between them in all justice, and act fairly. God loves those who act fairly.” (49:9)

· “…and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety”(5:8 )

· “If they do come to thee, either judge between them, or decline to interfere. If thou decline, they cannot hurt thee in the least. If thou judge, judge in equity between them.” (5:42)

· “Verily, this brotherhood of yours is a single brotherhood, and I am your Lord and Cherisher.”(21:92)

· “Do no mischief on the earth, after it hath been set in order…”(7:56)

· “The blame is only against those who oppress men and wrong-doing and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land…”(42:42)

· “And fear tumult or oppression, which affecteth not in particular (only) those of you who do wrong…”(8:25)

· “…………..if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.”(5:32)

The above verses clearly spell out the principles of Islam. Quran is categorical in its condemnation of those who directly or indirectly contribute to mischief, oppression and anarchy. These terms surely include terrorism. But at the same time they also include glorification and commercialisation of human weaknesses (commercialisation of sex, gambling, smoking and drinking) that lead to rise in the incidence of several diseases, disintegration of families, crimes and social tensions. Terrorism is to be defined in a way in which it includes all its ramifications. The world today tends to define it in a way that suits its interests. Terrorism must include anything that can lead to diseases, instability and chaos at individual, family and social level. The states that directly or indirectly support such activities are also to be confronted with. The punishment of such activities is in fact extremely severe in Islam:

“The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter..” (5:33)

The term “Jihad” in Islam does not mean an armed fight, which at best is only a part of it. Jihad, in fact is an incessant struggle to spread what is good and uproot what is evil. The best Jihad, according to Islam is against one’s self. And when this definition is extended to a social level, it again means struggle against forces that exploit human weaknesses or oppress the weak and poor.

Islam is for peace. God clearly abhors mischief, and loves peace:

· Every time they kindle the fire of war, Allah doth extinguish it; but they (ever) strive to do mischief on earth. And Allah loveth not those who do mischief. (5:64)

· And We shall try you until We test those among you who strive their utmost and persevere in patience; and We shall try your reported (mettle). (47:31)

· …verily Allah loves those who act aright. (3:76)

· ..but do thou good, as Allah has been good to thee, and seek not (occasions for) mischief in the land: for Allah loves not those who do mischief. (28:77)

· Those who believe, and suffer exile and strive with might and main, in Allah’s cause, with their goods and their persons, have the highest rank in the sight of Allah. they are the people who will achieve (salvation). Their Lord doth give them glad tidings of a Mercy from Himself, of His good pleasure, and of gardens for them, wherein are delights that endure.. (

Thus Islam has a perfect, yet pragmatic approach towards establishing a lasting peace in society. In an effort to prove that Islam is for peace, some scholars tend to totally disregard any form of armed struggle. Islam does not merely ask its followers to engage themselves in a few rituals; it prepares them to establish a system and protect it. Every ideology and system takes all the necessary measures to protect it from external and internal mischief and to consolidate it. Islam is no exception and it has greater right to work in that direction because it aims to establish the rule of God, not an oligarchy. All ongoing struggles in the world cannot be equated with terrorism. To fight against the occupation by external forces, usurpers of land, tyrannical rulers, exploiters, forces of evils and oppressors cannot be regarded terrorism. To sacrifice one’s life in a bid to harm the enemies for a justified cause cannot be condemned as “suicide attacks”; any bombing that is for a justified cause and is aimed at justified targets must be termed sacrificial bombing. There are some Islamic scholars who argue that Jihad can be undertaken only by an Islamic state. They are awfully mistaken, playing in the hands of those who want to reserve all military options open for them including pre-emptive strikes and at the same time want Muslims to forego their right to fight altogether. If Muslims can fight only under the command of a state, it means they cannot fight against an occupying force and against a tyrannical ruler. If the government of a state is corrupt, anti-Islamic or oppressive, nobody can deny the people the right to organise into groups and campaign against it. However, deliberate killing of innocents cannot be regarded desirable even if it is in response to killing of innocents by a country or a group. Though Quran allows Muslims to transgress against the enemy if it transgresses against them, this is surely the last and not the first option. Furthermore, state terrorism and state-sponsored terrorism are much more dangerous than the terrorism of splinter groups. The so-called Islamic terrorism has caused much less damage and has taken much fewer lives than the state terrorism of the US and Israel and state sponsored terrorism of some other countries. What is the US action in Iraq if not the worst form of terrorism? What are Israel’s actions against Palestinians if not terrorism of the most abominable kind?

Another allegation that is labelled against Islam is that Quran calls for killing all the unbelievers. The protagonists of this thesis base their arguments on the verses that call for killing the Unbelievers, forgetting that these verses are war-time-injunctions. “Unbelievers” in these verses means only the unbelievers engaged in the combat. Refer to the verses quoted above that speak against compulsion in the religion, Thus the Holy Book states:

· “..but if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression.” (2:193

· “Therefore if they withdraw from you but fight you not, and (instead) send you (Guarantees of) peace, then Allah hath opened no way for you (to war against them).” (4:90)

· “But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in Allah.” (8:6 1)

It is clear also that the injunctions of Quran are almost similar in the case of fights between factions of Muslims. It asks its true followers to also fight those Muslims who are unjust.

Jihad in Islam is obligatory. It is an important constituent of the Islamic mission of universal peace and justice. It is in fact incumbent on all the human beings to engage in this mission. But for Muslims it is a divine duty. Jihad is meant for protecting the weak against the mighty; for alerting the forces of evil that their sordid adventures will not go unchallenged; for giving the oppressed sections a voice and wrecking the nerve-centres of the tyrants; and for giving the exploiters sleepless nights. Jihad prepares a person to sacrifice his possessions including his life if required for the cause of God. But Mujahids must clearly know that the objective of Jihad is not to bring certain persons to power, nor to bring theocracies to the whole world through sheer use of force. “Deen”, the system of God does not necessarily mean the establishment of a theocratic government through violent means; it means the rule of justice. Fighting is only the last but an open option in Jihad. If conditions are justifiable for fighting, it becomes obligatory; if conditions do not demand fighting, it becomes aggression. If its objectives are for the welfare of the masses it is desirable; if it is an excuse for selfish ends, it is an unparalleled sin. Jihad through peaceful means must always continue without halt; Jihad through arms must be an aberration. But once the conditions are justifiable, fighting must see no sympathy for the enemy; it must be given a crushing below. Fighting against the wicked is no violence; it is an exercise aimed at minimising violence. Killing bacteria and viruses through antibiotics and antiviral drugs is essential to maintain a healthy life. If microbes are not killed, they will kill the very person who provides them the food for their sustenance.

Islam however does not accept that “all is fair in love and war”. Even in war, all Islamic conditions must be followed in letter and spirit. As soon as the conditions are bright for an honourable settlement, fighting must be stopped without delay; for the ultimate objective is not the subjugation of the enemy but an end to mischief, anarchy, chaos and oppression. The powers that dominate do always try to take the right to fight away from others, so that they can continue to hold reins. They amass massive stocks of deadly weapons, but deny others the right to possess them. They do not hesitate a second to attack or invade the positions of their challengers, but make too much fuss of even the smallest acts of armed resistance. They kill innocents in big numbers and label it as ‘collateral damage’; and lambaste their opponents, through the weapons of words and war, if their actions cause the deaths of even a handful of innocents.

Several thinkers have tried to prove that the expansion of Islamic State after its establishment at Medina was achieved through the use of force. The hawks within the Islamic community present this as a ground for their aggressive intents; the hawks outside Islam use this as an evidence of the religion’s expansionist designs and support for violence. The countries were given the option, they argue, to either accept the supremacy of Islamic State or face war. This is true that several Muslim rulers used such tactics. But there was nothing extraordinary about this strategy, for it had been an inveterate practice throughout the world at that time, before and even for centuries after that. There were no clear injunctions in Quran directing Muslims to expand the borders of their empire. What the Caliphs did was only in keeping with the established norm. At that time there was no UN charter in force, and no international treaty bound the states to certain international obligations. All the powerful rulers in that era used to demand allegiance from the smaller states, and this had been happening throughout the ages in Europe, Asia and Africa. Britain, Russia, France and China—all had been using force to expand their influences, till very recently. Islamic rulers must however be credited for their humanistic approach to their political consolidation. They did not usuallyin general followed. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) gave clear guidelines regarding conduct during combat. He prohibited Muslim soldiers from killing women, children and the elderly, or cut a palm tree. He advised them, “… do not betray, do not be excessive, do not kill a new-born child.” Another tradition of the Prophet states, “Whoever has killed a person having a treaty with Muslims shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise, though its fragrance is found for a span of forty years.” Yet another tradition states, “The first cases to be adjudicated between people on the Day of Judgement will be those of bloodshed.” Quran equated the killing of an innocent as the killing of the whole mankind. The Prophet also said, “Truly your blood, your property, and your honour are inviolable.” And “There is a reward for kindness shown to every living animal or human.” indulge in massacres. Moreover, they took practical steps to earn the favour of the masses. They gave them the right to practise their own religion, the right to refuse services in the military in return of a tax, the right to live as honourable citizens, the right to earn, the right to own properties and the right to follow their own family laws and laws of inheritance. Their life and honour were guaranteed full protection. Even in fighting, strict observance of certain principles was prescribed by Islam, which most of the rulers

The truth is that in most of the places conquered by Muslims the people took a sigh of relief at their arrival; they more often than not brought them out of the yoke of injustice and tyranny. This is why the masses thronged to accept Islam in most of the places, and even after the departure of their conquerors they mostly remained loyal to their new religion. In the conquered countries, Muslim caliphs often preferred to have local men in charge of the affairs. The rule of Muslims, with a few exceptions, proved to be far superior to that experienced by the masses before. It was this confidence in the new system that the Islamic caliphate, despite the fact that many of the caliphs were not as pious and upright as Islam would want them to be, was able to sustain itself for about a millennium. Even after the dismemberment of the caliphate, almost all the people of most of the Muslim countries have continued to be within the fold of Islam; some of them have emerged as its citadels. It is significant that an outstanding number of Islamic scholars in the current world hail from non-Arab countries like India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Iran and Turkey.

It should be made clear here however that the nations are now bound by the treaties of the UN that do not permit any country to conquer any other country for the expansion of ideology. Muslim as well as non-Muslim nations are parties to this agreement. So no Muslim or Non-Muslim nation can now be allowed to invade or threaten other nations for the export of its own ideology or for any other reason unless there are compelling reasons to do so and the majority of the members of the UN agree to it. However, people are free to propagate their beliefs, ideas and customs through peaceful means. But the world must be ready to ban all such substances and practices that lead to death and social problems at a big scale. In the name of freedom, the business of death cannot be allowed to prosper.

It can be seen that not only the constitutions of all countries as well as that of the UN permit the use of force for certain purposes, scriptures of almost all religions also prescribe the use of force in several situations. Compare them with Quran, and it will be clear that Quranic guidelines are much better example of a perfect and pragmatic approach in the current world.

in Editorial on Religion in the Pakistan Daily

St George, Patron Saint of England

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St George was adopted as patron saint of England by one of our great warrior kings, Richard, of whom Shakespeare wrote: “Richard who robbed the lion of his heart and fought the Holy wars in Palestine.”

Richard was one of the leaders of the third crusade, triggered by the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1189.

When Richard, against all the odds, defeated Saladin at the Battle of Arsuf in 1191, a mysterious warrior wearing the crusading insignia of a red cross on a white surcoat, was seen at the forefront of the fighting.

The local soldiery proclaimed him to be their patron saint – St George, a Roman centurion born at Lydda, 20 miles from Jerusalem. He was known to be a great warrior but was executed in the 3rd century AD by order of the Roman emperor Diocletian for refusing to countenance the persecution of Christians.

Richard forthwith adopted him as our patron saint with his battle cry, “St George for England,” as opposed to his fellow crusader Philip’s cry of: “St Denis for France.” Richard also restored the Church of St George at Lydda, where the saint is buried. And although I cannot vouch for its existence today, the ruins were still there in 1945.

Richard also funded the Knights Templar Pilgrims’ Castle on the coast ten miles south of Haifa and, under the peace treaty he made with Saladin, arranged for pilgrims arriving there to be escorted to and from Jerusalem by the Templars.

As for St George never having set foot in England, Richard, although born in Oxford, spent only six months of his reign here.

It seems to me that George is an eminently suitable saint for England. Besides, what would the Union Jack look like without the cross of St George?

G Price, Valley Drive, Brighton

Finding hope between death and resurrection

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In the biblical descriptions of the Easter event, the story moves straight from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. An entire day of grief, devastation and fear lies unspoken between the end of one paragraph, where Jesus is buried, and the beginning of the next, his resurrection two days later. Perhaps it was simply that there were no words to do justice to the empty day in the middle. We can only imagine that, for the followers of Jesus, it must have been the emptiest, most shattering experience they could ever encounter — a metaphorical hell. Tradition tells us that Jesus was in the real one.

The Christian church doesn’t worship on Easter Saturday — as God is dead, there is nothing left to worship. It gives the day over to the hardware shops and the football. But if any day in the Christian calendar resonates with the fear, sadness and desperation that so much of the world lives with at every moment, it has to be yesterday.

If we needed evidence that the world is living through a long Easter Saturday, we don’t need to look any further than the newspaper headlines last week. It’s ironic that while many churches have been preparing for Holy Week and Easter, telling a story of sacrifice and salvation that happened 2000 years ago, a holy week of another kind has been unfolding in Tibet. We heard stories last week of monks and students who have stood against injustice and oppression, even though for many it has led to their deaths. They join a long line of people through history who have given everything they have for freedom, sometimes in the name of God, and sometimes in the name of life. Occasionally, the everything they have given has been enough to change the world. Often it hasn’t. It’s difficult to imagine greater courage or faith.

For the first time in years, hope has political currency around the world. It’s defining the current US election, in stark contrast to previous elections, where platforms of fear and terror have been certain vote-winners. For the first time ever, part of me wishes I lived in the US so I could vote for hope, too. It’s seductive, we all want to join its bandwagon. It’s tempting to think that if the world is speaking of hope, then everything just might change.

British guerilla graffiti artist Banksy visited the segregation wall that separates Palestine from Israel a few years ago. In his typically subversive style, he stencilled images on to the grey concrete wall: startling vistas of tropical islands, pictures of plush armchairs seated by windows that overlooked snow-capped mountains, a silhouette of a girl holding a bunch of balloons that were carrying her to freedom above the wall. He painted an alternative world of hope and liberation on to the concrete reality of conflict and despair. As he was working, an old Palestinian man approached him, and they had this conversation:

Old man: “You paint the wall, you make it look beautiful.”

Banksy: “Thanks.”

Old Man: “We don’t want it to be beautiful. We hate this wall, go home.”

Our human inclination, when we come face to face with despair on a personal or global scale, is to paint over it with easy answers, and to think that because we can only see the paint, the concrete reality behind it no longer exists. It’s almost impossible to sit in the great chasm of the world’s Easter Saturday and not fill it with glib promises and wishful thinking, to layer a resurrection story on top of it. We depend on the promise of a happy ending, but when we realise that there are some stories for which there is no ending, our hope crumbles.

It sounds cynical to assume that there won’t always be a happy ending but, if that’s the case, Jesus was the ultimate cynic. “The poor will be with you always,” he said, and then he continued to fight the systems that oppressed the poor all the way to his death.

The hope that Jesus died for should only be defined by its most despairing and cynical audience: the widow and the orphan, the betrayed and the betrayer. Their hope isn’t in the world being fixed, it’s in surviving the night.

“Hope begins in the dark,” says author Anne Lamott. That’s the miracle that Christians believe was made real through the resurrection, and a truth that has been proven through history. We can’t talk ourselves or anyone else into having hope. We get there only by turning up in the darkness and doing the right thing. By choosing and honouring justice and love every time, hope has a chance to be born.

There are a few words that should always be accompanied by official warnings, if only because their misuse causes so much damage. Love is one of them, hope another. But if we are going to vote for hope, we have to be willing to do more than simply paint pictures onto concrete walls. The only way the world can survive this Easter Saturday is if we have the courage and faith it takes to wait with those who are living in hell, even if there is no certainty that they or we will survive. It seems even God knows that there is no other way.

in theage.com.au
Cheryl Lawrie is a Melbourne writer.

Devotion to the Passion of Christ

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The sufferings of Our Lord, which culminated in His death upon the cross, seem to have been conceived of as one inseparable whole from a very early period. Even in the Acts of the Apostles (i, 3) St. Luke speaks of those to whom Christ “shewed himself alive after his passion” (meta to mathein autou). In the Vulgate this has been rendered post passionem suam, and not only the Reims Testament but the Anglican Authorized and Revised Versions, as well as the medieval English translation attributed to Wyclif, have retained the word “passion” in English. Passio also meets us in the same sense in other early writings (e.g. Tertullian, “Adv. Marcion.”, IV, 40) and the word was clearly in common use in the middle of the third century, as in Cyprian, Novatian, and Commodian. The last named writes:

“Hoc Deus hortatur, hoc lex, hoc passio Christi
Ut resurrecturos nos credamus in novo sæclo.”

St. Paul declared, and we require no further evidence to convince us that he spoke truly, that Christ crucified was “unto the Jews indeed a stumbling-block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23). The shock to Pagan feeling, caused by the ignominy of Christ’s Passion and the seeming incompatibility of the Divine nature with a felon’s death, seems not to have been without its effect upon the thought of Christians themselves. Hence, no doubt, arose that prolific growth of heretical Gnostic or Docetic sects, which denied the reality of the man Jesus Christ or of His sufferings. Hence also came the tendency in the early Christian centuries to depict the countenance of the Saviour as youthful, fair, and radiant, the very antithesis of the vir dolorum familiar to a later age (cf. Weis Libersdorf, “Christus-und Apostel-bilder”, 31 sq.) and to dwell by preference not upon His sufferings but upon His works of mercifulness, as in the Good Shepherd motive, or upon His works of power, as in the raising of Lazarus or in the resurrection figured by the history of Jonas.

But while the existence of such a tendency to draw a veil over the physical side of the Passion may readily be admitted, it would be easy to exaggerate the effect produced upon Christian feeling in the early centuries by Pagan ways of thought. Harnack goes too far when he declares that the Death and Passion of Christ were regarded by the majority of the Greeks as too sacred a mystery to be made the subject of contemplation or speculation, and when he declares that the feeling of the early Greek Church is accurately represented in the following passage of Goethe: “We draw a veil over the sufferings of Christ, simply because we revere them so deeply. We hold if to be reprehensible presumption to play, and trifle with, and embellish those profound mysteries in which the Divine depths of suffering lie hidden, never to rest until even the noblest seems mean and tasteless” (Harnack, “History Of Dogma”, tr., III, 306; cf. J. Reil, “Die frühchristlichen Darstellungen der Kreuzigung Christi”, 5). On the other hand, while Harnack speaks with caution and restraint, other more popular writers give themselves to reckless generalizations such as may be illustrated by the following passage from Archdeacon Farrar: “The aspect”, he says, “in which the early Christians viewed the cross was that of triumph and exultation, never that of moaning and misery. It was the emblem of victory and of rapture, not of blood or of anguish.” (See “The Month”, May, 1895, 89.) Of course it is true that down to the fifth century the specimens of Christian art that have been preserved to us in the catacombs and elsewhere, exhibit no traces of any sort of representation of the crucifixion. Even the simple cross is rarely found before the time of Constantine (see CROSS), and when the figure of the Divine Victim comes to be indicated, it at first appears most commonly under some symbolical form, e.g. that of a lamb, and there is no attempt as a rule to represent the crucifixion realistically. Again, the Christian literature which has survived, whether Greek or Latin, does not dwell upon the details of the Passion or very frequently fall back upon the motive of our Saviour’s sufferings. The tragedy known as “Christus Patiens”, which is printed with the works of St. Gregory Nazianzus and was formerly attributed to him, is almost certainly a work of much later date, probably not earlier than the eleventh century (see Krumbacher, “Byz. Lit.”, 746).

In spite of all this it would be rash to infer that the Passion was not a favourite subject of contemplation for Christian ascetics. To begin with, the Apostolical writings preserved in the New Testament are far from leaving the sufferings of Christ in the background as a motive of Christian endeavour; take, for instance, the words of St. Peter (1 Peter 2:19, 21, 23): “For this is thankworthy, if for conscience towards God, a man endure sorrows, suffering wrongfully”; “For unto this are you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow his steps”; “Who, when he was reviled, did not revile”, etc.; or again: “Christ therefore having suffered in the flesh, be you also armed with the same thought” (ibid., iv, 1). So St. Paul (Galatians 2:19): “with Christ I am nailed to the cross. And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me”; and (ibid., v, 24): “they that are Christ’s, have crucified their flesh, with the vices and concupiscences” (cf. Colossians 1:24); and perhaps most strikingly of all (Galatians 6:14): “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.” Seeing the great influence that the New Testament exercised from a very early period upon the leaders of Christian thought, it is impossible to believe that such passages did not leave their mark upon the devotional practice of the West, though it is easy to discover plausible reasons why this spirit should not have displayed itself more conspicuously in literature. It certainly manifested itself in the devotion of the martyrs who died in imitation of their Master, and in the spirit of martyrdom that characterized the early Church.

Further, we do actually find in such an Apostolic Father as St. Ignatius of Antioch, who, though a Syrian by birth, wrote in Greek and was in touch with Greek culture, a very continuous and practical remembrance of the Passion. After expressing in his letter to the Romans (cc. iv, ix) his desire to be martyred, and by enduring many forms of suffering to prove himself the true disciple of Jesus Christ, the saint continues: “Him I seek who dies on our behalf; Him I desire who rose again for our sake. The pangs of a new birth are upon me. Suffer me to receive the pure light. When I am come thither then shall I be a man. Permit me to be an imitator of the Passion of my God. If any man hath Him within himself, let him understand what I desire, and let him have fellow-feeling with me, for he knoweth the things which straiten me.” And again he says in his letter to the Smyrnæans (c. iv): “near to the sword, near to God (i.e. Jesus Christ), in company with wild beasts, in company with God. Only let it be in the name of Jesus Christ. So that we may suffer together with Him” (eis to sympathein auto).

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Moreover, taking the Syrian Church in general — and rich as it was in the traditions of Jerusalem it was far from being an uninfluential part of Christendom — we do find a pronounced and even emotional form of devotion to the Passion established at an early period. Already in the second century a fragment preserved to us of St. Melito of Sardis speaks as Father Faber might have spoken in modern times. Apostrophising the people of Israel, he says: “Thou slewest thy Lord and He was lifted up upon a tree and a tablet was fixed up to denote who He was that was put to death — And who was this? — Listen while ye tremble: — He on whose account the earth quaked; He that suspended the earth was hanged up; He that fixed the heavens was fixed with nails; He that supported the earth was supported upon a tree; the Lord was exposed to ignominy with a naked body; God put to death; the King of Israel slain by an Israelitish right hand. Ah! the fresh wickedness of the fresh murder! The Lord was exposed with a naked body, He was not deemed worthy even of covering, but in order that He might not be seen, the lights were turned away, and the day became dark because they were slaying God, who was naked upon the tree” (Cureton, “Spicilegium Syriacum”, 55).

No doubt the Syrian and Jewish temperament was an emotional temperament, and the tone of their literature may often remind us of the Celtic. But in any case it is certain that a most realistic presentation of Our Lord’s sufferings found favour with the Fathers of the Syrian Church apparently from the beginning. It would be easy to make long quotations of this kind from the works of St. Ephraem, St. Isaac of Antioch, and St. James of Sarugh. Zingerle in the “Theologische Quartalschrift” (1870 and 1871) has collected many of the most striking passages from the last two writers. In all this literature we find a rather turgid Oriental imagination embroidering almost every detail of the history of the Passion. Christ’s elevation upon the cross is likened by Isaac of Antioch to the action of the stork, which builds its nest upon the treetops to be safe from the insidious approach of the snake; while the crown of thorns suggests to him a wall with which the safe asylum of that nest is surrounded, protecting all the children of God who are gathered in the nest from the talons of the hawk or other winged foes (Zingerle, ibid., 1870, 108). Moreover St. Ephraem who wrote in the last quarter of the fourth century, is earlier in date and even more copious and realistic in his minute study of the physical details of the Passion. It is difficult to convey in a short quotation any true impression of the effect produced by the long-sustained note of lamentation, in which the orator and poet follows up his theme. In the Hymns on the Passion (“Ephraem Syri Hymni et Sermones,” ed. Lamy, I) the writer moves like a devout pilgrim from scene to scene, and from object to object, finding everywhere new motives for tenderness and compassion, while the seven “Sermons for Holy Week” might both for their spirit and treatment have been penned by any medieval mystic. “Glory be to Him, how much he suffered!” is an exclamation which bursts from the preacher’s lips from time to time. To illustrate the general tone, the following passage from a description of the scourging must suffice:

“After many vehement outcries against Pilate, the all-mighty One was scourged like the meanest criminal. Surely there must have been commotion and horror at the sight. Let the heavens and earth stand awestruck to behold Him who swayeth the rod of fire, Himself smitten with scourges, to behold Him who spread over the earth the veil of the skies and who set fast the foundations of the mountains, who poised the earth over the waters and sent down the blazing lightning-flash, now beaten by infamous wretches over a stone pillar that His own word had created. They, indeed, stretched out His limbs and outraged Him with mockeries. A man whom He had formed wielded the scourge. He who sustains all creatures with His might submitted His back to their stripes; He who is the Father’s right arm yielded His own arms to be extended. The pillar of ignominy was embraced by Him who bears up and sustains the heaven and the earth in all their splendour” (Lamy, I, 511 sq.). The same strain is continued over several pages, and amongst other quaint fancies St. Ephraem remarks: “The very column must have quivered as if it were alive, the cold stone must have felt that the Master was bound to it who had given it its being. The column shuddered knowing that the Lord of all creatures was being scourged”. And he adds, as a marvel, witnessed even in his own day, that the “column had contracted with fear beneath the Body of Christ”.

In the devotional atmosphere represented by such contemplations as these, it is easy to comprehend the scenes of touching emotion depicted by the pilgrim lady of Galicia who visited Jerusalem (if Dr. Meester’s protest may be safely neglected) towards the end of the fourth century. At Gethsemane she describes how “that passage of the Gospel is read where the Lord was apprehended, and when this passage has been read there is such a moaning and groaning of all the people, with weeping that the groans can be hear almost at the city. While during the three hours’ ceremony on Good Friday from midday onwards we are told: “At the several lections and prayers there is such emotion displayed and lamentation of all the people as is wonderful to hear. For there is no one, great or small, who does not weep on that day during those three hours, in a way that cannot be imagined, that the Lord should have suffered such things for us” (Peregrinatio Sylviæ in “Itinera Hierosolymitana”, ed. Geyer, 87, 89). It is difficult not to suppose that this example of the manner of honouring Our Saviour’s Passion, which was traditional in the very scenes of those sufferings, did not produce a notable impression upon Western Europe. The lady from Galicia, whether we call her Sylvia, Ætheria, or Egeria, was but one of the vast crowd of pilgrims who streamed to Jerusalem from all parts of the world. The tone of St. Jerome (see for instance the letters of Paula and Eustochium to Marcella in A.D. 386; P.L., XXII, 491) is similar, and St. Jerome’s words penetrated wherever the Latin language was spoken. An early Christian prayer, reproduced by Wessely (Les plus anciens mon. de Chris., 206), shows the same spirit.

We can hardly doubt that soon after the relics of the True Cross had been carried by devout worshippers into all Christian lands (we know the fact not only from the statement of St. Cyril of Jerusalem himself but also from inscriptions found in North Africa only a little later in date) that some ceremonial analogous to our modern “adoration” of the Cross upon Good Friday was introduced, in imitation of the similar veneration paid to the relic of the True Cross at Jerusalem. It was at this time too that the figure of the Crucified began to be depicted in Christian art, though for many centuries any attempt at a realistic presentment of the sufferings of Christ was almost unknown. Even in Gregory of Tours (De Gloria Mart.) a picture of Christ upon the cross seems to be treated as something of a novelty. Still such hymns as the “Pange lingua gloriosi prœlium certaminis”, and the “Vexilla regis”, both by Venantius Fortunatus (c. 570), clearly mark a growing tendency to dwell upon the Passion as a separate object of contemplation. The more or less dramatic recital of the Passion by three deacons representing the “Chronista”, “Christus”, and “Synagoga”, in the Office of Holy Week probably originated at the same period, and not many centuries later we begin to find the narratives of the Passion in the Four Evangelists copied separately into books of devotion. This, for example, is the case in the ninth-century English collection known as “the Book of Cerne”. An eighth century collection of devotions (manuscript Harley 2965) contains pages connected with the incidents of the Passion. In the tenth century the Cursus of the Holy Cross was added to the monastic Office (see Bishop, “Origin of the Prymer”, p. xxvii, n.).

Still more striking in its revelation of the developments of devotional imagination is the existence of such a vernacular poem as Cynewulf’s “Dream of the Rood”, in which the tree of the cross is conceived of as telling its own story. A portion of this Anglo-Saxon poem still stands engraved in runic letters upon the celebrated Ruthwell Cross in Dumfriesshire, Scotland. The italicized lines in the following represent portions of the poem which can still be read upon the stone:

I had power all
his foes to fell,
but yet I stood fast.
Then the young hero prepared himself,
That was Almighty God,
Strong and firm of mood,
he mounted the lofty cross
courageously in the sight of many,
when he willed to redeem mankind.
I trembled when the hero embraced me,
yet dared I not bow down to earth,
fall to the bosom of the ground,
but I was compelled to stand fast,
a cross was I reared,
I raised the powerful King
The lord of the heavens,
I dared not fall down.
They pierced me with dark nails,
on me are the wounds visible.

 Still it was not until the time of St. Bernard and St. Francis of Assisi that the full developments of Christian devotion to the Passion were reached. It seems highly probable that this was an indirect result of the preaching of the Crusades, and the consequent awakening of the minds of the faithful to a deeper realization of all the sacred memories represented by Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre. When Jerusalem was recaptured by the Saracens in 1187, worthy Abbot Samson of Bury St. Edmunds was so deeply moved that he put on haircloth and renounced flesh meat from that day forth — and this was not a solitary case, as the enthusiasm evoked by the Crusades conclusively shows.

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Under any circumstances it is noteworthy that the first recorded instance of stigmata (if we leave out of account the doubtful case of St. Paul) was that of St. Francis of Assisi. Since his time there have been over 320 similar manifestations which have reasonable claims to be considered genuine (Poulain, “Graces of Interior Prayer”, tr., 175). Whether we regard these as being wholly supernatural or partly natural in their origin, the comparative frequency of the phenomenon seems to point to a new attitude of Catholic mysticism in regard to the Passion of Christ, which has only established itself since the beginning of the thirteenth century. The testimony of art points to a similar conclusion. It was only at about this same period that realistic and sometimes extravagantly contorted crucifixes met with any general favour. The people, of course, lagged far behind the mystics and the religious orders, but they followed in their wake; and in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries we have innumerable illustrations of the adoption by the laity of new practices of piety to honour Our Lord’s Passion. One of the most fruitful and practical was that type of spiritual pilgrimage to the Holy Places of Jerusalem, which eventually crystalized into what is now known to us as the “Way of the Cross”. The “Seven Falls” and the “Seven Bloodsheddings” of Christ may be regarded as variants of this form of devotion. How truly genuine was the piety evoked in an actual pilgrimage to the Holy Land is made very clear, among other documents, by the narrative of the journeys of the Dominican Felix Fabri at the close of the fifteenth century, and the immense labour taken to obtain exact measurements shows how deeply men’s hearts were stirred by even a counterfeit pilgrimage. Equally to this period belong both the popularity of the Little Offices of the Cross and “De Passione”, which are found in so many of the Horæ, manuscript and printed, and also the introduction of new Masses in honour of the Passion, such for example as those which are now almost universally celebrated upon the Fridays of Lent. Lastly, an inspection of the prayer-books compiled towards the close of the Middle Ages for the use of the laity, such as the “Horæ Beatæ Mariæ Virginis”, the “Hortulus Animæ”, the “Paradisus Animæ” etc., shows the existence of an immense number of prayers either connected with incidents in the Passion or addressed to Jesus Christ upon the Cross. The best known of these perhaps were the fifteen prayers attributed to St. Bridget, and described most commonly in English as “the Fifteen O’s”, from the exclamation with which each began.

In modern times a vast literature, and also a hymnology, has grown up relating directly to the Passion of Christ. Many of the innumerable works produced in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries have now been completely forgotten, though some books like the medieval “Life of Christ” by the Carthusian Ludolphus of Saxony, the “Sufferings of Christ” by Father Thomas of Jesus, the Carmelite Guevara’s “Mount of Calvary”, or “The Passion of Our Lord” by Father de La Palma, S.J., are still read. Though such writers as Justus Lipsius and Father Gretser, S.J., at the end of the sixteenth century, and Dom Calmet, O.S.B., in the eighteenth, did much to illustrate the history of the Passion from historical sources, the general tendency of all devotional literature was to ignore such means of information as were provided by archæology and science, and to turn rather to the revelations of the mystics to supplement the Gospel records.

Amongst these, the Revelations of St. Bridget of Sweden, of Maria Agreda, of Marina de Escobar and, in comparatively recent times, of Anne Catherine Emmerich are the most famous. Within the last fifty years, however, there has been a reaction against this procedure, a reaction due probably to the fact that so many of these revelations plainly contradict each other, for example on the question whether the right or left shoulder of Our Lord was wounded by the weight of the cross, or whether Our Saviour was nailed to the cross standing or lying. In the best modern lives of Our Saviour, such as those of Didon, Fouard, and Le Camus, every use is made of subsidiary sources of information, not neglecting even the Talmud. The work of Père Ollivier, “The Passion” (tr., 1905), follows the same course, but in many widely-read devotional works upon this subject, for example: Faber, “The Foot of the Cross”; Gallwey, “The Watches of the Passion”; Coleridge, “Passiontide” etc.; Groenings, “Hist. of the Passion” (Eng. tr); Belser, D’Gesch. d. Leidens d. Hernn; Grimm, “Leidengeschichte Christi”, the writers seem to have judged that historical or critical research was inconsistent with the ascetical purpose of their works.
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Written by Herbert Thurston. Transcribed by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ – The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

A Day in Haifa

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It was a beautiful morning in late December when we set off on the coastal highway towards Haifa, just an hour or so northwest of Alfe Menashe. Along the way, we passed new construction on the beach front that one of our party, a friend from England, hadn’t seen before. Lately, developers have built up most of the available land along the Mediterranean coast, resulting in high-rises galore. This growth is a product of Israel’s fertility rate – the developed world’s highest – and the increase in home sales to wealthy Jewish North Americans and Europeans, as well as increasing numbers of Christian Zionists.

We also passed Jisr az-Zarqa, an Israeli-Arab village, the only wholly Arab town on the Mediterranean coastline in Israel. During and after the War of Independence, other Arabs living on the coast fled or were forced from their seaside towns. Notwithstanding that, the cities of Acre, Haifa, Tel-Aviv-Jaffa, Lod and others, all have large Arab populations.

Located just north of the wealthy town of Caesarea, Jisr az-Zarqa has been problematic since its beginnings in the 19th century. It was founded by black Sudanese, probably brought to the area by Napoleon to serve his troops. From the beginning, the villagers were shunned by the other Arabs in the area. Working for the residents of Caesarea has proved to be the most lucrative means of employment for the townspeople, but relations between the two communities are not good. A barrier separating the towns, built by Caesarea to distance itself from the noise of loudspeakers emanating from the mosques and the sound of gunfire from revelers at celebrations, hasn’t helped matters. Though it is relatively dilapidated, Jisr az-Zarqa has a fine beach and a modern sports/social center provided by the government, like the ones in nearly every Israeli town.

Entering Haifa, we quickly found a parking space at the foot of Ben Gurion Boulevard in the German Colony. From this vantage point, the view upwards towards the Carmel Mountain features the glorious Bahai Gardens … but more about that later. The German Templar neighborhood was established in 1868. The Templars purchased land that in those days was far from the town, which had only 4,000 residents. They also established other colonies in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and throughout Palestine.

The Templars took their name from the German Temple Society, which strictly followed the New Testament. They intended to build the first planned agricultural community in the Holy Land. The large, beautiful stone homes they constructed are popular tourist attractions today. The Templars prospered in Palestine but suffered as a result of their German affiliations during the two World Wars, when members of the community sided with the Germans. In 1947, the Templars were deported from Palestine to Australia by the British. Eventually, in 1962, they were compensated for their lost properties by the Israeli government.

We continued walking towards Wadi Nisnas, Haifa’s only Arab neighborhood that has preserved its original character. It typifies the religious and communal coexistence of Haifa, with its stone houses, narrow alleyways, and Oriental-style market. Because of its picturesque buildings and streets, Wadi Nisnas hosts the annual three faiths festival, the Festival of Festivals, held during the Christmas season. On the way there, we couldn’t resist stopping at Mama Pita’s, a hole-in-the-wall shop with people crowding the entrance. We sampled the cheap and tasty pita pizza, topped with salty cheese and zatar (hyssop). Delicious!

We had a hard time sticking together in the midst of the festival crowds, but we enjoyed an antiques exhibition, musical events, hawkers selling everything you can imagine, crowded pastry shops with mouth-watering displays, and a felafel restaurant with a loud greeter (the best felafel in Israel! he proclaimed) giving out free samples to entice customers to buy. There was a street art competition in the area, so we looked at the walls, roofs, even dustbins for their particular artistic messages. After we grew tired of fighting the crowds, we walked leisurely out of Wadi Nisnas to the lower terrace of the Bahai Gardens.

The Bahai Faith, a post-Islamic monotheistic religion, was founded in mid 19th century Persia and has about six million adherents today, spread around the world. More than two million live in India, with the balance residing in nearly all the world’s countries. Israel is the center of the Bahai Faith and hosts its most prominent sites: the terraced Bahai Gardens of Haifa, including the tomb of the messianic Bahai precursor “the Bab”, and the mausoleum of the founder Baha’u’llah in Acre. Since its inception, the Bahai religion has faced persecution from some Islamic authorities, since it defies the Islamic teaching that Mohammed is the last prophet.

The gardens themselves are magnificent, with terraces from the upper city down the Carmel slopes to the foot of Ben Gurion Boulevard, which ends near the water. Everything growing in the gardens is pristine and is beautifully maintained by the devotees of the faith, who volunteer to spend time at the shrine. Almost unbelievably, the beautiful lawns, shrubs, and trees are maintained without man-made irrigation. It’s a “must see” attraction in Israel, which explains why reservations are needed to tour the gardens, which is accomplished by descending the many sets of stairs from top to bottom. But even without entering the grandiose gates, tourists like us were able to enjoy the view and the ambiance near the bottom entrance.

Tired by now, we had a pleasant rest in the lovely garden of an attractive coffee bar/restaurant, sitting on upholstered chairs and sofas, listening to good music. We were just biding our time until our reservation time at the Isabella Restaurant, located in a Templar building on the boulevard. We enjoyed excellent scallopini there, the only place we’ve found in Israel that serves it. On our way out, we were thankful that we had made reservations, since there was quite a throng of hungry people at the entrance. So ended a lovely day in Haifa, port city and industrial capital of Israel’s north.

By Steve Kramer, in http://www.infoisrael.net

Salomón, el rey mago

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Salomón es sin lugar a dudas uno de los personajes más apasionantes de cuantos son citados en la Biblia. De hecho, su fabulosa estela ha trascendido como la de ninguna otra figura bíblica el texto sagrado para echar raíces en el terreno del paganismo, la magia y el conocimiento hermético, pero… ¿quién fue realmente?

Los templarios ocuparon las ruinas de su templo reconstruido; los francmasones aseguran ser herederos de su sabiduría; los cabalistas lo sitúan como uno de sus primeros y principales maestros y su sello es uno de los talismanes más potentes que ha llegado a nuestros días. Incluso, la ficción literaria y más tarde el cine han alimentado la leyenda de Salomón a través de la búsqueda de sus míticos tesoros que, desde hace unos años, han vuelto a cobrar protagonismo en el terreno de la novela histórica, vinculando su figura con un aspecto herético que es objeto de gran polémica.

Existen pocas dudas acerca de la historicidad del personaje en cuestión, cuya vida aparece descrita con cierto detalle en el Libro Primero de los Reyes. Respondiendo también al nombre de Yedidyá, que significa “el amado por Dios”, Salomón equivaldría con algunos matices a “el Pacífico”, siendo el segundo de los hijos que nació de la unión del patriarca David con Betsabé. El segundo libro de Samuel nos explica que el rey David vio a una hermosa mujer bañándose y quedó prendado de su belleza; se trataba de Betsabé, esposa de Urías el hitita. De inmediato, David consumó su adúltera pasión para poco después ordenar que el fiel guerrero Urías fuese colocado en primera línea de batalla contra los ammonitas, muriendo en una de las contiendas. Yahvé recriminó a David a través del profeta Natán este pasional comportamiento castigando la acción con la muerte al poco de nacer, fruto del adulterio. El nacimiento del segundo hijo, Salomón, sería visto con buenos ojos por un Yahvé que enviaría de nuevo a Natán a comunicar su aprobación y a dictar su nombre.

Salomón accedió al trono de Israel hacia el año 970 a. de C., en medio de una pugna con su hermanastro Adonías, que como otros hijos de David de mayor edad aspiraban al codiciado trono. No obstante, los designios divinos había elegido a Salomón para tal fin y su padre no dudó en traspasarle el poder en vida, ayudado de una purga interna en la que Adonías y sus simpatizantes serían pasados a cuchillo. Salomón se convirtió así en el tercer y último rey del reino unificado, que posteriormente, al morir el sabio monarca hacía el 926 a. de C. se fragmentaría en el reino de Judá en el sur y el de Israel en el norte. Desde el punto de vista histórico, todo apunta a que en sus cuarenta años de reinado el monarca realizó una buena gestión, proporcionando a la mayor parte de su pueblo una época de bonanza y paz, articulando una corte de esplendor y riqueza gracias a las buenas relaciones externas facilitadas inicialmente por su matrimonio con la hija del faraón. “Sobrepasó el rey Salomón a todos los reyes de la Tierra en opulencia y sabiduría”, nos dice I Reyes (10, 23), y no era para menos, pues el relato nos da cuenta de caprichos como la construcción de doscientos grandes escudos de oro batido y otros trescientos de menor tamaño, así como un trono de marfil cubierto de oro, material del que igualmente estaban hechos todos los utensilios de la casa. Hasta mil cuatrocientos carros y doce mil caballos formaban parte de su guarnición. La construcción de infraestructuras y posterior potenciación de líneas comerciales fueron determinantes para el fortalecimiento del reino, en el que reorganizó los territorios convirtiendo a las doce tribus antes errantes en otras tantas provincias satélites cuya existencia giraba en torno a la costosa corte salomónica.

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Mujeriego, sabio y constructor del templo

Nuestro protagonista estrechó lazos fraternales con el rey de Tiro Hiram I, quien colaboró con él en diversidad de proyectos, como la construcción de la más fabulosa obra de la antigüedad: el Templo de Salomón. Del mítico rey han llegado hasta nuestros días infinidad de referencias, entre las que no son en absoluto despreciables las que aluden a sus amoríos y promiscuidad. Especialmente célebre fue su encuentro con la reina de Saba, del que hallamos un prolífico desarrollo en el texto etiope Kebra Negast o La Gloria de los Reyes, aunque mucho más explícita y concluyente resulta aún la cita del Libro Primero de los Reyes en la que literalmente se nos dice que “además de la hija de Faraón, amó también a muchas mujeres extranjeras (…). Pero Salomón se apegó tanto a ellas por amor, que llegó a tener setecientas princesas por esposas y trescientas concubinas. Y sus mujeres pervirtieron su corazón”, I Reyes 11.

No obstante, también fue un hombre sabio, “más sabio que todos los hombres”, nos dice la Biblia, extendiéndose su fama por todas las naciones. Si hacemos caso de I Reyes, “formuló tres mil proverbios y compuso mil cinco cánticos”, y se le ha atribuido el Cantar de los Cantares, aunque ningún estudioso serio es capaz de sostener con argumentos históricos tal afirmación. De hecho, sólo una pequeña parte de los proverbios de la Biblia parecen corresponderse con la época en la que vivió el monarca, mientras que para el Cantar tampoco hay ningún dato sólido. La tradición y el fuerte contenido sensual del libro, en consonancia con la apasionada vida amorosa de Salomón, parecen constituir el único nexo de unión entre ambos.

Este compendio de metáforas sería, en opinión del experto en esoterismo Robert Ambelain, un “texto iniciático egipcio que llegó hasta Israel en el equipaje de la princesa de Egipto que se casó con Salomón, y se degradó al nivel del canto profano al llegar a los medios judíos ordinarios”.

Con todo, y lejos de estar reñida su promiscuidad con su sabiduría, sus profundos y variados conocimientos tal vez hayan sido determinantes para que escuelas y sociedades herméticas de toda índole hayan reivindicado su filiación salomónica. Ese saber, que la Biblia no termina de concretar si era innato o un atributo divino, quedó magistralmente recogido en el episodio de las dos mujeres que reclaman la maternidad de un bebé. La pugna se zanja cuando, ante la amenaza de partirlo en dos con una espada para dar a cada mujer una parte, la verdadera madre conmovida renuncia al niño con el único fin de que pueda seguir viviendo, ante la impasibilidad de la otra, acción reveladora para Salomón, que hace justicia entregándoselo y logrando con ello un efectismo que populariza aún más su sabiduría. Anécdotas como esta debieron contribuir a que un proyecto como la construcción del Templo de Jerusalén pudiera ser acogido por el pueblo como un designio verdaderamente dictado por Yahvé, y a que el mismo haya sido contemplado por hombres de todos los tiempos como símbolo de la perfección absoluta.

La edificación se levantó en una explanada del monte Moriah entre los años 969 y 962 a de C., bajo la dirección de un arquitecto que en la Biblia responde también al nombre de Hiram. Es significativo que el lugar sagrado de edificación de este templo haya sido el escenario, según la tradición judía, de notables episodios anteriores, como el frustrado sacrificio del hijo de Abraham, el célebre sueño de la escalera celestial de Jacob o los rituales del enigmático rey Melquisedec. El relato de I Reyes ofrece abundantes descripciones sobre las medidas y características particulares del Templo.

Todo detalle parecía crucial para un espacio sagrado en el que se iba a custodiar nada menos que el Arca de la Alianza, de tal manera que a la vista de la suntuosidad que rodeaba la corte no es de extrañar que el espacio a ocupar por el objeto sagrado, el santo de los santos, estuviera recubierto de oro fino, con un altar de cedro revestido del mismo material, oro que según el texto bíblico llegó a recubrir el templo en su totalidad. Dos querubines de olivo silvestre con una envergadura alar de cinco metros cada uno se tocaban por un extremo de sus alas mientras que por el otro rozaban los muros.

En el exterior fueron especialmente célebres las dos columnas de bronce con capiteles vegetales, bautizadas como Yakin –la de la derecha– y Bóaz –la de la izquierda–, piezas que hoy en día también forman parte de la simbología esotérica de la masonería. Se trataba de columnas que físicamente no sustentaban nada de la estructura del templo y que, como los obeliscos egipcios, pudieron tener una utilidad ritual. La destrucción del majestuoso edificio tres siglos y medio más tarde fue obra del rey babilónico Nabucodonosor II, no siendo convenientemente restaurado hasta la irrupción en la historia de Herodes el Grande, quien rehabilitó y amplió el edificio hacia el año 20 a. de C. Sus espacios devolvieron el eco de las palabras de Jesús, si hacemos caso a los Evangelios, siendo nuevamente destruido por las tropas del romano Tito en el año 70 de nuestra era.

Mientras muchos hebreos esperan con entusiasmo la reconstrucción del tercer templo, anunciador de un tiempo nuevo y de la llegada del Mesías, el lugar acuna a cristianos, a creyentes del judaísmo –que oran en el Muro de las Lamentaciones– y a seguidores del Islam, pues no en vano sobre la ruinas del mítico edificio –que también albergó cultos paganos de sirios, fenicios, romanos y griegos–, se encuentra la llamada Mezquita o Cúpula de la Roca, donde la tradición arábica fija los rezos y el ascenso de Mahoma con su caballo alado al-Boraq.

El señor de los genios, las máquinas y la magia

Puestos a resaltar curiosidades sobre la tradición musulmana y la figura de Salomón, es reseñable la estrecha relación que se plantea en el Corán entre el monarca y los djins, genios o espíritus elementales sobre los que nuestro protagonista parecía ejercer un importante grado de poder, y que aparecían en algunas suras del texto sagrado del islam.

La experta Montserrat Abumalham detalla, en un trabajo publicado en Anaquel de Estudios Árabes III, la especial relación del monarca con los genios, a partir del estudio de un capítulo del texto Kitab Adad al-Falasifa en el que se describe, para sorpresa de muchos, la transmisión de sabios conocimientos por parte de estas entidades, frecuentemente vistas como diabólicas. Transportado por un viento, se encontró con 110 genios filósofos en una isla donde le transmitieron supuestamente enseñanzas en forma de proverbios.

La tradición le vincula también con la magia –ver recuadros–, la cábala y el esoterismo, pero todavía hoy la figura de Salomón sigue rodeada de un aura de misterio que sólo ha sido en parte desvelado.

In the Footsteps of Templars Past, Two Men Create a New Path of Peace – One Step at a Time

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In this year of political grandstanding, it is refreshing to hear the true story of someone who quietly, and quite literally, “walks the talk.” Author/photographer Brandon Wilson and his 68-year-old French friend recently completed an eleven-country, two-continent walk for peace to Jerusalem along a trail long associated with war.

Wilson’s inspiring new book about their odyssey, Along the Templar Trail: Seven Million Steps for Peace (Pilgrim’s Tales, January 2008) interweaves adventure, intrigue, wit and sharp social commentary into an entertaining Chaucerian tale about overcoming odds and discovering the secret to creating peace.

Their courageous journey from France to Jerusalem traced one marched a millennium ago by Crusaders and those who became the first Knights Templar. Like those men, their walk was difficult. There was always the uncertainly of how Middle Easterners would react once they discovered Wilson was an American. However, they frequently stumbled upon “angels” whose random acts of kindness bolstered their resolve and rekindled their belief in humankind.

It was an expedition filled with extreme highs and lows. The men trekked 2620-miles (the equivalent to crossing the U.S.) across difficult terrains in extreme climates, from the near-freezing Black Forest to Turkey’s broiling plains. There was the mental test of completing 30-50 km., a virtual marathon, each day. When war erupted in Israel and Lebanon, violence mounted in Damascus, and Hemorrhagic Fever raged in Turkey, everything became uncertain – except for their steadfast and perhaps life-threatening resolve.

Asked why he set-off on this quest, Wilson explained, “I’m convinced that one person can still make a difference in today’s world – and the time is now. It’s time for truth and tolerance, instead of blindly following a road of mutual destruction. I’m re-establishing this trail as an international path of peace for people of all cultures, faiths and nationalities. Let’s set aside our differences; let’s walk as one.”

Their trek attracted the attention of national television networks and major newspapers along the way, allowing them to spread an impassioned message of peace to millions of Christians, Muslims and Jews alike throughout eleven countries. Without fail, those ordinary people echoed their call to focus on our commonality instead of our differences – and the urgency of resolving our problems before it’s too late.

This tale of empowerment stands as a strong testimony to the courage of the human spirit. Arun Gandhi, president of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, calls it, “A fascinating testimony of faith and gumption…A must read.”

With 44 photos, maps/illustrations and stages with distances, Along the Templar Trail provides a signpost for those who dream of making a similar journey—on foot themselves—or just in spirit and mind.

About the Author

Brandon Wilson is no novice to these types of journeys. This world adventurer and “perpetual pilgrim” has walked five of the world’s most important pilgrimage trails: the Camino de Santiago and Via de la Plata across Spain, the St. Olav’s Way across Norway, and he was the first American to walk the 1150-mile Via Francigena from England to Rome. His fascination began when he and his wife Cheryl became the first western couple to walk a traditional Buddhist trail from Lhasa, Tibet to Kathmandu.

Wilson is the award-winning author of Yak Butter Blues: A Tibetan Trek of Faith (2004) and Dead Men Don’t Leave Tips: Adventures X Africa (2005). His story “Life When Hell Freezes Over” appeared in They Lived to Tell the Tale: True Stories from the Legendary Explorers Club (The Lyons Press/Globe Pequot, 2007). His photos have won awards from National Geographic Traveler and Islands magazines. He is a member of the prestigious Explorers Club.

Los Templarios y el Reino Perdido

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 En el siglo XII diversos reyes europeos recibieron una carta firmada por un tal Preste Juan, quien se autocalificaba regente de un misterioso reino situado en las tierras de Oriente y en el que habitarían seres mágicos. En El fantástico Reino del Preste Juan (Aguilar, 2007), obra fascinante de la que extractamos el siguiente artículo, su autor descubre en el documento una serie de claves esotéricas que apuntan hacia la Orden del Temple.

Varias misivas, escritas por un personaje que se hacía llamar Preste Juan de las Indias, llegaron a manos de importantes líderes políticos y espirituales en 1165, entre los que se incluían el emperador de Sacro Imperio Germánico, Federico Barbarroja; el emperador bizantino de Constantinopla, Manuel Comneno; Luis VII, rey de Francia; el monarca luso Alfonso Enriques y el Papa Alejandro III de Roma. El misterioso documento –cuyo remitente aseguraba que vivía en alguna parte de la difuminada geografía de Oriente– aludía a las enormes riquezas y gran poder que ostentaba su autor, el Preste. Este rex et sacerdos (rey y sacerdote) se confesaba cristiano, aunque algunos creyeron que pertenecía en realidad a la herejía de los nestorianos.

Los receptores de la carta vieron en el poderoso rey cristiano un excelente aliado para luchar contra los musulmanes. La respuesta del Alejandro III a la misiva del Preste se demoró casi cinco años, pero contó con un mensajero de lujo: su médico personal, un tal Phillipus. Nada se sabe del resultado de este viaje.

La espesa niebla del tiempo ocultó este curioso episodio. La misiva, en la versión destinada al emperador de Constantinopla, empezaba así: «El Preste Juan, por virtud y la gracia de Cristo Jesús, rey de todos los reyes cristianos y señor de todos los hombres de la Tierra, salud y gran amor envía al muy gentil Emperador, defensor de Constantinopla. Sabed que le desea salud para que prevalezca y conquiste grandes riquezas (…) Soy Señor de los Señores y supero en toda suerte de riquezas a las que hay bajo el cielo, así como en virtud y en poder a todos los reyes del universo mundo. Setenta y dos reyes son tributarios nuestros. Cristiano devoto soy y a los cristianos pobres que, en cualquier parte se hallan bajo el imperio de Nuestra Clemencia, los protejo».

Más adelante, el documento aludía a los habitantes del enigmático reino: las míticas mujeres amazonas, los pueblos condenados de Gog y Magog y hombres salvajes, además de centauros, unicornios y dragones adiestrados por sus súbditos. Cuando leí por primera vez la carta del Preste Juan me percaté de que su contenido estaba pergeñado de términos alquímicos, lapidarios medievales y, quizá, un mensaje críptico dirigido a la cristiandad. Alquimia de la inmortalidad.

Es posible que parte del mito del Preste Juan se gestase en la India. Sus habitantes creían en la estrecha relación entre el oro y la longevidad, un asunto que parecía interesarle al Preste especialmente. Los hindúes desarrollaron una «alquimia de la medicina», disciplina centrada en el estudio de la inmortalidad y del espíritu. Precisamente, en los dominios del rex et sacerdos existiría una fuente de la eterna juventud. La versión de la carta alude a un «palacio de la inmortalidad», perteneciente al Preste Juan, que una misteriosa voz ordenó construir a su padre. La obsesión de los alquimistas europeos por la transformación de metales viles en oro puede explicar, en parte, que en la carta se mencione reiteradamente la posesión de este metal. Pero la pista decisiva para confirmar el carácter alquímico de la misiva es la extensa referencia al mítico unicornio, importante elemento en el contexto de la alquimia, pues representa la naturaleza doble —divina y demoníaca— del mercurio, el cual actúa como agente de la transmutación.

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Según cierta leyenda, la Piedra Filosofal se encuentra bajo el cuerno del unicornio, también considerado un poderoso antídoto contra venenos. La misiva del Preste se refiere a unicornios de tres pelajes: rojo, blanco y negro. «Sin embargo, los blancos tienen más fuerza que los demás, ya que combaten al león, aunque el león los mata», leemos en uno de los fragmentos. Está comprobado que estos tres colores se refieren a las tres etapas fundamentales de la alquimia: el nigredo (Obra en Negro), el albedo (Obra en Blanco) y el Rubedo (Obra en Rojo). La poder de las piedras preciosas El poder del Preste estaba relacionado con la posesión de gemas o piedras preciosas. En las cartas se citan algunas con propiedades mágicas y terapéuticas. La clave de estas menciones se encuentra en unas obras medievales llamadas lapidarios, que contenían abundante información sobre las gemas y sus capacidades mágicas, médicas y herméticas. La base de dichos textos es que los astros son capaces de proyectar sobre las piedras preciosas una serie de virtudes o desgracias, susceptibles de ser absorbidas por el ser humano que entre en contacto con éstas.

En la alquimia se asocian determinadas piedras y minerales con poderes cosmológicos y astrológicos. Según las cartas del Preste, el jaspe se utilizó en la construcción de los peldaños que daban acceso al monumental «espejo que todo lo ve». De acuerdo con los lapidarios, el jaspe tiene la facultad de confortar el espíritu y mejorar la vista. En la carta latina del Preste Juan se menciona, por encima de otras, a la esmeralda: «En nuestra mesa comen a diario treinta mil hombres, además de los que entran y salen (…). Esta mesa es de esmeraldas preciosas y la sostienen dos columnas de amatista. Por la virtud de esta piedra, nadie que se siente a la mesa puede embriagarse». Además, el Preste Juan poseía un cetro de esta misma piedra preciosa, que varios autores han relacionado con el Santo Grial, pues una versión afirma que el sagrado vaso estaba fabricado con esmeraldas. Así, el mito del rex et sacerdos se relaciona con el cáliz de la Última Cena. Quizá por este motivo, el caballero templario y trovador von Eschenbach escribe su poema Parzival sobre la leyenda del Rey Arturo y el Grial, introduciendo en el relato la figura del Preste Juan.

Los Templarios: autores de las cartas

Esta es la hipótesis que defiendo en mi libro “El fantástico Reino del Preste Juan”. Para ello me baso no sólo en un profundo análisis de las misivas, sino también en un estudio del contexto histórico en el que se divulgaron. Los documentos son el reflejo de una época –mediados del siglo XII– de grandes convulsiones políticas, sociales y culturales en Europa. En aquel mundo belicoso, fanatizado y supersticioso, las cruzadas representaron la culminación de un ideal largamente acariciado por reyes y papas: la conquista de Tierra Santa para la cristiandad. Las nuevas órdenes religiosas monásticas, como los Caballeros templarios, se esforzaron por estar presentes en Tierra Santa y franquear las rutas hacia Jerusalén de los peregrinos cristianos.

En el 1144 los turcos selyúcidas tomaron el condado latino de Edesa. Esto desencadenaría la segunda cruzada, predicada por San Bernardo de Claraval, que fracasaría cuando las tropas franco-germanas fueron derrotadas en Damasco. En 1145, en Viterbo (Italia), apareció un obispo cristiano de origen francés llamado Hugo. Procedente de Jabula (Líbano), era enviado por la Iglesia de Armenia. Hugo solicitaba ayuda al Papa Eugenio III para reconquistar a los árabes la ciudad de Edesa. El obispo mencionaba a un rey llamado Presbyter Iohannes que pretendía tomar Jerusalén y que vivía en el Extremo Oriente. Sin embargo, como era de esperar, nada se supo de los ejércitos del Preste Juan. Pero algunos regentes europeos no perdieron la esperanza en que el rex et sacerdos se dignase a unir sus tropas a las de los cruzados y, de este modo, derrotar a los musulmanes.

La carta probablemente tenía como fin insuflar ánimos a los principales monarcas de la cristiandad. Si pensaban que al otro lado del planeta existía un poderoso aliado cristiano, sería más complicado que se rindieran frente al enemigo musulmán. En la versión francesa de la carta se lee que 2.000 franceses armados protegían al misterioso rey y a sus tesoros. Esta cita apunta claramente a la Orden del Temple. Los templarios no eran simplemente monjes guerreros, sino que los más ilustrados se habían iniciado en algunos conocimientos, como la alquimia. Dicho «arte» les llegó por medio de los musulmanes, con los que se relacionaron en Tierra Santa.

La cruz Otra pista sobre un posible origen templario es la alusión en las cartas a la cruz, uno de los elementos más importantes de la simbología templaria: «Cuando procedemos a guerrear contra nuestros enemigos, mandamos llevar ante nuestra faz, en lugar de estandartes, trece cruces grandes y muy altas, hechas de oro y piedras preciosas, cada una en un carro; y todas y cada una de ellas son seguidas por diez mil caballeros y cien mil infantes armados». Los templarios también enarbolaban cruces en el campo de batalla. En la misiva también aparece reflejado el valor de la cruz de oro, es decir, el «oro alquímico».

Son 13 las cruces que portan los soldados del Preste, quizá recordando a los 12 apóstoles más Cristo o a los 12 signos zodiacales y el Sol, símbolo crístico por excelencia. Más tarde, durante el proceso contra los templarios en el siglo XIV, se los acusó de practicar artes alquímicas, algo que los acusadores consideraron funesto y demoníaco.

Años antes, en 1317, el Papa Juan XXII publicó una bula contra los alquimistas. Si realmente el autor de las cartas del Preste Juan fue un alquimista —y todo parece apuntar en esta dirección—, deberíamos buscarlo en el seno de la Orden de los Caballeros de Cristo en aquel año 1165, posiblemente en la Occitania. ¿La intención? Conseguir que los reyes cristianos reconquistaran Edesa –importante bastión templario– y expandir los dominios del Occidente cristiano más allá de los territorios conocidos.

¿Dónde está el reino del Preste Juan? El imperio del Preste Juan parece confundirse con el mismísimo Paraíso Terrenal o colindar con él. Es lo que se deduce de las cartas, pues, según las mismas, se encuentra situado donde surgen los ríos edénicos mencionados en el Génesis bíblico. Algunos creyeron que tales ríos nacían cerca del Ganges, en la India, o en la zona de Mesopotamia, entre el Tigris y el Eufrates, cuna de la humanidad. Además, en la misiva latina se menciona a uno de sus reinos del siguiente modo: «Un bosque situado en las estribaciones del monte Olimpo, del que brota una fuente de aguas transparentes que guarda el sabor de todas las especias (…). Su curso prosigue por tres días, hasta llegar a las proximidades del Paraíso, del que Adán fue expulsado».

En la Edad Media, la India se consideraba una tierra de infinitas riquezas, donde se situaba el Paraíso Terrenal, y que los comerciantes anhelaban dominar para obtener mercancías con las que negociar en Occidente. La tierra de Tarsis, a la que alude en la Biblia, se llegó a confundir con la misma India. En Tarsis, que en hebreo significa «crisólito» o «zafiro», moraban dragones y se producía pimienta en cantidad, tal como indica la carta del Preste.

El espejo mágico Uno de los objetos más enigmáticos y fascinantes mencionados en las cartas del Preste es, sin duda, el espejo mágico que todo ve. El soberano localiza el poderoso «cristal» frente a su palacio: «Encima de aquel pilar soberano, puesto allí por una mano sabia, descansa el espejo, que puede verse desde muy lejos en toda la región. Fue levantado con tan gran arte y proyectado con tan gran maestría que en él pueden verse y contemplarse fácilmente las guerras que, en el país que sea, preparan nuestros enemigos. No hay tierra tan lejana donde se fragüe una guerra, ni traición de gente alguna, que no veamos al momento. No tenemos menester de espía alguno que nos informe rápidamente de las noticias, ya que todo lo vemos en el espejo: nuestros enemigos y sus preparativos, nada se nos puede ocultar. De día y de noche, es la verdad, mantenemos junto al espejo tres mil hombres armados para guardarlo y evitar que lo roben por ardid, lo tiren al suelo o lo hagan añicos; y para que los enemigos no puedan acercársele, es bueno vigilarlo de cerca».

Entre los taoístas, el espejo mágico desvela la naturaleza real de las influencias maléficas, las aleja y protege contra ellas. De ahí que el Preste construyera un espejo gigante para poder ver el movimiento de sus enemigos y, consecuentemente, anularlos.

in Akasico.com

My Bedroom Window Over Jerusalem VI – You Will Search my Tomb

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The second of November is the All Souls Day. Catholics, and some other Christian communities, shall be commemorating the dead.

The fact that this has been commemorated since long time, it’s unsurprising that non Catholics alike would be conscious of this day to remember their beloved ones. In fact, in matters as this there is little boundary observed. The feeling of loss, the longing for our departed is something that touches us deeply beyond our religious margins. It touches a human heart. And this sets people at one despite whatever their religious affiliations are. Hence, I can imagine how many other people are actually drawn despite themselves into such commemoration.

Some will go to pray at the tomb of their beloved departed or perform intimate gestures of devotion, like putting flowers. This is healing. To some extent, it is an encounter of the level of its own that brings somewhat consolation. If only all people had this privilege.

Many are the people who not only suffer the loss of their beloved ones but on top of that they have no place where they can visit them, speak to them and perform those intimate rituals of love for them. This is really a pity. Yes, to be so doubly deprived can be quite devastating.

The frantic combing of the cemetery that I fell in two year ago made me appreciate how the tomb can border between healing and breaking a person’s heart. I’m afraid there are many others who are afflicted like Cecilia.

Indeed, you appreciate water when the well runs dry. Then you learn to keep water jealously and use it sparingly. This is not just a nice phrase, certainly not; not after what I experienced on that day.

If you have a father, cherish him; if you still have a mother, cherish her. No matter how outdated their counsel may sound in your ears they have nonetheless not outlived their usefulness. You may perhaps not appreciate that today, but I guarantee you tomorrow you may hunger for a discourse no matter how empty, no matter how patronizing, no matter how archaic but so long it’s the words from the mouth of a person you know loves you –a parent. Perhaps the case of Cecilia can instruct you as it did to me.

It was a Tuesday afternoon, 2nd November 2005. I was in Kidal –northern region of Mali- where I had gone to visit the small Catholic community to celebrate with them the feast of All Souls. It was during that visit that a woman arrived in the family where I had been accommodated. There I got caught up in her drama.

The woman’s name was Cecilia. She came from Tessalit, another desert town, some 250km further north towards the border with Algeria. Cecilia came to Kidal in search of her father. Not many people could know him except few elderly people who spoke with dim memory of a judge who had worked there some 39 years before. They were of little help to Cecilia. They couldn’t tell her where she would find her father and talk to him.

That was the search that brought Cecilia to Madame Irene’s home. Madame Irene not only remembered the judge but she also had an idea, though not with certainty, where Cecilia would likely meet her father. That however entailed a good search. For Cecilia that was already something. Finally she had somewhere to start from. She got some hope. You should have been there to see how her face beamed with what seemed a mission-accomplished though just in sight. And for that encounter with the father; she just could not wait. By charity we were conscripted into that pilgrimage to her father though at the peak of the day’s heat of the Sahara.

As I remember that day my body twitches. With the temperature of 49˚c I had felt like I was being grilled under my clothes. At the same time I had felt animated by an incredible, internal energy which I just could not account for as we went different directions in that expanse cemetery, combing tombs. We were to read every single placard. For all that effort, pity for poor Cecilia, all was in vain; if only all tombs still had a poster.

Cecilia’s natural smiling face that had shone at the beginning of the search become agonized and fatigued. Yes, you just could not miss the effect of that chilling, dark cloud that suddenly reigned in the midst of that messaging heat. She was like a child excitedly running to welcome the upcoming father but only to be greeted with a cold shoulder; a complete refusal. Far from her hopes the day ended up in a miscarriage.

Cecilia is a teacher, wife and mother. She is married to a military man of some rank in the Malian army. She has two children. After I visited her later, I remained with an impression of a happy family. Nonetheless, deep down her there was still an emptiness; a longing.

Cecilia had never seen her father in her life. That is why that was going to be a big day for her. Certainly, she would not have met him; but standing before his tomb, seeing it, touching it, and kissing it would certainly have made all the difference.

Cecilia’s father had died tragically. He was a victim of the harsh conditions of the desert life. He had gone hunting with his friends where they got lost and their water reserve got dry. But the desert heat was no less relentless; there was no village or a stream where they would appease the thirst. And how long would they hold it? They became so parched that they just could not resist doing what they well knew was not the right way –they drank petrol. That was their end. When that happened, Cecilia was still in her mother’s womb.

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After her father’s death, Cecilia’s mother moved to the southern part of Mali, Segou, where Cecilia was born, educated and started working. When she was later transferred to the north she took the opportunity to meet the father. That’s how I met her and got involved in her drama only to come out of it a little wiser.

I often received young people who came to talk to me. Most of them were tired of their parents who pontificated things to them. They felt their parents did not understand them and only restricted their freedom. Patronizing though some parents might be it’s often out of the best of intention –out of love for their children. While this conflict of generation gap is real and for sure can be annoying, nevertheless, young people need to be a little more objective and appreciate their parents’ good will.

Today, when I hear someone speaking ungratefully about their parents, there is this mantra that spontaneously plays on my mind: you will search my tomb, you will search my tomb, you will search my tomb. It always rings.

And thus the case of Cecilia makes me think of the families of the victims of genocide in Luanda, war in Angola, victims of war in the Congo, victims of September 11, the victims of the Iraq war, the victims of the Israel-Lebanese war, the numerous young Africans who die on the way to try their luck in Europe; some die parched in the desert and remain to be buried by wind while others are merely dropped in the sea like a stone. Many of such families have to anguish like Cecilia. Perhaps, this is but just one sign of how limited we humans are. As we walk the journey of life, often we bump into what we cannot surmount. We are face to face with our helplessness. This can be painful. However, there is a little consolation.

This commemoration of the dead is, though we go to the cemetery, however not about tombs. No matter the way our dear ones have fallen or no matter where their remains lie; like those whose tombs we know, our sentiment and prayer for them is the same. We love them. We hold them dearly in the memory of our hearts. May they all rest in eternal peace.

© Evans K. Chama 2007
A Missionary of Africa studying theology in Jerusalem
evans_chama@yahoo.com

In the Footsteps of the Crusaders

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The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, the name by which the Crusaders’ rule over the Holy Land is commonly known, lasted from 1099, when the Crusaders ”rescued Jerusalem from the yoke of the infidel,” as one contemporary account put it, to 1291, when the city of Acre was retaken by the Moslems. At its zenith the kingdom stretched from Beirut to Elath, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan and beyond.

Even though the kingdom was in a constant state of siege, a building boom of a magnitude rarely equaled in the land occurred during the period of Crusader rule. Despite man-made and natural disasters the Israeli landscape is still dotted with 12th- and 13th-century remains, and a visitor can soon learn to recognize the idiom of Crusader architecture in the Holy Land.

There were three types of construction: military, religious and civilian. Forts and castles, churches and monasteries, inns, markets and hospitals were built by the Crusaders to defend their holdings and to serve the needs of pilgrims. The style was basically Romanesque with some early Gothic elements; a few local motifs were introduced by native craftsmen.

In Jerusalem, the city that had beckoned from afar, Crusaders’ footprints abound. Capture of the city came after a five-week siege. The heat was intense; food and water were scarce, and from the seemingly impenetrable walls of the Holy City the Moslems taunted their foe. On Friday, July 15, 1099, Godfrey of Bouillon and his men finally scaled the wall and won the battle for Christendom. A terrible massacre ensued. Old men, women and children were slaughtered. The Jews, who had fought alongside the Moslems, were locked up in a synagogue and set on fire. Blood was flowing in the streets, ankle-deep.

Later that day, Godfrey, Tancred and the other leaders of the First Crusade made their way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. They went barefoot, wrote one Crusader, ”through the holy places . . . where Jesus Christ the Saviour lived in the flesh. Devoutly they kissed the places where his feet had trod.” At the church they found evidence of the damage inflicted earlier in the century by the Egyptian Caliph el-Hakim. Soon, refurbishing of the church began; it was completed and celebrated in 1149, 50 years to the day after the Crusaders’ victory.

Unlike the interior, the facade has changed little since the 12th century. The double portal (the right one has been blocked since the days of Saladin, the Moslem ruler) and the two corresponding windows on the second floor are accented by three archivolts supported by engaged columns. The capitals with a foliage motif and the rosette-frieze were common to local architecture since the Byzantine period. The voussoirs – the evenly shaped stones in the arches – may have also been influenced by Eastern masons. The carved lintels of the portal, depicting scenes from the life of Jesus, have been removed to Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Museum for preservation. On the terraced roof, near the Ninth Station of the Cross, are the remains of the Crusader refectory and cloisters. The remains now surround a cluster of mud huts -the Ethiopian holding in the Holy Sepulcher – where old monks reside.

Southeast of the Holy Sepulcher are the Three Covered Bazaars, built to produce income for the Order of the Templars and the Church of St. Anne. Light enters the bazaars through apertures at the top of the groin vaults; the shops, still in use, are small and dark. The central bazaar, Suq el-Attarin, was known as Rue de Malquisinat (the Street of Bad Cooking) for the quality of the roasted meats sold to pilgrims there. Not all foods were poor, however. Oranges, peaches and bananas were available, along with a variety of breads, and local wines kept chilled in snow from Lebanon. Game – partridges, cranes, wild boar – was consumed by the Crusaders, and poultry could be purchased on nearby David Street, in a huge vaulted hall with massive piers – today’s vegetable market.

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At the southern end of Suq el-Attarin begins the recently excavated Cardo, an elegant arcaded street from the Byzantine era. Shops on either side of the street, added some 600 years later by the Crusaders, have recently been been renovated to accommodate modern goods. Below street level, one can see remains of fortifications from the sixth and first centuries B.C., pieces in the mosaic that is Jerusalem, reminders of destruction and renewal.

East of the Cardo, on Misgav Ladach Road, is the partially restored Church of St. Mary of the Teutonic Knights. The church was established in 1128 to care for German pilgrims who might have felt unwelcome in the French-dominated Crusader Jerusalem. A German traveler in the 12th century described it as ”the German house upon which hardly any men who speak any other lan-guage bestow any benedictions.” The church, which had a hospital and a hospice attached to it, was the modest birthplace of the Teutonic Order, which later became so powerful that it conquered the state of Prussia and gave rise to its militaristic spirit.

The most beautiful Crusader church in Jerusalem is St. Anne, the traditional dwelling of Mary’s parents. It was turned into a madrasa, a religious school, by Saladin after his victory over the Crusaders in 1187, as is testified to by an inscription above the portal. Some seven centuries later, after the Crimean War, the Turks presented this building to the French Government, which committed it to the care of the White Fathers, a religious order.

Romanesque in style, built of white stone, it is pure and austere. The facade is elegant in its simplicity. A plain, triple-pointed arch marks the main portal; above it is a delicately carved molding. Only the top window is adorned, flanked by pillars and capitals. Six cruciform piers divide the interior into a nave and two aisles. The central apse creates a chevet, an unusual rounded projection in the exterior of the eastern wall. Light filters into the sparsely furnished building through a few clerestory windows. The acoustics in St. Anne are superb; to hear mass sung here – divine. (Mass is sung every morning at 6:30.) Some time after the conquest of Jerusalem, the Templars – the order charged with protecting pilgrims in the Holy Land – implanted themselves on the Temple Mount and refurbished the Mosque of Aksa. The Crusaders renamed it Templum Solomonis for Solomon’s Temple, which had stood on the Mount some 2,000 years before. The zigzag central arch in the entry porch is Crusader, as is the small octagonal edifice northwest of the Dome of the Rock. T hat building was turned into Templum Domini, and the octagonal structure served as its baptisary. Known today as the Dome of the Ascension, the former baptisary is a fine example of Crusader architecture.

If one leaves the Temple Mount through Bab el-Silsileh (Gate of the Chain in Arabic) one can see the twisted marble columns on either side of the gate, which probably come from a Crusader structure, as does the ”recycled” rose window in the water fountain across from the gate.

Before leaving Jerusalem one should visit the Citadel, an amalgamation of walls, towers and other fortifications. In the Crusaders’ period, as the city changed hands more than once, the Citadel often served as the defenders’ last stronghold. Nothing is left of the Latin Kings’ palace that stood nearby, and only a few architectural details from that era remain within the Citadel, but at its southwestern corner one can see the glacis and the outer wall of the fosse – the dry moat.

In the autumn of 1099, having fulfilled their vow to redeem Jerusalem, most of the Crusaders returned home. Those who stayed behind were known as the Franks – Christians of European, mostly French, origin. Noblemen, merchants, artisans, even peasants – most of the Franks settled in urban centers such as Jerusalem, Acre, Tiberias and Bethlehem. The country’s indigenous Christians detested the haughty Franks, who had replaced their clergy and liturgy in the churches. The Moslems who survived the First Crusade were mostly farmers who were allowed to continue to till the land and produce foodstuffs for the urban Franks. The Jewish population was almost completely eradicated by the Crusaders.

One of the main tasks of the 150,000 Franks (about a third of the total population) was to keep the highways safe for pilgrims. Since the pilgrims were in constant danger of Saracen attacks, the Franks built a strong network of forts and castles along the borders and on major routes and crossroads. These garrisons were strategically situated on mountain tops and within visual contact of each other; torches and homing pigeons were used to communicate. It was an effective early warning system.

Belvoir, a few miles south of the Sea of Galilee, is a fine example of a castrum, as a small Crusader fort was known. Known in Hebrew as Kochav Hayarden (Star of the Jordan), it commands a sweeping view of Mounts Hermon and Tabor, the Golan, the Sea of Galilee and the Yarmuk and Jordan Valleys. From this fort one could observe any movement on the nearby road, one of the ancient trade routes from Egypt to Damascus, which crosses the Jordan near Beit She’an. Belvoir was built in the middle of the 12th century and served the Knights of St. John, also known as the Order of the Hospitalers. As their name implies, this order was founded to minister to the sick, but later, alongside the Templars, they also guarded the highways and fought the Saracens, the Moslem foe.

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Belvoir, which was meant to withstand prolonged sieges, is a double fort. The outer portion is a rectangle, 330 by 440 feet long. Square towers stand at the four corners and at regular intervals in between. Entry is over a culvert and through a low, fortified gate. Inside is a courtyard with arcaded corridors that used to house stables and storage areas. The inner fort, also protected by thick walls and corner towers, is built around an open court where one can still see the Hospitalers’ dining quarters, kitchen, ovens and the steps that led to a chapel and bedrooms. The bedrooms are now gone, as is the upper part of the keep.

Belvoir is built of black basalt blocks with white limestone used to accentuate certain vaults and arches. At the crumbling southwestern corner of the moat a typical Crusader building method can be seen: uniformly cut ashlars form both the inside and outside faces of the wall while the middle is filled with rubble and cement. The walls are up to 10 feet wide. Hidden in the outer walls are several staircases leading down to posterns in the moat from which sudden attacks could be launched.

Belvoir served the Hospitalers well until the time of Saladin, to whom it surrendered in 1189, after a year-and-a-half-long siege. In the 1220’s, the fort was partially destroyed by Saladin’s nephew, el-Malek el Mu’azzam.

Before leaving, the visitor might look again at the view and listen to the whispering breezes that gave Belvoir its Arabic name – Kaukab el-Hawa (Star of the Winds).

Keeping the sea lanes open was of vital importance to the Franks, who depended on arms, supplies and men from Europe. Acre, on the coast just north of Haifa, with its natural harbor, was second only to Jerusalem in its importance to the Latin Kingdom. The city, which is at least 4,000 years old, was famous since Phoenician times for its glass and for the dye extracted from the purple murex, a local snail. Alexander the Great stopped here, as did St. Peter and Maimonides – on separate occasions, of course.

King Baldwin I captured the city in 1104. Like other Mediterranean coastal cities, Acre was conquered with the help of Italian merchant fleets. For their assistance, commercial and other privileges were granted to the merchants; Venetians, Genoese, Pisans and Amalfians occupied large sections of Acre. The Orders of the Templars and the Hospitalers dominated the rest of the city, which, noted a contemporary visitor, ”is so populous as to surpass all the rest.” ”It receives all the merchant ships and . . . all the pilgrims for Christ’s sake. The air is corrupted by the enormous influxes of strangers.” A Moslem traveler described it as the ”focus of ships and caravans, and the meeting place of Moslem and Christian merchants . . . Its streets are chocked by the press of men so that it is hard to put foot to ground.” The traveler also commented on the preponderance of crosses and ”pigs” – his term for Christians. Some 40,000 people lived in Acre in the 13th century; the port could accommodate up to 80 ships. L ike most of the country, Acre was conquered by Saladin in 1187, but the balance of power shifted with the arrival of Richard the Lion-Hearted and the Third Crusade. In 1191 Acre returned to Christian hands and became, for a century, the capital of the Latin Kingdom, replacing the fallen Jerusalem.

The grand quarters of the Hospitalers in Acre were built mainly after 1191. A century later, when the Moslems demolished the city, they found the complex too solid to destroy and covered it with rubble. It took the Israelis 12 years to remove over 30,000 cubic feet of debris from the subterranean halls that housed the Master of the Hospitalers and his administration.

The entrance to this subterranean Crusader city is opposite the Mosque of el-Jazzar. After reaching the courtyard through a large Turkish gate, one can see, on the right, several huge rooms covering an area of 500 square yards; the barrel vaults are 25 feet high. This area, known today as the knights’ halls, may have served as barracks. The walk continues left of the court to a partially excavated hall, which may have been the administrative center, the Grand Manier. A narrow passage leads to the most impressive hall, the refectory, a 100-by-50-foot rectangle that was 36 feet high. Marco Polo may have dined in this hall on his way to China.

A 200-foot-long tunnel connects the refectory to six halls with cylindrical, cross-vaulted roofs. Finds from excavations in Acre, including Crusader artifacts, can be seen in the small museum next to the Hospitalers’ complex.

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Acre, the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land, came under siege on April 5, 1291. ”The enthusiasm of the Moslems was so great,” wrote one historian, ”that the number of volunteers exceeded the regular forces.” The walls and towers were bombarded by siege machines; the moats began to be filled. King Henry II of Cyprus arrived with his fleet, but it was too late. On May 18 the Saracens ”in numbers past counting” broke through the walls. The Franks who tried to flee were captured and killed. The last tower, held by the Templars, was being undermined when its defenders agreed to surrender. So many Saracens then entered the tower that it collapsed under their weight, crushing hundreds of Christians and Moslems. The conquerors destroyed the city’s markets, towers and walls, and Acre laid in ruins for centuries. Thus ended 200 years of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Sites Associated With the Christian Warriors Where to Go Were they brave, devout and romantic, or cruel, greedy and bloodthirsty? Everyone has preconceptions about the Crusaders.

Four European states came into being in the East after the First Crusade (1097 to 1099). They occupied an area along the eastern Mediterranean coast – today’s Syria, Lebanon and Israel. One of the four states was the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, whose fortunes and borders kept changing. Basically it covered most of modern Israel.

Out of the dozens of Crusader sites that still exist in modern Israel, three – Jerusalem, Belvoir and Acre – are particularly worth a visit, since they represent three different facets of the Crusaders’ history.

Jerusalem was the heart of the Latin Kingdom, the battle call of the Crusaders, the place where they left a lasting imprint. Belvoir is the country’s best preserved fort; it also commands spectacular vistas.

The coastal city of Acre, 16 miles north of Haifa, was the last stronghold of the Christians in the Holy Land . The city contains the grandest examples of Crusader architecture in Israel. Transportation Most of the Crusaders’ remains in Jerusalem are encompassed by the Old City Wall, an area less than one square mile, and can easily be visited on foot.

Belvoir is about six miles north of Beit She’an. There is no public transportation directly to the fort, but one can rent a car (about $35 a day) and drive to it. From Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, the trip takes a couple of hours, from Haifa somewhat less. On the road to Belvoir, which passes through the Jordan Valley, an orange sign with the words ”Kochav Hayarden (Belvoir)” points west to a road that climbs three miles to the fort.

Regular bus and sherut (taxi) service is available between Haifa and Acre, which is just across the bay. The bus fare is about 25 cents, sherut less than $2.

If you rent a car to visit Belvoir and start early in the day, you can visit the fort, then continue north to Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, about an hour away, for lunch. After lunch, you can drive on to Acre; that leg of the trip is also about an hour. Hours and Fees The places described in the accompanying article are free and open to the public from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M., with these exceptions:

In Jerusalem, the Church of St. Anne is open daily from 8 A.M. to noon, and from 2 to 5 P.M., but is closed to the public on Sunday. The Temple Mount can be visited daily from 8 to 11 A.M., except Friday. Entry for non-Moslems is through Bab el-Maghrabeh, near the Western Wall.

Belvoir is open daily from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M.; entrance fee is $1. The Crusaders’ City in Acre is open daily from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M., but closes at 1 P.M. on Friday; the fee is $1. Meals and Rooms Jerusalem offers many hotels and restaurants at various price levels.

There are no restaurants or hotels at Belvoir, but meals and lodgings are available in Tiberias. Several open-air restaurants are situated right on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, where the specialty is St. Peter’s fish caught in the freshwater lake. Lunch, at either Nof Kinneret (telephone 20773) or Galei Gil (20699) is $7 to $10, dinner $12 to $15.

There are also many hotels in various price ranges. At the Plaza (92233), a double room, including a large Israeli breakfast, is $100. At Galei Kinneret (92331), a quiet, older hotel, a double, with breakfast is $80. At Ganei Hamat (92890), just outside the city, near the Hot Springs, a double, with breakfast, is $65.

Acre offers two restaurants near the old port – Abu Christo (910065) and Ptolemais (916110). Both have a view of the Mediterranean and serve fresh fish and meat dishes, prepared in Near Eastern style. Lunches is about $10, dinner from $15 to $20. At the Argaman Motel (916691), on the beach, a double room is $60.

More information may be obtained by calling the Ministry of Tourism in Jerusalem (237311).N. R.

By NITZA ROSOVSKY; NITZA ROSOVSKY IS THE AUTHOR OF ”JERUSALEMWALKS” (HOLT, RINEHART & WINSTON).
in The New York Times

Les croisades

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De 1096 à 1291, huit fois de suite, les chrétiens s’élancent vers Jérusalem pour libérer la Terre sainte de la présence musulmane. Une épopée qui a bouleversé les rapports entre l’Orient et l’Occident

«Le vendredi, de grand matin, nous donnâmes un assaut général à la ville sans pouvoir lui nuire ; et nous étions dans la stupéfaction et dans une grande crainte. Puis, à l’approche de l’heure à laquelle Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ consentit à souffrir pour nous le supplice de la Croix, nos chevaliers postés sur le château [c’est-à-dire la tour de bois construite par les croisés pour attaquer la ville] se battaient avec ardeur, entre autres le duc Godefroi et le comte Eustache son frère. A ce moment, l’un de nos chevaliers, du nom de Liétaud, escalada le mur de la ville. Bientôt, dès qu’il fut monté, tous les défenseurs s’enfuirent des murs à travers la cité, et les nôtres les suivirent et les pourchassèrent en les tuant et en les sabrant jusqu’au temple de Salomon, où il y eut un tel carnage que les nôtres marchaient dans leur sang jusqu’aux chevilles… »

Cet extrait, simple et terrible, du « reportage » d’un témoin anonyme de la prise de Jérusalem, le 15 juillet 1099, marque le succès initial mais fragile d’une extraordinaire aventure de deux siècles : les croisades pour la délivrance des Lieux saints, et leur corollaire, la création d’Etats francs au Levant. Un affrontement entre l’Occident et l’Orient, entre le christianisme (divisé) et l’islam (lui aussi divisé). Une histoire « pleine de bruit et de fureur » , dominée par la foi ardente et la passion religieuse des uns et des autres, une histoire où se mêlent des deux côtés le pire et le meilleur, la barbarie et l’abnégation, l’esprit le plus chevaleresque et la plus brutale férocité.

Quelle est la situation en Europe et en Orient à la veille des croisades ? Pour le moins chahutée, sinon incandescente, où l’on voit des Normands, gens fort remuants, rafler l’Italie du Sud aux Byzantins, puis la Sicile aux Arabes ; les Eglises romaine et grecque se séparer. Guillaume le Conquérant, duc de Normandie, conquérir l’Angleterre…

Pendant ce temps, en Orient, apparaissent les premières vagues de Turcs islamisés, combattants redoutables surgis des steppes d’Asie centrale. Dès 1055, leurs chefs énergiques s’imposent par la force aux faibles califes arabes de Bagdad, tandis qu’en 1071, en Arménie, à Mantzikert, ils écrasent les armées chrétiennes de Constantinople et arrachent les deux tiers de l’Asie mineure (l’actuelle Turquie) à l’Empire byzantin. Se retournant contre les Arabes, ils pillent Le Caire, massacrent ses habitants pourtant musulmans, et surtout s’emparent de Jérusalem (1077) et de la Palestine.

Hostilité turque

Pendant les deux cent cinquante années de la présence byzantine en Palestine, l’accès des Lieux saints aux pèlerins est, c’est bien naturel, largement ouvert aux chrétiens. Et la prise de Jérusalem par les Arabes en 638, six ans après la mort de Mahomet, ne verrouille pas la porte. Puis les excellents rapports de Charlemagne avec le calife de Bagdad, Harun al-Rachid, permettent, à partir du IXe siècle, de réaliser une sorte de protectorat des Lieux saints. Ainsi de nombreux pèlerins occidentaux peuvent-ils, en pleine période musulmane, accéder sans problème au tombeau du Christ.

L’arrivée des Turcs change tout. Les pèlerinages deviennent difficiles, sinon impossibles, tandis que l’empereur byzantin, Alexis Ier Comnène, appelle à l’aide.

Lorsque, à la fin de novembre 1095, au concile de Clermont, Urbain II, pape d’origine champenoise, lance son appel à la croisade, il s’agit bien entendu de rétablir d’abord la liberté d’accès à la Terre sainte. Mais ce grand pape a une vision plus large, non seulement religieuse mais aussi politique. Il veut rééquilibrer l’Orient en soutenant le christianisme face à l’expansionnisme musulman. Urbain II en espère, de plus, le retour des orthodoxes dans le bercail papal. Espoir qui sera déçu ! Enfin, l’Eglise, qui avait eu tant de mal à imposer la « trêve de Dieu » aux turbulents barons d’Occident, peut proposer à leur ardeur belliqueuse un exutoire sanctifiant, une entreprise sacrée.

L’appel de Clermont a un immense retentissement. Urbain II, qui comptait surtout sur les chevaliers du Midi, autour du comte de Toulouse, Raymond de Saint-Gilles, et de l’évêque du Puy, Adhémar de Monteil, voit se presser en foule d’autres volontaires : les seigneurs de Champagne et d’Ile-de-France derrière Hugues de Vermandois, frère du roi de France Philippe Ier, les Normands, derrière leur duc Robert Courteheuse, fils de Guillaume le Conquérant, les Flamands et les Rhénans derrière Godefroi de Bouillon, duc de Basse-Lorraine (le Brabant). Enfin les Normands d’Italie du Sud et de Sicile derrière Bohémond de Tarente et son neveu, Tancrède.

Pareilles armées imposaient une organisation sérieuse. Il fallait rassembler des milliers et des milliers de combattants, des chevaux, des armes, des équipements, du matériel de siège, du ravitaillement pour un très grand nombre d’hommes et sur une très longue période. Le départ fut fixé à la fin de l’été 1096. C’était une croisade raisonnable, efficace, soigneusement préparée, celle des chevaliers. Celle que voulait Urbain II pour bien combattre les Turcs.

Mais une autre s’improvisait, dans un grand élan d’émotion. C’était la croisade populaire, celle des pauvres gens, des humbles, hommes, femmes, enfants, que prêcha, du Berry à la Lorraine, avec autant de feu que d’imprévoyance, le fameux Pierre l’Ermite.

Sans attendre les barons, elle se met en route dès mars 1096, dans une belle pagaille. Le 16 avril, en arrivant à Cologne, ils sont 15 000, se renforçant continuellement dans une indiscipline qui entraîne pillages et violences. Il y a parmi eux des gens sans aveu, des criminels, des voleurs, des chevaliers brigands, comme le triste comte Emich de Leiningen, et de redoutables exaltés. Ces bandes s’en prennent aux juifs – ces « déicides » – rencontrés en chemin, notamment en Rhénanie et à Prague, les massacrant en grand nombre en dépit de l’opposition des évêques.

Le 1er août 1096, Pierre l’Ermite et 25 000 pèlerins sont devant Constantinople. Craignant les excès, l’empereur byzantin les fait passer en Asie, avec le conseil d’y attendre l’armée des barons. Exhortation inutile. Le 21 octobre, ces malheureux exaltés, combattants naïfs, marchent sur Nicée, près de laquelle les Turcs les massacrent en masse ou les emmènent comme esclaves. Trois mille d’entre eux seulement regagnent le territoire byzantin.

Le 23 décembre arrive à Constantinople la première des armées de la « coalition internationale », celle du Nord, conduite par Godefroi de Bouillon (Flamands, Wallons, Allemands, Français et Normands de Normandie), qui avait traversé l’Allemagne et la Hongrie. Elle est rejointe par les Normands d’Italie et de Sicile venus par Brindisi et menés par Bohémond de Tarente et son neveu Tancrède. Puis, en avril 1097, par les chevaliers du Midi, conduits par Raymond de Saint-Gilles, qui avaient traversé l’Italie et les Balkans. On passe en Asie mineure, on reprend Nicée aux Turcs. Et l’armée entreprend, alors qu’arrive l’été, la longue traversée du plateau anatolien, une zone de steppes desséchées coupée de vallées profondes et de montagnes difficiles.

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Le 1er juillet, les Turcs surprennent dans la plaine de Dorylée (actuelle Eskisehir) l’avant-corps composé de Normands, commandé par Bohémond. Avant d’être encerclé par la rapide cavalerie turque, celui-ci parvient à alerter le corps d’armée qui suit. Et tandis que les chevaliers normands se protègent comme ils peuvent des pluies de flèches décochées par les vagues musulmanes tourbillonnantes, déboulent d’abord Godefroi de Bouillon et cinquante chevaliers, puis, très vite, le reste de l’armée. Le légat du pape Adhémar de Monteil, d’un côté, Godefroi de Bouillon et le reste des forces, de l’autre, réussissent à prendre en tenaille l’armée turque. Les chevaliers francs en armure – ces « chars lourds » – broient la légère cavalerie turque. Ce jour-là, aussi, le « combat changea d’âme » . Comme l’a souligné René Grousset : « La bataille de Dorylée trancha pour plus d’un siècle la question de force dans le Proche-Orient. »

Les croisés reprennent leur marche. Direction Konya (ex-Iconium) et Antioche. Mais, sur le plateau anatolien c’est l’enfer : l’été se fait plus chaud, le désert plus âpre, l’eau plus rare, tandis que le ravitaillement est inexistant. Enfin, on atteint la Cilicie et la Cappadoce. Où l’on reçoit l’aide inespérée et enthousiaste des Arméniens chrétiens, réfugiés en grand nombre dans ces régions après le désastre de l’armée byzantine à Mantzikert, en Grande Arménie.

La route d’Antioche est ouverte

Bohémond, en avant-garde, atteint la ville le 21 octobre 1097. La place, prise aux Byzantins par les Turcs douze ans auparavant, est formidable : une enceinte de 10 kilomètres ponctuée de 400 tours et renforcée d’une citadelle qui domine la cité. Après sept mois d’un siège épuisant, Bohémond reçoit, en secret, la proposition d’un habitant – un certain Firouz, renégat arménien islamisé, qui voulait se venger des Turcs – d’introduire les Francs dans la ville. Le 2 juin 1098 au soir on organise une diversion, on regroupe l’armée au pied de la tour où Firouz attend Bohémond. A 4 heures du matin, l’escalade commence : la tour est prise sans coup férir et ses voisines occupées. Lorsque le jour se lève, les Francs s’élancent dans la ville, où ils sont accueillis en libérateurs par les Arméniens et les Grecs, qui participent avec eux au massacre de la garnison turque.

Il était temps. Le lendemain arrive devant la ville une immense armée musulmane. D’assiégeants, les croisés se retrouvent assiégés, dans des conditions précaires. Le moral est au plus bas. Il faut un miracle. Il a lieu. A la suite d’une vision, un pèlerin provençal, Pierre Barthélemy, découvre le 14 juin 1098, sous une dalle d’une église de la ville, la Sainte Lance, avec laquelle un soldat romain avait percé le flanc du Christ agonisant. De quoi raviver l’ardeur des chrétiens. Et, le 28 au matin, Bohémond, profitant d’une faute des Turcs, dispose devant la ville les cinq corps de la cavalerie lourde des Francs. La déroute turque est totale et le butin énorme.

Reste l’objectif principal, Jérusalem. On l’oublie un temps. Certes, après tant d’épreuves et de combats, l’armée a besoin de repos. Mais les ambitions se sont réveillées dans cette Syrie où des terres, des fiefs sont à prendre. Bohémond lorgne Antioche, que lui dispute Raymond de Saint-Gilles. Le premier gagne la partie. Bohémond sera prince d’Antioche, dont il fera la prospérité. Avant même que débute le long siège, un autre grand croisé, Baudouin de Boulogne, frère cadet de Godefroi de Bouillon, s’en était allé créer le premier Etat franc d’Orient : le comté d’Edesse (une ville d’outre-Euphrate), petite principauté arménienne dont le prince l’avait adopté avant de périr assassiné.

En décembre 1098, les rivaux Bohémond et Raymond s’emparent d’une ville de la Syrie intérieure, Maarrat an-Numan, un nom qui reste comme une brûlure dans toutes les mémoires musulmanes d’aujourd’hui. Après l’assaut, c’est le massacre. Insoutenable. On marche sur les cadavres. Les Francs restent plus d’un mois dans la ville, que se disputent leurs chefs. La nourriture manque. Les plus pauvres et les plus violents, notamment les tafurs (un mot du XIIe siècle qui signifie truands), rescapés crapuleux de la croisade populaire, mangent de la chair humaine prélevée sur des cadavres musulmans. Et la colère des pèlerins « d’en bas » éclate : pour obliger les barons à reprendre la route de Jérusalem, ils rasent la ville.

Raymond de Saint-Gilles comprend enfin. C’est pieds nus, en signe de repentance, que, le 13 janvier 1099, il montre la route à l’armée.

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La marche reprend

Le mardi 7 juin, l’armée franque, 12 000 hommes, « exultant d’allégresse » , écrit l’Anonyme, est en vue de la Ville sainte. La plupart des croisés sont à genoux, en larmes, et rendent grâce à Dieu. Dans les jours qui suivent, les défenseurs de Jérusalem assistent à un spectacle incroyable. L’armée, formée en procession derrière ses prêtres, fait le tour de la ville avant de se jeter, sans échelles, à l’assaut, d’avance avorté, des puissantes murailles. Jérusalem n’est pas Jéricho. On renonce. Et le siège reprend, dans une chaleur intense, alors que manquent l’eau, le ravitaillement et le matériel. Heureusement arrive à Jaffa une escadre génoise porteuse du nécessaire. On va pouvoir construire les hautes échelles indispensables, les catapultes et surtout deux énormes tours en bois, mobiles, d’où l’on dominera et attaquera le rempart.

Le 15 juillet, un vendredi, Godefroi peut approcher de la muraille au sommet de sa tour de bois, lancer une passerelle et, suivi de son frère Eustache de Boulogne et de deux chevaliers de Tournai, sauter sur le rempart, vite rejoint par de nombreux Francs qui escaladent les échelles d’assaut. Les combats sont acharnés et le massacre se poursuit pendant plusieurs jours. « La ville présentait en spectacle un tel carnage d’ennemis, une telle effusion de sang que les vainqueurs eux-mêmes en furent frappés d’horreur et de dégoût » , écrivit plus tard le grand historien des croisades Guillaume, archevêque de Tyr.

Pour organiser la conquête, il faut désigner un chef. Deux candidats sont en lice, Raymond et Godefroi. Ce dernier, brave entre les braves et fort pieux, est désigné par les barons. Il refuse le titre de roi et prend celui, modeste, d’avoué du Saint-Sépulcre, ne voulant pas porter une couronne d’or là où le Christ avait reçu une couronne d’épines.

Tandis que Godefroi de Bouillon s’efforce d’établir les bases du futur royaume de Jérusalem, Raymond de Saint-Gilles, son rival malheureux, s’en va, dépité, créer dans le Nord-Liban le comté de Tripoli.

L’année 1099 s’achève. Le pape Urbain II est mort au mois d’août sans avoir connu la prise de Jérusalem. Et, le 18 juillet 1100, c’est au tour de Godefroi de succomber. Son frère Baudouin de Boulogne, « aventurier sans scrupules mais aventurier de génie » , selon la formule de René Grousset, apprend la nouvelle dans son comté d’Edesse. Aussitôt il accourt, déjouant avec bravoure et astuce tous les obstacles. A peine arrivé, il est plébiscité et proclamé roi, titre et couronne qu’il accepte sans barguigner, car il n’a pas la modestie de Godefroi. Son sacre accumule les symboles : il a lieu à Bethléem, dans l’église de la Vierge, le jour de Noël 1100 ! Guerrier courageux et brillant, parfois généreux, grand politique, souvent retors, Baudouin Ier transforme rapidement l’étroite bande côtière reçue en héritage en un véritable royaume. Au prix de durs affrontements avec les Arabes du Caire. Mais c’est son règne (dix-huit années) qui établira la présence franque en Orient.

Dès Jérusalem délivrée, et leur voeu ainsi accompli, la plupart des croisés rentrent chez eux. Les forces qui restent sont plutôt maigres. Heureusement il y a la mer. Pisans, Génois, Vénitiens, mais aussi Scandinaves et Anglais transportent vers les ports de Palestine hommes et vivres, permettant aux quatre Etats latins ainsi qu’à leurs alliés arméniens de Cilicie et de Cappadoce de résister aux forces adverses.

Si certains chrétiens se déchirent, c’est le plus souvent pour des raisons d’ambition personnelle. Ambitions et rivalités qui existent également chez les musulmans. Mais si Turcs et Arabes se détestent, c’est aussi pour des motifs religieux (sunnites contre chiites) ou culturels (cavaliers de la steppe et Arabes urbanisés se méprisent mutuellement). Pareilles divisions ont eu parfois des conséquences surprenantes. C’est ainsi, par exemple, que se noue en Syrie du Nord une alliance entre les Normands d’Antioche, conduits par Tancrède, et les Turcs d’Alep pour combattre d’autres Turcs et leur allié Baudouin de Bourcq, alors comte d’Edesse.

Le roi de Jérusalem, diplomate adroit, apaise les querelles des barons francs du Nord, afin de contenir les contre-croisades du calife de Bagdad et de l’émir de Mossoul. C’est lui aussi, organisateur de génie, qui attire en Palestine, par des avantages bien palpables, tout ce qu’il peut de chrétiens de langue arabe, grecs ou syriaques, afin de renforcer les trop faibles contingents de colons occidentaux.

Voici donc installés les chrétiens d’Occident en Terre sainte. Pour conter par le menu cette épopée de près de deux siècles dans l’Orient compliqué, il faudrait un livre, et il en existe d’excellents. On se contentera donc ici d’évoquer les faits les plus importants ou les anecdotes les plus frappantes.

Sous le règne de Baudouin II, cousin et successeur de Baudouin Ier, ont lieu deux événements majeurs. D’abord la création de l’ordre des Chevaliers du Temple, les fameux Templiers, ainsi nommés car le roi de Jérusalem les avait logés dans son propre palais, alors installé dans la mosquée al-Aqsa, elle-même établie dans le périmètre de l’ancien Temple de Salomon. Ensuite la transformation en ordre militaro-religieux d’une communauté ancienne, mais vouée jusque-là à la pure bienfaisance, les Hospitaliers de Saint-Jean. Leur établissement, édifié par des bénédictins près du Saint-Sépulcre vers 1070, puis repris par les Frères hospitaliers, – à la fois hôpital et hôtellerie -, accueillait les pèlerins pauvres ou malades.

Avec ces deux ordres de chevaliers-moines, destinés l’un et l’autre à la protection des pèlerins, les Francs d’Orient disposent désormais de ce qui leur manquait le plus : une armée permanente. Et, qui plus est, une armée à l’abnégation et au courage incomparables.

Dans le même temps – et cela côté chrétien comme côté musulman -, on édifie ou l’on prend, c’est selon, force châteaux et forteresses, tandis que les flottes venues d’Italie se font plus nombreuses. Le successeur de Baudouin II est un des plus puissants seigneurs d’Occident, Foulques V d’Anjou, qui coiffe en 1131 la couronne de Jérusalem après avoir transmis ses possessions angevines à son fils, Geoffroi, surnommé Plantagenêt, dont descendra une fameuse lignée de rois d’Angleterre parmi lesquels son petit-fils, Richard Coeur de Lion, futur croisé. Solide et réfléchi, loyal et généreux, guerrier accompli, Foulques a su se ménager des amitiés musulmanes – celle notamment de l’émir de Damas. Il est l’homme qu’il faut pour affronter la période difficile qui s’annonce.

En effet, côté musulman, un adversaire de taille vient de se révéler : Zengi, soldat énergique et organisateur redoutable, qui détient le pouvoir à Alep, en Syrie, et à Mossoul, en Mésopotamie. Zengi n’a qu’une idée en tête, réunifier la Syrie. Il attaque les positions franques. Il assiège Damas musulmane pour l’arracher à un émir turc rival. Mais les Francs s’en mêlent, car, en sauvant Damas, ils protègent Jérusalem.

Hélas, Foulques meurt dans un accident de chasse à l’automne de 1143. Son héritier est un enfant. C’est dans ces circonstances que Zengi, un an plus tard, attaque et prend le comté d’Edesse, point faible des Etats latins, s’acharnant notamment sur ses habitants arméniens, alliés des Francs.

La chute d’Edesse déclenche la deuxième croisade (1147-1149), plutôt désastreuse, prêchée par saint Bernard à Vézelay. Conduites par le roi de France Louis VII et l’empereur germanique Conrad III, deux armées, l’allemande d’abord, puis la française, suivent en Europe les traces de Godefroi de Bouillon. La première passe ensuite en Anatolie. Près de Dorylée, les Allemands sont abandonnés de nuit par leurs guides byzantins.

« Cuits » dans leur armure

Au matin, les Turcs sont là, tourbillonnant autour des lourds chevaliers qui cuisent dans leurs armures. Conrad perd dans l’affaire les trois quarts de ses troupes. Louis ne fait guère mieux. Il suit la route de la côte, coupée de gorges où le guettent les Turcs. A l’arrivée à Jérusalem, les forces franco-allemandes (25 000 hommes au départ) sont réduites à 5 000 combattants.

Louis VII rentre en France après Pâques de 1149. Le voyage en Palestine est pour lui – et pour la France – doublement catastrophique. En Orient, il n’a rien fait sinon perdu une grande partie de ses troupes. Et c’est à Antioche que s’est amorcée la rupture avec sa femme, la jeune et riche Aliénor d’Aquitaine, fatiguée de son époux, et qui, mariage annulé, troquera allègrement sa couronne de reine de France contre celle de reine d’Angleterre, apportant à Henri II Plantagenêt ses immenses domaines d’Aquitaine, de Gascogne et du Poitou en lointain prélude à la guerre de Cent Ans.

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Sous le règne du fils aîné de Foulques, Baudouin III, premier roi de Jérusalem né en Orient, se produisent deux faits qui vont lourdement peser sur l’évolution de la situation. Damas tombe en 1154 entre les mains de Nur ed-Din, fils de Zengi, qui réalise ainsi l’obsession de son père : l’unité de la Syrie musulmane. L’autre événement s’était déroulé à Antioche l’année précédente : Constance, veuve et héritière de la principauté, avait épousé un jeune et beau chevalier, Renaud de Châtillon, un cadet de famille frais débarqué, guerrier d’une exceptionnelle audace, un aventurier aux colères explosives, hélas sans le moindre esprit politique. « Ce soldat prestigieux , écrira René Grousset, mais fait pour commander une Grande Compagnie ou un rezzou (1) plutôt qu’une baronnie, “suicidera” la Syrie franque. » Renaud de Châtillon, fait prisonnier par Nur ed-Din, disparaît de la scène, pour seize années, dans les cachots d’Alep. Vers la fin de l’an 1160, Baudouin III meurt empoisonné, et son frère, Amaury Ier, lui succède. Comme lui, c’est un « poulain », ainsi que l’on appelait alors les Francs nés en Orient. Comme lui, il épouse une princesse byzantine, Marie Comnène, petite-nièce de l’empereur Manuel Comnène, afin de resserrer les liens entre les chrétiens. Amaury, intelligent et courageux, connaît particulièrement bien le monde musulman et mesure parfaitement les risques. La Syrie est désormais verrouillée solidement par Nur ed-Din. Que l’Egypte tombe entre les mains du Turc et le royaume de Jérusalem, encerclé à l’est et au sud, serait en péril de mort. Justement : l’Egypte, en pleine anarchie, est à prendre. Amaury et Nur-ed-Din s’y essaient en même temps. Partie nulle. Ils recommencent, tour à tour, au cours d’une série de campagnes (cinq en six ans pour Amaury, entre 1163 et 1169). Finalement, c’est Nur ed-Din, l’ atabek d’Alep, qui gagne grâce au talent militaire de son général, l’émir kurde Shirkuh, et du neveu de celui-ci, le jeune Salah ed-Din, que les Francs populariseront en Occident sous le nom de Saladin.

Vizir d’Egypte à la mort de son oncle, Saladin, sultan autoproclamé, monte lentement en puissance. En face, qui trouve-t-on ? D’abord Baudouin IV, roi de Jérusalem à 14 ans, un adolescent extrêmement doué, profondément responsable et particulièrement brave, mais atteint d’un mal implacable, la lèpre, qui l’emportera à 24 ans. Son règne, selon la frappante formule de René Grousset, « ne devait donc être finalement qu’une longue agonie, mais une agonie à cheval […] » Au côté du roi, il y a le comte Raymond III de Tripoli, son cousin et tuteur, excellent connaisseur du monde musulman. Mais il y a aussi les coteries, les cabales de cour, les Templiers jusqu’au-boutistes, les caprices de Sibylle, soeur de Baudouin et héritière présomptive du trône, qui vient d’épouser un nouveau venu, Guy de Lusignan, joli garçon insignifiant. Il y a, surtout, le retour de Renaud de Châtillon, vrai chevalier-brigand, audacieux, avide, sans scrupules, sorti en 1176 des cachots d’Alep et désormais installé non plus à Antioche mais en Transjordanie, dans les forteresses stratégiques de Kerak et de Montréal, qui permettent de contrôler et de taxer, entre Damas, Le Caire et La Mecque, les riches caravanes et les pèlerinages musulmans.

Tandis que le roi lépreux et son tuteur contrent avec succès – et même avec éclat – les ambitions de Saladin par d’habiles campagnes militaires et des trêves respectées, Renaud de Châtillon multiplie des actions qui vont exaspérer le sultan. L’été 1181, en pleine trêve, il surprend une très grande caravane de riches marchands et de pèlerins et s’en empare. Pressé par Baudouin IV de rendre à Saladin, au nom de la parole donnée, les prisonniers et le butin (notamment 200 000 pièces d’or), Renaud refuse tout net. L’hiver suivant, il met en oeuvre un projet fou : attaquer les lieux saints de l’islam et notamment Médine, afin d’y profaner le tombeau de Mahomet.

Dernier mauvais coup. Au début de 1187, rompant de nouveau une trêve conclue avec Saladin, il récidive en attaquant une grande caravane chargée d’immenses richesses. Renaud de Châtillon, le « brins Arnat » (prince Renaud) des musulmans, « suscitera à lui seul , écrit Amin Maalouf dans son excellent « Les croisades vues par les Arabes », plus de haine entre les Arabes et les Francs que des décennies de guerre et de massacres ».

Pour le sultan d’Egypte, la coupe est pleine. Il a tous les atouts en main. L’affaire de Médine lui a rallié l’ensemble du monde musulman. A Jérusalem, où Baudouin IV est mort deux ans plus tôt, les camarillas ont porté au pouvoir l’incapable Guy de Lusignan. Le moment est venu. Saladin proclame le djihad, la guerre sainte, rassemble 60 000 hommes, dont 12 000 cavaliers, envahit la Galilée, met le siège devant la ville de Tibériade et interdit l’accès au lac. Le piège est tendu.

Les croisés réagissent, regroupent 1 500 chevaliers et 20 000 fantassins à Séphorie, au centre de la Galilée, un lieu bien pourvu d’eau, une eau indispensable en ce brûlant mois de juillet. Pour dégager Tibériade, il faut traverser un vaste plateau pierreux, desséché, sans une source. Raymond de Tripoli, seigneur de Tibériade, le sait et le dit, préconisant de temporiser en attendant une faute de l’adversaire. Guy de Lusignan n’en a cure et ordonne le départ à l’aube du 3 juillet. Très vite, sous un soleil de plomb, le plateau devient un enfer. La rapide et fuyante cavalerie musulmane harcèle l’armée franque pour la maintenir le plus longtemps possible dans cette fournaise. Bêtes et gens sont assoiffés : lorsque les Francs arrivent au sommet de la colline de Hattin, le soir descend et le lac est en vue, mais entre l’eau et eux s’étale l’armée musulmane, immense. Et quand le jour se lève le 4 juillet, les troupes de Saladin encerclent les croisés, incendiant les herbes sèches de la colline. Les flammes et la fumée, poussées par un vent d’est, sèment le désordre parmi les Francs accablés, dans leurs armures, par le soleil et la soif, tandis que pleuvent les flèches arabes.

Au soir de la bataille, les Francs n’ont plus d’armée. Chevaliers et « piétons » sont tous ou morts ou prisonniers. Seul Raymond de Tripoli et quelques-uns de ses hommes ont pu s’échapper. Les responsables du désastre qui n’avaient pas su périr avec leurs soldats, l’inconsistant Guy de Lusignan, le boutefeu Renaud de Châtillon et l’arrogant Gérard de Ridefort, grand maître du Temple, sont conduits jusqu’à la tente du vainqueur. Saladin épargne le roi et le grand maître, ainsi que la plupart des prisonniers. Mais il tue de sa propre main Renaud de Châtillon et fait exécuter 300 chevaliers du Temple et de l’Hôpital, jugés ennemis irréductibles de l’Islam.

Au lendemain de sa victoire, Saladin s’emploie d’abord, afin d’empêcher l’arrivée de renforts, à reprendre en priorité les ports : Saint-Jean-d’Acre, Jaffa, Haïfa, Beyrouth, Saïda, Ascalon. Puis c’est le tour des villes de Samarie et de Galilée : Nazareth, Bethléem, Naplouse. Leurs habitants francs se réfugient à Tyr ou à Jérusalem. Jérusalem justement, l’objectif ultime – la raison d’être – de la campagne victorieuse de Saladin. Le 20 septembre 1187, il met le siège devant la ville et offre une capitulation honorable. Les bourgeois et la faible garnison refusent : on ne peut, sans trahir, livrer les Lieux saints. Saladin menace alors de faire subir à la population franque le sort que les premiers croisés avaient réservé aux musulmans. Devant la détermination des défenseurs, décidés à périr après avoir détruit le Dôme du Rocher et la mosquée al-Aqsa et massacré leurs 5 000 prisonniers arabes, il se calme et les chrétiens plient : ils pourront se racheter et quitter la ville sains et saufs. Tarif : 10 besants d’or par homme, 5 par femme, 1 par enfant. Pour les déshérités, le vainqueur transige : 7 000 pauvres pour 10 000 besants, que l’on fera, non sans peine, « cracher » au grand maître de l’Hôpital. Mais il en reste bien d’autres. Le malheur des pauvres gens émeut le sultan et son frère. Ils en rachètent 1 500 à eux deux. Puis Saladin fait libérer les vieillards, les pères de famille, les veuves et les orphelins, ces deux dernières catégories étant même gratifiées d’un viatique. Au total, 8 000 chrétiens sont rachetés collectivement, 10 000 libérés gratuitement, mais 10 000 à 15 000 sont vendus comme esclaves.

L’écrasante victoire de Saladin, l’effondrement complet du royaume de Jérusalem plongent l’Occident dans la stupeur. Il ne reste que des miettes des Etats latins d’Orient : l’imprenable Tyr, Tripoli, Antioche et le fameux krak des Chevaliers, tenu par les Hospitaliers. Rien ne semble devoir résister au sultan d’Egypte.

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Les exploits de Richard

Mais la troisième croisade (1189-1192) vient modifier la donne. Il est vrai qu’elle rassemble des gens de poids : Frédéric Barberousse, empereur germanique, Richard Coeur de Lion, roi d’Angleterre, Philippe Auguste, roi de France.

Frédéric arrivera le premier, à la tête d’une armée puissante (100 000 hommes) remarquablement organisée. Il traverse l’Anatolie en écrasant les Turcs au passage, mais se noie, le 10 juin 1190, dans un petit fleuve de Cilicie. La croisade allemande se désintègre.

Partis de Vézelay, Richard et Philippe Auguste gagnent la Palestine par mer, mais séparément. Arrivé bon premier, le Français se joint le 20 avril 1191 au siège de Saint-Jean-d’Acre, entrepris deux ans plus tôt par Guy de Lusignan, imprudemment libéré par Saladin. Il est rejoint en juin par le Plantagenêt qui, entre-temps, s’est emparé de Chypre, base d’actions futures. Sous les assauts franco-anglais, en dépit des efforts de Saladin pour soulager la garnison d’Acre, celle-ci capitule le 12 juillet. Philippe Auguste s’embarque pour la France le 20 août, tandis que s’engagent des négociations avec Saladin, qui veut racheter les 2 700 prisonniers de la garnison. Les pourparlers traînent en longueur. Richard, exaspéré, les fait tous exécuter, puis reprend sa conquête du littoral palestinien jusqu’à Ascalon, multipliant les succès stratégiques et tactiques mais aussi les exploits personnels. Le roi anglais, écrit René Grousset, admiratif, « devenait sur le champ de bataille l’incarnation même du génie de la guerre » .

Ses triomphes, à Arsur puis à Jaffa, sur la grande armée de Saladin constituent une revanche sur le désastre de Hattin (Tibériade). Le temps des pourparlers est venu, d’autant que Richard veut regagner l’Angleterre et que la santé de Saladin est chancelante (il mourra six mois plus tard). Le 3 septembre 1192, le roi et le sultan concluent pour cinq ans une paix de compromis qui gèle les positions respectives. Aux croisés, la bande côtière qu’ils venaient de conquérir entre Tyr et Jaffa. Aux musulmans, l’essentiel de la Palestine, Jérusalem comprise. Mais Saladin garantit la liberté d’accès aux Lieux saints et se fait même un devoir d’y accueillir lui-même évêques, barons, chevaliers qui veulent, avant de repartir, prier sur le tombeau du Christ. Un seul ne viendra pas, Richard, qui ne peut entrer en invité dans cette ville qu’il rêvait de prendre.

Lorsque, le 9 octobre, il s’embarque pour l’Europe, Richard a, s’il n’a pas rétabli la situation, du moins remis le pied à l’étrier à des Etats latins en pleine débandade. Il laisse un mince « royaume de Jérusalem », avec Acre pour capitale. Mais la vigoureuse action de la troisième croisade a reculé d’un siècle la faillite de l’Occident en Terre sainte.

Le pillage de Constantinople

La quatrième croisade (1202-1204) est, comme l’enfer, pavée de bonnes intentions. C’est Innocent III, grand pape qui n’a pas renoncé à la reconquête de Jérusalem, qui la lance. Ses réalisateurs, Thibaud III, comte de Champagne, et le Piémontais Boniface, marquis de Montferrat, soucieux d’éviter les pièges de la longue route terrestre, ont négocié avec Venise le transport par voie maritime : 85 000 marcs pour acheminer 67 000 hommes et 4 500 chevaux. Mais lorsqu’ils arrivent dans la Sérénissime pour s’embarquer, ils sont moins nombreux que prévu et il leur manque 34 000 marcs. Enrico Dandolo, le doge, leur propose un marché : remise de la dette contre la prise d’une ville, Zara, cité chrétienne de l’autre rive de l’Adriatique mais rivale de Venise. Les chefs croisés acceptent. Et prennent la ville.

Mais Dandolo, qui accompagne l’expédition, veut aussi affaiblir Constantinople. Il convainc ses obligés de faire un détour et de s’immiscer dans les inquiétants dédales de la politique byzantine. Résultat, les croisés prennent le 12 avril 1204 et pillent à qui mieux mieux la plus grande cité du monde chrétien.

Tandis que les Byzantins créent à Nicée un empire en exil, les croisés, se partageant les dépouilles impériales, « fabriquent » un ensemble artificiel et quelque peu croupion, l’empire latin de Constantinople, mal implanté dans un monde grec et slave qui le rejette. Pis, comme l’a noté si justement René Grousset : « Les nouveaux Etats francs de Romanie et de Grèce, en détournant les chevaliers qui eussent normalement cherché fortune au Levant, interceptèrent la vie du royaume d’Acre. Cette colonie déjà anémique s’anémia encore davantage. »

Piégés par le Nil

Par la faute d’un cardinal-légat qui se prend pour un grand capitaine, la cinquième croisade (1217-1219), après des débuts brillants, tourne au ridicule. Sous l’impulsion d’Innocent III puis d’Honorius III, d’importants renforts arrivent à Saint-Jean-d’Acre. De quoi constituer une armée solide pour attaquer l’Egypte, s’emparer de Damiette ou d’Alexandrie, monnaies d’échange afin de récupérer Jérusalem. Le 28 mai 1218, les croisés débarquent dans le delta du Nil, face à Damiette. Attaques et contre-attaques se succèdent. La ville est prise le 5 novembre 1219. Avant même sa chute, le sultan al-Kamil, neveu du grand Saladin, avait proposé aux Francs de leur rendre Jérusalem contre l’évacuation du Delta, proposition renouvelée après la prise de Damiette. Marché favorable. C’était compter sans le mauvais génie de cette croisade, le cardinal-légat Pélage, Espagnol fanatique, soutenu par les Templiers. Cet homme d’Eglise, aux goûts ostentatoires, dont le cheval même portait la pourpre cardinalice, prit le commandement au nom du pape. Il voulait tout, Jérusalem et l’Egypte. En juillet, à travers le Delta, il marche sur Le Caire, mais juillet-août, en Egypte, c’est le temps de la crue du Nil. Les musulmans ouvrent des brèches dans les digues et, le 26 août 1221, piteux, le cardinal doit battre en retraite. Les Francs, de la boue jusqu’aux genoux, sans vivres, sont en grand péril. Pélage demande la paix. Le sultan, informé entre-temps que le puissant empereur germanique et roi de Sicile Frédéric II s’est croisé à son tour (il n’arrivera en fait que sept ans plus tard), juge sage de ne pas pousser les croisés à bout : qu’ils évacuent Damiette et ils pourront rembarquer. On ne saurait être plus chevaleresque. Mais, naturellement, plus question de rendre Jérusalem.

Un excommunié pour chef

C’est une expédition franchement paradoxale que la sixième croisade (1228-1229) (3 000 hommes, c’est-à-dire fort peu, dont 300 chevaliers). Et c’est un bien étrange pèlerin que ce croisé excommunié en 1227 (notamment pour son retard à partir) qui la guide en Terre sainte. Frédéric II est un souverain de grande intelligence et de haute culture. Né dans cette Sicile conquise par les Normands, ses aïeux maternels, et où l’influence arabe est encore si forte, il admire sinon la religion du moins la science et la culture musulmanes. Il parle l’arabe. Et il se montre fort agacé par la papauté qui le presse de se croiser. Ce qu’il fait en 1215, mais en retardant sans cesse son départ. Lorsque, après treize années d’atermoiements, il arrive en 1228 à Saint-Jean-d’Acre, il a déjà tissé, par ambassadeur interposé, des liens d’amitié avec le sultan du Caire, al-Kamil, neveu de Saladin. Comme Frédéric, al-Kamil est curieux de tout, des sciences, de la philosophie d’Aristote, de l’histoire naturelle ou des mathématiques. Surtout des mathématiques et de la philosophie, à propos desquelles les deux hommes ont entretenu une correspondance. L’empereur et le sultan s’estiment. Le second, en guerre avec son frère, qui règne à Damas et le menace, demande au premier de venir en Orient pour l’aider et offre, en échange, de rendre Jérusalem. Lorsque Frédéric débarque en Palestine, ce n’est pas pour obéir aux objurgations du pape et prendre la tête de la croisade, mais plutôt pour répondre à l’invitation du sultan. Mais la réponse a été trop tardive, le frère est mort et le problème réglé.

Frédéric demande pourtant son « dû », la remise à l’amiable de Jérusalem. Al-Kamil est embarrassé. Il n’a plus aucune raison de tenir sa promesse. Surtout dans de pareilles conditions, l’opinion musulmane ne comprendrait pas. Alors Frédéric rassemble toutes les forces franques et fait dans le sud de la Palestine une démonstration de puissance. Al-Kamil saisit la balle au bond, fait répandre le bruit d’une nouvelle guerre, longue, sanglante, difficile, et retourne son opinion. Bien joué.

Quelques semaines plus tard, à Jaffa, le 18 février 1229, un accord est conclu. Accord de compromis, naturellement : le sultan rend aux Francs les villes saintes, Jérusalem, Bethléem et Nazareth, ainsi qu’un large couloir d’accès. Mais Jérusalem est aussi reconnue par l’accord comme ville sainte des deux religions. Si les chrétiens retrouvent le Saint-Sépulcre, les musulmans conservent le Temple, c’est-à-dire la mosquée d’Omar (le Dôme du Rocher) et la mosquée al-Aqsa. Hélas, ce que la tolérance réciproque et l’amitié des deux princes a pu réaliser est aussitôt battu en brèche : les Templiers refusent de reconnaître le traité, le patriarche Gerold – plus tard désavoué par le pape – lance l’interdit sur la Ville sainte, tandis que de nombreux musulmans crient à la trahison.

Lorsque, le 1er mai 1229, Frédéric regagne l’Italie, il fait face à la grogne populaire à Saint-Jean-d’Acre et laisse derrière lui une atmosphère de guerre civile.

Quant à Jérusalem, son sort est réglé (définitivement cette fois) par les Turcs, qui s’en emparent le 23 août 1244, avec une bonne partie des territoires reconquis ou accordés aux Francs.

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Saint Louis entre en lice

Cette reprise de Jérusalem par les Turcs sonne le tocsin en Occident. Et le pape Innocent IV appelle à une septième croisade (1248-1254). Un seul souverain répond mais il est de qualité : Louis IX, roi de France. Saint Louis, puisque c’est ainsi que nous le connaissons, quitte Paris le 12 juin 1248 pour Aigues-Mortes. Avec lui, du très beau monde : ses trois frères, Robert d’Artois, Alphonse de Poitiers, Charles d’Anjou, puis le duc de Bourgogne, le comte de Flandres et une foule de chevaliers. On lève l’ancre le 25 août, à destination de Chypre, point de ralliement de toutes les forces prévues : les Français, les Francs de Syrie, 400 chevaliers français du royaume latin de Constantinople, les Anglais du comte de Salisbury et, bien sûr, les Chypriotes.

L’objectif, c’est l’Egypte, et d’abord Damiette. Le débarquement a lieu le 5 juin 1249. Les forces arabes attaquent les croisés sur le rivage. Première victoire franque, Damiette, abandonnée par sa population, est prise sans coup férir.

Va-t-on poursuivre vers Le Caire ? On est en juin, la crue du Nil est pour juillet et l’on n’a pas oublié la leçon infligée au vaniteux Pélage. On va donc laisser passer l’été. L’ordre de marche est donné le 20 novembre 1249, mais les musulmans ont profité du répit pour renforcer puissamment leur armée de mamelouks, ces esclaves, souvent chrétiens et convertis, dont on a fait de redoutables guerriers. Surtout la ville et la forteresse de Mansourah verrouillent le Delta en direction du Caire. Robert d’Artois, frère du roi, qui menait l’avant-garde, désobéissant aux ordres de son frère, surprend et bouscule le camp adverse mais, ajoutant la folie à l’indiscipline, aventure sa trop faible troupe dans les rues étroites de Mansourah. Elle y sera massacrée. La contre-attaque, menée par le très brillant mamelouk Baybars, repousse Louis IX. Celui-ci, pourtant, s’accroche au Delta pendant cinquante-cinq jours. Mauvais calcul, car bientôt la famine, puis la dysenterie et le typhus accablent le camp chrétien. Louis IX est fait prisonnier, le 6 avril 1250. Le sultan accepte cependant de traiter : l’armée doit quitter l’Egypte et le roi payer une rançon de 1 million de dinars (500 000 livres tournois).

N’ayant réussi ni à vaincre l’Egypte ni à récupérer Jérusalem, Louis IX décide de rester en Syrie le temps qu’il faudra pour rétablir la cohésion indispensable à la survie des colonies franques. Lorsqu’il quitte Saint-Jean-d’Acre le 24 avril 1254 à la mort de sa mère, Blanche de Castille, il a remis en état les défenses d’Acre, Césarée, Sidon et Jaffa ; il a réconcilié la principauté d’Antioche et le royaume arménien de Cilicie ; il n’a pas hésité, pour mieux lutter contre l’ennemi principal, l’islam sunnite majoritaire, à conclure un accord avec le « Vieux de la Montagne », grand maître de la secte extrémiste ismaélienne des Assassins; enfin il a compris que l’irruption des Mongols – dont certains étaient nestoriens, chrétiens hérétiques mais chrétiens tout de même – sur la scène du Moyen-Orient pouvait changer bien des choses.

Après son départ, les querelles entre les Francs reprennent de plus belle, des partis se déchirent sur fond de rivalités commerciales : d’un côté, les Génois, le seigneur de Tyr, les Hospitaliers, les marchands catalans ; de l’autre, les Vénitiens, les Templiers et les chevaliers Teutoniques, les seigneurs de Beyrouth et de Jaffa, les Pisans et les marchands provençaux.

A Saint-Jean-d’Acre, les uns et les autres se fortifient dans leurs quartiers respectifs, où ils s’assiègent à l’aide de machines de guerre. Finalement, Acre restera aux Vénitiens et Tyr aux Génois. La Syrie franque se coupe en deux à l’heure même où le terrible chef mamelouk Baybars s’empare du trône d’Egypte en 1260. Il a fait assassiner toute la parentèle du grand Saladin, puis le Mamelouk régnant. Ce géant aux yeux bleus, sans doute d’origine russe, acheté sur un marché aux esclaves en Crimée, se révèle un génie militaire et un grand, quoique féroce, administrateur. Entre 1265 et 1268 il prend, au galop, Césarée, Arsur, la forteresse des Templiers de Saphet, puis Jaffa, puis Beaufort, toujours aux Templiers, puis Antioche, ne laissant à Bohémond VI que le comté de Tripoli.

La fin des Etats d’Orient

La huitième croisade n’assure qu’un court répit à l’Orient latin. Menée par Saint Louis, elle quitte Aigues-Mortes en juillet 1270 et se dirige, déception, non sur Saint-Jean-d’Acre, mais sur Tunis, où le roi de France, malade, meurt le 25 août. Aussitôt Baybars récidive : il enlève le Chastel-Blanc aux Templiers et arrache aux Hospitaliers de Saint-Jean, tour après tour, courtine après courtine, le fameux et « imprenable » krak des Chevaliers (15 mars-8 avril 1271).

Le prince Edouard d’Angleterre, futur Edouard Ier, arrivé un mois plus tard, remet de l’ordre avec vigueur et impressionne suffisamment le redoutable Baybars pour que ce dernier signe, en 1272, une trêve de dix ans. Aussitôt mise à profit par les Francs d’Orient pour reprendre leurs querelles.

En 1289, un nouveau sultan mamelouk vient assiéger Tripoli, que les Vénitiens et les Génois quittent clandestinement, abandonnant les Francs à leur sort. Tous les hommes sont massacrés, les femmes et les enfants réduits en esclavage.

Deux ans plus tard, une immense armée s’attaque à Saint-Jean-d’Acre (35 000 habitants, dont 14 000 combattants à pied et 800 chevaliers). La résistance est acharnée et les assauts furieux. Le 18 mai 1291, c’est l’attaque finale. Une partie de la population parvient à gagner le port et à s’embarquer pour Chypre, tandis que le reste, civils et soldats, est livré à la fureur des mamelouks. Le couvent-forteresse des Templiers résiste dix jours encore. Les mineurs turcs creusent force tunnels sous les murailles et ouvrent une large brèche dans laquelle s’engouffrent les colonnes d’assaut. Mais le poids de celles-ci fait céder les étais soutenant encore certaines sapes et le couvent-forteresse s’effondre tout entier, ensevelissant ses défenseurs et 2 000 assaillants.

Quant aux dernières places, Tyr, Sidon, Tortose (Tartous), elles sont évacuées sans combat. Les Etats latins d’Orient ont vécu –

1. Bande de cavaliers arabes rassemblés en vue d’un pillage.

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L’Anonyme

Qui était cet Anonyme, on l’ignore. Seule certitude, c’était un chevalier de l’entourage direct de Bohémond de Tarente, chef remarquable du contingent des Normands d’Italie. Le mystérieux chevalier est l’auteur d’un document exceptionnel en latin, rédigé par lui-même ou dicté à un clerc, et connu sous le nom d’« Histoire anonyme de la première croisade », outil incomparable pour les historiens par sa sincérité et la qualité de son information.

Animé d’une foi naïve et forte, l’Anonyme porte grande haine aux « infidèles », qu’il tient pour des païens idolâtres. Et, comme ses contemporains – des deux camps -, il raconte sans états d’âme les massacres et les décapitations. Mais, en bon chevalier, il admire le courage chez l’adversaire. Parlant des Turcs après la terrible bataille de Dorylée, il leur rend cet hommage : « S’ils avaient toujours gardé fermement la foi du Christ […] on ne trouverait personne qui puisse leur être égalé en puissance, en courage, en science de la guerre… »

Les croisés à Constantinople : massacre et pillage

On massacre les hommes, on viole les femmes. « Il y eut là tant de morts et de blessés que c’était sans fin, sans mesure » , reconnaît Geoffroi de Villehardouin, maréchal de Champagne et chroniqueur de cette croisade. Surtout, on rafle à tout va – Umberto Eco l’évoque dans « Baudolino » – les trésors publics et privés, ceux des palais et ceux des innombrables églises, notamment ces riches reliquaires qu’on a retrouvés partout dispersés en Occident, avec leurs morceaux de la Vraie Croix, leurs épines de la Sainte Couronne ou leurs fragments de la Sainte Lance. Sans oublier ce Saint Suaire qu’un croisé franc rapporta en Champagne, à Lirey, où il fut exposé pour la première fois vers 1350 avant de se retrouver à Turin. Quant à Dandolo et aux Vénitiens, ils se firent la part belle : entre autres, les fameux chevaux et les Tétrarques qui somment la basilique Saint-Marc

Le doge Dandolo

Les croisades ont révélé de puissantes personnalités, dont Enrico Dandolo. Né vers 1107, il est élu doge de Venise à 85 ans, alors qu’il est à demi aveugle. C’est que, envoyé en 1171 par la Sérénissime à Constantinople protester contre les mauvais traitements infligés à des marins vénitiens, il aurait subi le supplice de braises incandescentes placées presque au contact de ses yeux, sur ordre de l’empereur Manuel Comnène. En fait, rien n’est moins sûr, mais il a une revanche à prendre sur Byzance, et c’est lui qui entraîne les barons de la quatrième croisade à la conquête de la capitale impériale en avril 1204, payant de sa personne sous les remparts de la ville. Les destructions et le pillage furent immenses, et les Vénitiens ne furent pas les derniers à se servir, en comptoirs et ports pris à l’Empire, en richesses et en reliques expédiées sur les rives de la lagune. L’intraitable vieillard, qui, paraît-il, déclina l’accession à la pourpre impériale, mourut en juin 1205 – L. T.

La puissance des flottes d’Italie

Au mois de mai 1123, trois cents vaisseaux vénitiens et 15 000 hommes d’équipage, sous la conduite du doge, arrivent à Ascalon alors que – par hasard – la flotte égyptienne y mouille sans méfiance. Le doge tend un piège. A l’aube, dix-huit de ses bateaux se présentent au large du port palestinien comme un convoi de pèlerins. La flotte musulmane se précipite sur cette proie facile. L’escadre italienne surgit, la prend de flanc et la détruit

Saladin et la dame franque

Si l’image de Saladin a tellement marqué les croisés, c’est qu’il était tout à la fois un combattant redoutable, un chef impitoyable (rappelons l’exécution des trois cents chevaliers du Temple et de l’Hôpital décapités après la bataille de Hattin), mais aussi un homme sensible, généreux et chevaleresque. En témoigne cette anecdote survenue lors du siège d’Acre.

Des maraudeurs musulmans qui s’étaient introduits de nuit dans le camp des Francs enlèvent un bébé de 3 mois. Au matin, la mère constate sa disparition. Des chevaliers lui conseillent aussitôt de faire appel à l’humanité de Saladin. La pauvre femme court aux avant-postes arabes. Conduite devant le chef musulman, elle se jette à ses pieds et raconte sa triste histoire. Le sultan, ému aux larmes, donne des ordres pour qu’on recherche et retrouve l’enfant. Saladin le rend à sa mère et les fait raccompagner à cheval jusqu’au camp des chrétiens

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L’assimilation selon Baudouin Ier

Baudouin Ier pratique une politique d’assimilation que son chapelain, Foucher de Chartres, décrit ainsi : « Occidentaux, nous voilà transformés en habitants de l’Orient. L’Italien ou le Français d’hier est devenu, transplanté, un Galiléen ou un Palestinien. L’homme de Reims ou de Chartres s’est transformé en Tyrien ou citoyen d’Antioche. Déjà nous avons oublié nos lieux d’origine. Ici l’un possède désormais maison et domesticité […] , l’autre a déjà pris pour femme une Syrienne, une Arménienne, parfois même une Sarrasine baptisée, et il habite avec toute une belle-famille indigène. Nous nous servons tour à tour des diverses langues du pays. Le colon est devenu un indigène, l’immigré s’assimile à l’habitant. » Vision idyllique – et sans doute un peu inspirée – du bon chapelain, les excellents principes politiques de Baudouin Ier n’ayant pas toujours été suivis tout au long des croisades

Renaud de Châtillon vise La Mecque

Renaud de Châtillon, pour aller frapper l’islam à la tête, fait construire en son château de Kerak (dans l’actuelle Jordanie) une petite flotte qu’il transporte, démontée, à dos de chameau à travers le désert du Neguev jusqu’à Aïla (l’actuelle Eilat), sur le golfe d’Aqaba. Sa flottille mène en mer Rouge une guerre de course, coulant les navires de pèlerins, attaquant les ports égyptiens et arabes. Ses hommes sont repoussés à une journée de marche de Médine. Finalement, une flotte égyptienne règle leur compte à ces audacieux corsaires francs, tandis que Renaud de Châtillon parvient à regagner ses terres

Rhodes, base de repli des Hospitaliers

Contrairement à leurs rivaux Templiers, qui regagnèrent l’Europe après la perte de la Terre sainte, les Hospitaliers de Saint-Jean décidèrent de rester en Orient afin de reprendre, dès que possible, le combat pour libérer Jérusalem. Ils quittèrent Saint-Jean-d’Acre pour s’installer à Chypre, fief d’Henri de Lusignan. Mais, rapidement, les relations s’aigrirent et le grand maître de l’ordre, Guillaume de Villaret, décida de s’installer à Rhodes, grande île, la plus importante du Dodécanèse, proche de l’Asie mineure et placée à un endroit stratégique. Très vite, on entoura la ville d’une formidable enceinte de 4 kilomètres, aux murs de 12 mètres d’épaisseur, hérissée de tours et de bastions, avec un port lui-même bien défendu.

Les Turcs cherchèrent à deux reprises à se débarrasser de cette rude épine chrétienne. Mais ce n’est qu’en 1522 que Soliman le Magnifique eut raison, après un très long siège mettant en oeuvre 200 000 combattants, des 600 chevaliers et 4 500 écuyers et servants d’armes du grand maître Philippe de Villiers de L’Isle-Adam. L’héroïsme des Hospitaliers et des Rhodiens força l’admiration de Soliman, qui leur accorda les honneurs de la guerre et leur permit de quitter l’île sur 30 vaisseaux. L’ordre de l’Hôpital s’installa à Malte afin de poursuivre le même combat, et les chevaliers de l’Hôpital devinrent les chevaliers de Malte.

Les Assassins

C’est vers 1150 que la chronique des croisades mentionne pour la première fois les « Assassins ». Un siècle plus tard, le terme est devenu en Occident un nom commun désignant un meurtrier fanatique. C’est que les hachichiyyin ont de quoi impressionner. Qui sont donc ces étranges disciples de Mahomet qui se donnent pour tâche d’éliminer par la violence leurs voisins musulmans ?

Ces ismaéliens appartiennent à une branche minoritaire du chiisme qui s’est constituée en secte très fermée. A la fin du XIe siècle, ses membres ont quitté l’Egypte pour s’installer au nord de la Perse. Ils rayonnent à partir de la forteresse imprenable d’Alamut, au coeur de l’Elbourz. Vers 1120, certains d’entre eux partent de là s’implanter dans l’arrière-pays de Tyr, en Syrie. Dépendant de l’imam ismaélien d’Alamut, leur chef est appelé « cheikh al-Djebel », ce que les croisés traduisent tout naturellement par « Vieux de la montagne ». Ennemis acharnés des princes et dignitaires sunnités réputés traîtres au Coran et à la vraie foi, il leur arrive de s’allier temporairement aux chefs francs, avant de se retourner contre eux. Leur nom vient soit de l’usage du haschisch dont ils s’étourdissent pour mieux passer à l’acte, soit d’une insulte populaire les traitant de drogués en raison de leur zèle démesuré. C’est par une potion magique, affirment les chroniqueurs latins, que le Vieux de la montagne syrienne, dont le plus connu est, entre 1169 et 1193, Sinan, tient ses fedayin (« ceux qui se sacrifient »). « Les véritables saints , leur dit-il, sont ceux qui tuent d’autres hommes et sont ensuite tués eux-mêmes. » A eux, alors, le paradis d’Allah. Parmi leurs plus beaux coups, toujours au poignard, le meurtre en 1130 du calife fatimide du Caire et, le 28 avril 1192, à Tyr, celui de Conrad de Montferrat, roi désigné de Jérusalem, par deux faux moines. Ces ismaéliens sont les premiers, sans doute, à avoir érigé la terreur en arme politique – Laurent Theis

Pour en savoir plus

L’épopée des croisades , René Grousset, coll. « Tempus », Perrin, 7 euro.

Les croisades vues par les Arabes , Amin Maalouf, J’ai lu.

Jérusalem 1099 , Pierre Aubé, Actes Sud.

Les Assassins, terrorisme et politique dans l’Islam médiéval , Bernard Lewis, Complexe, 8,90 euro.

Les croisades , ouvrage collectif, coll. « L’Histoire », Ed. du Seuil.

Les chevaliers du Christ, les ordres religieux-militaires du Moyen Age , Alain Demurger, Ed. du Seuil, 22 euro.

L’Orient des croisades , George Tate, n° 129, dans la collection « Découvertes », excellemment illustré, Gallimard, 11,60 euro.

Tout l’or de Byzance , Michel Kaplan, n° 104, 13,75 euro.

Saladin, le sultan chevalier , Jean-Michel Mouton, n° 409, 13,75 euro.

Les Templiers , Régine Pernoud, n° 260, 13,75 euro.

Les Chevaliers de Malte, hommes de fer et de foi , Bertrand Galimard Flavigny, n° 351, 13,75 euro.

Les châteaux forts , Jean Mesqui, n° 256, 13,75 euro.

Les croisades, chronologie de 1099 à 1291 , Ed. Tableaux synoptiques de l’Histoire, place Sauvaigo, 06110 Le Cannet (04.93.46.78.33).

Hawaii man hopes his pilgrimages will spread a message of peace

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Upcountry Maui resident Brandon Wilson followed in the footsteps of the first Crusaders last year when he walked from Dijon, France, to Jerusalem, spreading a message of commonality among people.

This fall, he will follow another pilgrimage route in the same, traditional way, trekking the 625-mile Via de la Plata trail through Spain on foot.

Wilson said he has been drawn to spiritual pilgrimages since 1992 when he first hiked through Tibet with his wife. He has made six pilgrimages since then, following what he calls “deliberate travel” by slowing down the pace and immersing himself in the journey.

“It becomes a sort of transcendent experience,” said Wilson, a writer and photographer who has published two books about previous walks. “Outside of the cocoon of the known, you put yourself out there in the universe. You learn to have trust and you learn to have faith.”

Where crusaders trod

From April to September 2006, he walked the Templar Trail, so-called because it was the route that a leader of the First Crusade, Godfrey de Bouillon, and the original Knights Templar traveled on their way to battle in the Holy Land in the ninth century.

“This trail that was used for war … throughout the Crusades,” said Wilson, who considers himself Christian. “I wanted to do it as a walk for peace — to walk through nations that had been so war-torn for so many generations and to remind people that there are better ways to solve our problems instead of resorting to war.”

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He hopes the Templar Trail will be designated as a “trail for peace,” especially since it cuts through so many different countries with people of varied religious and ethnic backgrounds.

“The ultimate route for peace becomes a path that begins with every individual,” he said. “A physical path such as this sets people in that direction.”

During his 2,620-mile, 160-day journey, Wilson carried only a 15-pound backpack. He began his journey with an older French companion, who had to turn back once they reached Istanbul. Wilson often had to change his planned route because of political unrest in certain areas.

When Wilson needed food, water or shelter, they were somehow provided.

“I walked through 11 different countries on two continents and I was shown universal hospitality by complete strangers,” he said.

Wilson said that every day he would stop and talk to people about being an American, about the war in Iraq, and other world issues, often clearing up misconceptions and learning much himself.

“Once people, no matter what background they have, start off on these trails, reduce their lives to the basic essentials that they carry with them on their backs, learn to trust again and deal with lots of pent up feelings and emotions … we realize how much we are alike, no matter what our religions, no matter what our cultures, no matter what our nationalities,” Wilson said.

A road less traveled

His next pilgrimage, along Spain’s Via de la Plata, follows part of an ancient Roman road stretching from Seville in the south to Astorga in the northwest. The pilgrimage route ends in Santiago de Compostela where the remains of St. James the Apostle are said to be buried.

“It’s a less traveled route,” Wilson said, compared to the popular Camino Francés route that also ends in Santiago de Compostela. “There will be a lot of time for contemplation, I’m sure.”

Wilson will publish a book this coming January called “Along the Templar Trail: Seven Million Steps for Peace” about his pilgrimage from France to Jerusalem. He also has a website: http://www.pilgrimstales.com.

Temple Mount

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Interesting YouTube clip from the History Channel about the Temple in Jerusalem

The holiest place in the world

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The Jews believed that God literally dwelt in the Beit Elohim, or House of God, and such houses – what we call temples – were built in Siloh, Bethel, Dan, Gilgal and other towns. But in an effort to concentrate worship and stamp on heresy and paganism, Solomon built the Bait ha-Migdash, “home of the Sanctuary”, which contained the Ark of the Covenant and its two tablets of stone given by God to Moses. Dedicated in 964 bc, it was thereafter regarded as the only legitimate place of sacrificial worship, and the artificial mount on which it was built gave it a high profile.

The original temple, about which we know only from detailed descriptions in the Bible, was smashed up by the Babylonians in 586 bc, restored as the Second Temple 70 years later, looted and desecrated by the Syrians in 169-7 bc, again restored and then completely rebuilt by Herod the Great.

He constructed what was one of the largest and most magnificent buildings in the entire Roman world (of which, be it noted, Jews formed 10 per cent of the population). This vast temple, in turn, was de stroyed by the Romans in ad 70, during the fourth century occupied by Christian cults, seized by the Muslims, who build the Dome of the Rock on it in about ad 700, plus the superb El Aqsa mosque, and then occupied by Crusaders in the 12th century. They produced the Knights Templar, who guarded the site, collected the money donated by pilgrims, became international bankers, and were suppressed by the French for their cash in the 14th century.

Thereafter, Arabs, then Turks, held sway until in 1917 General Allenby destroyed the Turkish army and entered Jerusalem on foot as the humble conqueror. When Israel was founded in 1948, the Arabs held east Jerusalem, which included the Temple Mount, and it was not until the Six Day War in 1967 that the Jews finally got the Temple back.

However, for complex reasons of religious ritual, Jews are not allowed on the Temple Mount itself, being confined to the Wailing Wall at the bottom, and even archaeology (begun in 1967) operates under severe restrictions. So many mysteries remain, not least the whereabouts of the Ark, presumably buried somewhere in the bowels of the Mount.

This complex history, fraught with religious undertones and frissons, has inspired waves of passion for three millennia, and some knowledge of its history is essential to understand the complexity of the Arab-Israeli conflict today and the intransigence on both sides. That is one reason why Professor Goldhill’s concise account is so useful. However, he has much else to tell us about the way in which the Temple has impinged on our lives.

It was thought, for instance, that the tomb of St Peter’s in Rome had been marked by 12 twisted white marble columns, brought to Rome by Constantine, who had looted them from the Temple. When Bernini came to build the canopy over the high altar of the new St Peter’s in the 17th century, he combined the idea of twisted columns with the great bronze monsters, Jachin and Boaz, which guarded the porch of the Temple, to produce his magnificent Baldacchino.

This captured the imagination of Archbishop Laud and in the 1640s he got his carver Nicholas Stone to make two magnificent twisted columns for the Baroque porch which was added incongruously to the Gothic church of St Mary’s in Oxford. Those infuriated the Puritans at the time (and helped to get Laud executed) and have puzzled visitors ever since.

The Temple also inspired the strange and powerful cult of freemasonry, an 18th-century invention in its modern form and an extraordinary combination of credulous myth and hard-headed mutual self-advancement. Masons argue that King David, the Temple’s inspiration, was the first patron of Masons, and details of the Temple, its measurements and references to Jachin and Boaz, play major roles in Masonic rituals and passwords: “in strength – pass, Boaz” is one of them.

Our Protestant Hanoverian royal family adopted freemasonry in a big way as a protection against Catholicism (George VI was a lifelong Mason) and Catholics, here and in Europe, evolved huge conspiracy theories against what they saw as a vicious secret society, a putative form of international terrorism.

Now the Muslims have taken over, and woven Masonic misdeeds into their skein of anti-Semitism. Their academic “research” has uncovered the “fact” that freemasonry was founded by Jews in the first century ad and was instrumental in creating Communism, Nazism and Zionism, striving “to spread sexual anarchism and moral disintegration”. And, come to think of it, the new American imperialism is the product of masonry too: “a close look at the US dollar bill would reveal the first letter of the word Zion engraved between the two pillars of Boaz and Jikin [sic]”.

In http://www.telegraph.co.uk/