Religion

Shroud of Turin ‘stained with blood from torture victim’, find researchers

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The Shroud of Turin is stained with the blood of a torture victim, scientists have claimed.

Analysis of the linen cloth, purportedly used to bury Jesus after his crucifixion, contains “nanoparticles” of blood which are not typical of that of a healthy person, according to researchers.

Institute of Crystallography researcher Elvio Carlino, one of the authors of the report, said the particles are conducive with someone having been through “great suffering”.

“Our results point out that at the nanoscale a scenario of violence is recorded in the funeral fabric,” authors wrote in the scientific article, published in PLOS One.

“The consistent bound of ferritin iron to creatinine occurs in human organism in case of a severe polytrauma.”

Researchers believe the particles show a “peculiar structure, size and distribution”, which corroborates the theory that it was used as a burial cloth.

They also believe it contradicts previous theories that the shroud was made in medieval times.

Professor Giulio Fanti, one of the author’s of the research, said: “The presence of these biological nanoparticles found during our experiments point to a violent death for the man wrapped in the Turin Shroud.”

The cloth’s authenticity is highly contentious and divides religious opinion.

Some Christians believe the fabric – which is kept in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin – is the burial shroud of Jesus of Nazereth, dating back over 2,000 years.

But previous scientific studies have suggested the cloth, which appears to be imprinted with the face of a man, may in fact be from the 13th or 14th century – centuries after Jesus is believed to have died.

One study found the cloth had been manufactured in India.

The research was published in US scientific journal PlosOne and is titled: “New Biological Evidence from Atomic Resolution Studies on the Turin Shroud.”

in independent.co.uk

Saint George Versus the Dragon

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

The George and the Dragon story

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

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

Interpretations

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

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

By: Zoran Krdzic in newhistorian.com

 

Why the 25th December?

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Most Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on the 25th December. In the modern western world the date has taken on a significance far beyond its Christian origins. It is celebrated by people outside the religion as much as Christians themselves, and, depending on one’s outlook, is a time of year associated with the giving of gifts, spending time with loved ones, charity, goodwill, or rampant consumerism. But why is it celebrated on the 25th December, when the date of Jesus’ birthday is never mentioned in the Bible?

A combination of historical research and study of the Bible has led many historians and theologians to suggest that Jesus was probably born in either the Spring or Autumn. In the nativity story, Mary and Joseph are traveling to Bethlehem for a Roman census. The Jewish festival of Passover takes place in Spring, sometime around March or April. The festival celebrates Moses leading the Jews from Slavery in Egypt. Two millennia ago, thousands of Jews would descend on Jerusalem each year to celebrate the festival. It would have been an ideal time for the Romans to perform a census of the population, and could explain Mary and Joseph journeying to Bethlehem (a short distance from Jerusalem).

In the autumn, around September or October, is the Jewish festival of Sukkot. It is a time when Jewish people remember their dependence on God during the forty years in the desert and coincides with the end of the harvest season. Again, the festival involved the Jewish population descending on Jerusalem, making it an ideal time for a Roman census, and explaining there being “no room at the inn” in the nativity story.

How the holiday came to be celebrated on the 25th December remains shrouded in mystery. The first two centuries of Christianity made no reference to when Christ was born, or a winter Christian holiday. Most researchers believe that the 25th December was chosen because it was around the time of a host of pagan festivals associated with the Winter Solstice.

The Romans paid tribute to the pagan God Saturn (the god of agriculture, among other things) each winter with a festival that started on December 17th and ended around the 25th. It included a celebration of the Solstice, as well as partying and the exchange of gifts among friends and family. Worship of the ancient Persian God of Light (Mithraism) was also popular at this time, especially among Roman soldiers. Like the worship of Saturn, the cult of Mithraism included a host of festivities in late December, around the Winter Solstice.

Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in 312 CE and the official sanctioning of the religion signaled the formation of many of the traditions it still holds to this day. One possible explanation for the decision to hold Christmas festivities on the 25th December is that the date was already celebrated by pagans. Selecting this date would have eased the transition from the pagan traditions and calendar to the Christian. There was also some logic for this decision in scripture. Early Christian tradition stated that the Annunciation (when Mary was told she would have a special child) happened on the 25th March. The 25th December is thus nine months after the Annunciation.

Christmas was first recorded as being celebrated on the 25th December in 336 CE, and a few years later Pope Julius I declared the date to be the official celebration of Jesus’ birth. After its adoption by Roman culture, the celebration of Christmas quickly spread east and west, and started to be observed by other Christian denominations.

Over the centuries other traditions have been added – the lighting of the Yule Log comes from pagan Scandinavia, while the story of ‘Santa Claus’ comes from the popular medieval feast of St. Nicholas Myra, a saint who visited children and left them presents just before Christmas. Christmas, as we celebrate it today, is a mixture of different cultures. For Christians it is the day put aside to acknowledge Christ’s birthday, however, it is also a continuation of long held traditions from history, intended to provide light in the darkest part of the year through the exchange of presents and good will.

By: Daryl Worthington in newhistorian.com

Medieval European Perceptions of Islam

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In 1087, a joint Pisan and Genoese force attacked the North African town of Mahdia, located in modern-day Tunisia. Christian forces returned to Italy triumphantly and used their spoils of war to construct commemorative churches.

A number of Arabic and Latin sources from the time testify to the events surrounding the raid of Mahdia.

One of the most important Latin sources is the poem Carmen in Victoriam Pisanorum, ‘Song for the Triumph of the Pisans’. The Carmen, written by a Pisan cleric only months after the raid, commemorates the expedition.

It has often been argued that the raid on Mahdia – conducted under the banner of St. Peter against a Muslim ruler – was a direct precursor to the First Crusade which followed eight years later. The Carmen is often viewed as providing context for the development of a crusading ideology in the eleventh century.

A pioneering new study has taken a fresh look at the Carmen. Matt King, a PhD student in the Department of History at the University of Minnesota, has been studying the Carmen as a means of understanding Christian perceptions of Islam.

“An examination of this text will allow historians to consider Latin Christian perspectives on Islam and its adherents during the period immediately preceding the First Crusade,” King writes in his article, published in Hortulus, a graduate journal on medieval studies.

It is usually suggested that Pisan interests in North Africa were primarily commercial, with military activities receiving less attention. King argues that there was a certain level of coexistence and cooperation between Pisa and Islamic states, while the Carmen reveals a different side of the story where religiously-charged rhetoric could be applied to justify violent ends.

The Mahdia raid can be located in a wider context of Pisan military activities in North Africa. Pisa had been involved in military actions against Muslims throughout the eleventh century; briefly seizing the city of Bone in 1034 and helping the Norman Robert Guiscard in his conquest of Sicily in 1063.

“The author of the Carmen was thus writing in the midst of conflicts between burgeoning Italian commercial powers and Muslim states in the Mediterranean,” King notes.

Importantly, the Carmen makes frequent Old Testament references in an effort to locate Pisan activity in a Biblical tradition. Within this framework, the inhabitants of Mahdia take the form of Old Testament villains who feel the wrath of God. In contrast, King argues, the Pisans are a Gideon/David/Moses combination who, through the favour of God, are able to defeat their adversary.

“Such a description makes clear the deep religious roots that run throughout this story,” King notes. “In this narrative, it is impossible to separate the sacking of Mahdia or the author’s perception of Islam from this ancient narrative.”

The portrayal of Islam in the Carmen is a multi-faceted one. Pisan attacks are understood as an epic confrontation, similar to the Old Testament and classical tales. Further, the doctrine of the Muslim inhabitants of Mahdia is portrayed as a form of heretical Christianity. Taken together, these depictions of Muslim Africa reveal a medieval Latin understanding of the area as a place and people of the utmost evil.

King notes that the Carmen is, however, a triumphant poem. The author is consciously contextualising the Pisan-Genoese raid in a tradition of God-willed triumph. Simply taking the Carmen’s portrayal of Islam at face value, therefore, may misrepresent the Latin understanding of Islam.

“If we cautiously take the Carmen as indicative of general trends in Pisan perceptions of Islam and Africa,” King concludes, “we thus can see an image of Pisa as a city with some knowledge of medieval Ifriqiya and as one that used this knowledge to nurture some image of righteous war against Muslims.”

For more information: www.hortulus-journal.com

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: DrFO.Jr.Tn

By: Adam Steedman Thake in newhistorian.com

The Knights Templar Declared an Army of God

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On the 13th January 1128, Pope Honorius declared the Knights Templar to be an army of God, providing official papal sanction to the military order. Works of fiction, speculative history and conspiracy theories about the Order have since generated a cloud of intrigue and mystery, with modern myths defining the Knights Templar as much as historical reality.

The Order was founded in 1118, in the aftermath of the First Crusade (1095-99). Following the success a number of ‘Crusader States’ were established in the Middle East, centred around Jerusalem, and pilgrims from Western Europe began to venture into the Holy Land. A weakened military presence in the region however, meant that the hold on these newly captured territories was precarious, and Christian pilgrims were frequently attacked by Muslim raiders.

A group of French Knights, led by Hugues de Payns, vowed to protect Christian pilgrims, and created a religious community towards that end. The king of Jerusalem, Baldwin II, gave the Knights quarters in the the Temple of Solomon. For the first few years the Knights Templar consisted of only nine French knights (and their entourages), restricting them purely to escorting pilgrims. From such humble beginnings however, they grew into something far more significant and powerful, in both Europe and the Holy Land.

The organisation and regulation of the order was based on the Benedictine Rule, and in particular the interpretation adopted by Cistercians. The white robe with a red cross, the insignia of the Order, was based on the white robes of Cistercian monks. The Knights had to swear a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience, and renounce the world. They took on lives reminiscent of monks, although they did not devote themselves to the study of scripture, and were not constrained to a single monastery. Individual knights were prohibited from owning property, but the Order itself was not, something which would come to be a cause of great controversy.

In 1127 de Payns started a tour of Europe, with the aim of recruiting more knights and securing donations. The tour was successful, with the nobles of Europe making substantial donations of land and money, and scores of new knights being recruited. The increase in numbers and resources saw the Knights take on greater importance in the Holy Land. Assuming responsibility for the protection of the Christian states located there, they invested in the construction of castles and fortifications, as well as fighting against Muslim armies. It has been estimated that some 20,000 soldiers of the Knights Templar lost their lives during the Crusades.

The fall of Acre, the last Crusader stronghold, in 1291, signaled the failure of the Crusades, and the role of the Knights Templar came into question. By this point they had become hugely significant in European politics and economics. The Order owned large swathes of land across Western Europe, as well as in the Holy Land. Their network of property and military strength meant they were often employed as bankers, used to transport money from Western Europe to the Holy Land, and back. They had become far more than a military order, and there is evidence to suggest that many secular leaders, including royalty, found themselves in debt to the Knights Templar.

A combination of the mystery surrounding the Templars, their growing secular power and the failure of the Crusades, ultimately brought about their end. The initiation rituals of the Order were shrouded in secrecy, as was much of the knight’s day to day practice. In 1307 the Order’s grand master Jacques de Molay was arrested at the behest of King Philip VI of France and Pope Clement V. The Order was accused of practicing heresy, sacrilege, Satanism and homosexuality. Under torture de Molay and other leading Templars confessed to the charges, and were burned at the stake in Paris. It seems the charges were a calculated move, such accusations led to popular mistrust of the Templars, and the secrecy surrounding the Order gave the charges an air of credibility. It should be noted however, that it has since been proved that the charges were fabricated. In 1312 Clement officially dissolved the Order, awarding their assets to a rival order, the Knights Hospitalers.

Since its destruction, the fascination with the Knights Templar has expanded, sometimes with tragic effect. Whether considered as a secret force for good or evil, it seems they continue to linger in the world’s consciousness, and continue to be associated with secrecy. The Templars are often linked with the legend of the Holy Grail or with conspiracies involving the Catholic Church. In the eighteenth century they were accused of starting the French Revolution, and linked to the Freemasons. More recently, novels such as the ‘da Vinci Code’ have tied them in with international clandestine activity, while an American historian has rather sensationally argued that the Templars in fact fled to North America, settling there a century before Columbus discovered the New World. Most disturbingly, the Norwegian terrorist Anders Brevik made heavy reference to them in his manifesto, claiming to have reformed the order.

As mentioned above, the Knights Templar were ultimately dissolved as a consequence of their growing power, and the secrecy that surrounded them. It seems that these same factors have facilitated the development of the legends, myths and conspiracy theories that surround the Order. The story of the Knights Templar tells us a great deal about Europe during the time of the crusades. The story of how we remember them can tell us a great deal about the world in the seven centuries since their dissolution.

By: Daryl Worthington in newhistorian.com

Saladin’s long shadow

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More than 800 years later, Saladin’s victory over the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin, west of Tiberias, still echoes in modern history.

For James Reston Jr., the conflict between the Arab warrior Saladin and Richard I, King of England – one of its climatic battles was fought 810 years ago – still echoes not only in the modern politics of the Middle East, but throughout modern history, from Afghanistan to Lebanon. Reston is not alone in his thinking, reflected in his recently published book, “Warriors of God.” The entire world knows that the Arabs are waiting, with growing impatience, for another Saladin. His total victory over the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin, west of Tiberias, is engraved on the collective Muslim memory as one of the greatest achievements of the Arab nation.

It was not by coincidence that the late president of Syria, Hafez Assad, used to meet his Western guests in an office where the victory was depicted in a painting that covered an entire wall. In Damascus, the Syrians still hold demonstrations in front of the heroic, equestrian statue of Saladin near the entrance to the central Al-Hamadiya market. And after the collapse of Camp David 2, all of the Gaza Strip welcomed the uncompromised winner, Yasser Arafat, with a blaze of banners, proclaiming him to be the “Palestinian Saladin.” Watching the inflamed crowd, even Israeli writer Amos Oz had to admit, in The New York Times, that “the specter of Saladin” was once again hovering over the Middle East.

The heroic legacy of Richard I of England, known as Lionheart, has also not been forgotten. The brave king was a cruel warrior, a superb tactician and a well-known lover, and is still one of the most romantic figures in all of English history. Generations of children grew up reading about his adventures at bedtime and riding with him and his knights through countless Hollywood films. According to Reston, he had a brilliant military mind and understood the strategy and tactics of large forces far ahead of his time. However, Richard did not return victorious from the Third Crusade, which he commanded.

The Arabs, of course, see Israel as another Crusade. It is an article of faith for them that through the slow, mysterious, but inevitable forces of history, the Israelis, like the Crusaders, will eventually be forced out of Palestine. “Arab ideology,” writes Reston,” embraces the long view of history: It took 80 years to displace the Crusaders; the State of Israel is scarcely more than 50 years old.”

At this point, one is compelled to remind the American author, who quotes repeatedly from the Koran, that the Jews have ties connecting them to the Land of Israel for 3,000 years. Judea and Samaria are the cradle of Hebrew culture, and Jerusalem was “great among nations and princess among the provinces” – to quote the Book of Lamentations – hundreds of years before the first Muslim reached it. The Israelis do not consider Richard the Lionheart to be their model. In any case, as David Passow, a veteran of the early Zionist struggle, now a professor of history at the Hebrew University and a friend of the author, explained to him, “the difference is that we made it and he didn’t.”

`The city stank’

“Only the First Crusade, was successful, in the sense that it managed to capture Jerusalem,” Reston writes. “In its wake, an orgy of slaughter began. For two whole days, the Christian soldiers massacred every living creature not of their own kind. At the Temple Mount, it was said that 10,000 were killed. In the city as a whole, an estimated 40,000 Muslims were slain – men, women and children, and the narrow alleys turned into rivers of blood. This was something no Muslim could forget.

“If the city itself still stank six months later from the carnage,” Reston writes, “the memory still stank 90 years – and 900 years – later. It was burned into Saladin’s mind and psyche, central to his education and his determination, abhorrent in the extreme.”

The legendary commander, according to Reston, was actually not even an Arab, but a Kurd. He was born in Takreet, in 1137, 40 years after the Europeans had captured Jerusalem. By that time, the Crusaders’ kingdom, although somewhat smaller, was essentially still intact after eight decades of continuous warfare. It was comprised of the greater part of Palestine and the coast of Syria, from Latakia in the north to Gaza and Darom in the south, and from the river to the sea.

However, the constant war of attrition eventually took its toll. The grandchildren of the warriors of the First Crusade gradually lost their European discipline and values and grew accustomed to the pleasures of the East. In due course, some of the occidentals intermarried with Syrian, Armenian and Byzantine women and these unions created a new class of European Syrians, known as Franks. “The Franks shed their woolens and donned the burnoose and turban, the kaffiyeh and the upturned soft slippers of the East. They sat crossed-legged on patterned carpets and feathered divans … perfumed their ladies with cosmetics and their rooms with incense and started to talk Arabic.”

In the 12th century, writes Reston, “Visitors from Europe to the East were shocked at the corruption and hubris, the softness and even effeminacy of their distant cousins. `Hardly one in a thousand,’ wrote the bishop of Acre about his wicked flock and their city, `takes his marriage seriously. They do not regard fornication to be a deadly sin. From childhood they are pampered and wholly given to the carnal pleasures, whereas they are not accustomed to hear God’s words, which they lightly disregard. Almost every day and night people are openly or secretly murdered. Men strangle their wives and wives poison their husbands. The city is full of brothels. Even clergymen, nay, even monks, rent their houses all over the city to public brothels.'”

Resentment of the Crusaders grew steadily. “`They are for the most part untrustworthy,’ wrote the same bishop. `Double dealers, cunning foxes even as the Greeks, liars and turncoats, lovers of success, traders, easily run over by bribes, men who say one thing and mean another, who think nothing of theft and robbery. For a small sum of money they become spies and tell the secrets of the Christians to the Arabs, among whom they are brought up, whose language they speak rather than any other, and whose crooked ways they imitate.'”

Twelve thousand knights, virtually the entire noble population of the kingdom, gathered at the citadel of La Safuri on July 3, 1187. Twenty thousand foot soldiers – the largest Christian army ever assembled in the Holy Land – supported them. Saladin’s army had about 30,000 warriors – other sources later claimed that the actual number was 80,000, perhaps even 180,000, and after the defeat the estimate would soar to 800,000. In any case, the vast plain, west of Tiberias, north of Mount Tabor, was too narrow to accommodate all the warriors and “the dust cloud of their march darkened the eye of the sun.”

The heat was almost unbearable. The fields were barren. The blinding sun rose higher into the east. The Christians were without enough water, and as usual a dispute broke out. The hawks urged the King of Jerusalem, an unimpressive character, to allow them to charge into the enemy. The doves wanted to retreat, even to compromise on Tiberias (“Saladin’s army would probably disperse if it captured Tiberias”). Saladin, as Reston surely knows, was well versed in the Koran and knew that the devil had seduced his enemies into doing the opposite of what was wise.

They charged, were flanked by the Muslims, cut off from behind, pushed into a trap and defeated. After the victory, the prisoners were bound and taken to Damascus. The poor foot soldiers were sold into slavery. Some of the rich knights, who were able to ransom themselves, bought their freedom. However, the will of the Templars and Hospitalers – the very heart of the Christian army – could not be broken. They were unshakable in their dedication and commitment to the cause, and as such they had to be killed.

`”I shall purify the land of these two impure cults,'” Saladin promised, and executed all of them. James Reston, who seems to tread very cautiously around the dignity of the Muslim leader, writes that this massacre was “a singular blot on his record of generosity.”

After the victory at Hattin, the Muslim army moved south and took over Caesarea, Arsuf (which was once Appolonia, north of Herzliya) and Jaffa, and stood outside the walls of Ascalon, the southernmost stronghold of the Latin Kingdom. While negotiating the surrender of the outpost, Saladin’s army took over the lightly defended Gaza, Latrun, Ramla and Darom, and went up to Jerusalem.

“The sanctity of Jerusalem,” reports Reston, in his politically correct manner, “was the very heart of Islam.” 583 years earlier, according to the Muslim canon, the Prophet Mohammed took off from Mecca, landed at the farthest mosque of Jerusalem and, after a lavish feast with all the prophets of the past, including Jesus, ascended to heaven. “The nocturnal journey of Mohammed from the Dome of the Rock,” marvels the American writer, “is one of the great mythic stories of all religions.”

Saladin entered Jerusalem on Friday, October 2, 1187. The sad evacuation of the city lasted 40 days. Among the captive population, women were the big prize. To the Arab scribe Imad ad-Din, “the wailing of the women was amusing, for he regarded all European women as licentious whores, glowing with ardor for carnal intercourse. The mere thought of them sent him into rapturous flights of medieval pornography. European women were `proud and scornful, foul-fleshed and sinful, ardent and inflamed, tinted and painted, desirable and appetizing, exquisite and graceful, seductive and languid …'”

It seemed as though the Muslim men took revenge only against the women of Christianity, states Reston. At the same time, he determines that the manner in which Saladin took charge of Jerusalem secured his reputation for gentility and wisdom forever. His actions “seemed to define what it meant to be a good Muslim.”

Spontaneous charge

Richard Lionheart set sail from Famagusta on June 5, 1191. Three days later, he sailed into Acre bay with his battle group of 25 galleys and took over the command of the Christian army, which laid siege to the city. Soon after his arrival, Saladin sent him baskets of fruit and tried to confuse him with conciliatory gestures and a willingness to make peace – while waging war. All the gifts, the advances and the gestures of compromise throughout the campaign, assumes Reston, were designed merely to determine the king’s state of mind and to undermine his fighting spirit.

Richard was unimpressed. He returned all the lavish gifts and even rejected the rumors that Saladin was contemplating conversion.

After conquering Acre, when it became obvious that Saladin could not fulfill his promise to produce some 600 prisoners of war, the king ordered to that 2,700 Muslim soldiers be tied together. He marched them out of the city and had his soldiers slaughter them, one by one, on the road to Nazareth.

On that fateful day, September 7, 1191 – exactly 810 years before the writing of these lines – the second battle of Hattin, the biggest of King Richard’s life, took place south of Jaffa. Saladin decided to defend Jerusalem on the ground between Alonei Hasharon forest and Arsuf, southeast of Kfar Shmaryahu. Ten thousand Bedouin riders, “blacker than soot,” charged against the Christian phalanx, inching its way toward Jaffa. The terrified Crusaders closed ranks. The danger intensified. Lionheart displayed restraint and maturity, ordering the soldiers to hold back and not to charge. “Why do we not charge them at full gallop?” his men shouted at him. “We shall forever deserve to be called cowards. Never has such disgrace befallen so great an army in combat with unbelievers!”

Finally, a spontaneous charge erupted. The infantry line parted at the center and without the king lifting his hand, the cavalry charged. The Muslim ranks broke in terror and general confusion. The front line was cut down totally. King Richard, the bravest of them all, cut down Arabs in every direction. None could escape the force of his arm. Wherever he turned, brandishing his sword, he carved a wide path for himself. “`Bearded heads lay thick as swaths at harvest time,'” Reston quotes one of his sources. Over two miles, the Muslims could be seen fleeing in all directions. “`Fear alone added wings to the feet.'” Across a wide expanse, the bodies of Muslims were strewn in the sand by the thousands, amid the carcasses of horses and camels.

The Third Crusade lasted for five years. Toward its end, King Richard gave up and did not lay siege to Jerusalem. On September 2, 1192, the two sides signed a peace agreement. The only rights left to the Christians in Jerusalem were those of pilgrims, for a fee. Acre was recaptured by the Muslims about 100 years later and gradually Europe lost interest in the Holy Land. In 1492, Columbus discovered America and everyone turned west, to the New World. Palestine was left in the hands of the Muslims until the 20th century, the British victory in World War I and the rise of the Zionist movement.

“Warriors of God; Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade” by James Reston, Jr., Doubleday, 2001, 240 pages, $27.50

This article was written a few days before the suicide attacks on New York and Washington [in 2001].

in Haaretz

This Day in History / August 15

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On this day in 1096, the armies of the First Crusade officially set out for the Holy Land. They were responding to Pope Urban II’s call the previous November for people of the faith to travel to Jerusalem and liberate the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from the Muslims. The pope chose August 15 because it is the date of the Feast of the Assumption.

His armies were preceded by the so-called People’s Crusade, which was organized several months earlier by the itinerant preacher Peter the Hermit and decimated by the Seljuks in Anatolia before ever making it to Jerusalem.

While reclaiming Jerusalem was the pope’s nominal goal, he was also responding to an appeal for help from Alexios I Komnenos, the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople, who too was fighting off Seljuk Muslims from the east. Only on June 7, 1099, the pope’s Crusaders, led by Raymond of Toulouse, Robert of Normandy and Tancred, arrived in Jerusalem, which the Fatimids of Egypt had by then wrested from Seljuk control. After a siege of more than a month, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem on July 15. Their new Kingdom of Jerusalem lasted until it was routed – almost completely – by Saladin in 1187. The Crusades continued until early in the 14th century.

in Haaretz