El joven investigador y escritor José Manuel Morales (Córdoba, 1981) ha acudido este jueves a Toledo con su tercer ensayo sobre temas históricos y de misterio debajo del brazo. En esta ocasión, se sumerge en la historia del Orden del Temple con su libro «Templarios: Claves ocultas en catedrales góticas, vírgenes negras y la búsqueda del Santo Grial en España» (Ediciones Luciérnaga). Una obra que ha presentado en la Biblioteca de Castilla-La Mancha junto al también investigador y colaborador de Cuarto Milenio Luis Rodríguez Bausá y Juan Luis Alonso, autor de la web leyendasdetoledo.com.
-Los templarios es uno de los temas más manidos de la historiografía. ¿Qué aporta de novedoso su libro?
-Aunque a mí me encargaron un ensayo, «Templarios» no es un estudio de investigación al uso, ya que hay muchas obras sobre este tema y la época medieval. Yo me he alejado del libro clásico y ofrezco al lector, tanto al que se acerca a esta temática por primera vez como al docto en la materia, una aventura y un viaje en primera persona por las iglesias y fortalezas con huellas templarias, todo ello de forma novelada, aunque no deja de ser un ensayo.
-¿Por qué cree que los templarios tienen tanto poder de atracción entre los lectores y el público en general?
-Por un lado, porque creo que todos los seres humanos tenemos simpatía por las minorías perseguidas. En el caso de los templarios, fue una organización que creció de manera meteórica, luego fueron perseguidos de forma injusta y tuvieron un final muy romántico. Además, a esta orden se la ha relacionado siempre con los temas más fascinantes del medievo, como los últimos caballeros medievales, la construcción de las catedrales góticas, las vírgenes negras o reliquias como el Arca de la Alianza, el Santo Grial y la Mesa del rey Salomón.
-¿Qué hay de cierto en muchos de los mitos y leyendas que se asocian a esta orden?
-Yo soy de los que opina que toda leyenda tiene un poso de realidad. Para la investigación de la Orden del Temple, aunque gran parte de la documentación no se conserva, ha habido que rellenar las lagunas históricas echando mano a las leyendas, siempre separando el grano de la paja, pero está claro que cuando el río suena agua lleva.
-¿Y cuál es el misterio de su fulgurante ascenso y de su no menos repentina disolución y persecución?
-Quizá, lo más llamativo sería pensar que encontraron el Arca de la Alianza y relacionar la eclosión del arte gótico -surgido alrededor de 1130- con el ascenso de los templarios y, cuando la Orden del Temple es disuelta, este estilo artístico desaparece. Por eso, la hipótesis que yo lanzo en el libro es que encontraron este valioso objeto que les hizo poderosos a ojos del Papa, de monarcas y nobles, además de permitirles el acceso a cierta información para aplicar la geometría sagrada a los templos que ellos mismos financiaron.
-Francia es quizá el país donde las huellas templarias son más claras. Pero, en su expansión, llegaron hasta España. ¿Qué les trajo hasta aquí?
-Los templarios vinieron por dos motivos. Por un lado, su razón fundacional era proteger a los peregrinos que acudían a Jerusalén y, en el caso de España, este papel lo desempeñaron en torno al Camino de Santiago. Y, por otro lado, fue importante su labor en la Cruzada contra los territorios musulmanes en la Península Ibérica, como en el caso de la batalla de las Navas de Tolosa en 1212 o en la conquista del valle del Guadalquivir bajo el amparo del rey Fernando III El Santo.
-Toledo tuvo un gran papel para ellos. ¿Por qué?
-Toledo es uno de los lugares de la Península Ibérica con más huellas de la presencia de la Orden del Temple. Además, tiene una peculiaridad, ya que las encomiendas templarias habitualmente se situaban alejadas de las ciudades, pero Toledo fue la única ciudad con presencia templaria de España por así decir.
M. CEBRIÁN Toledo
Celebrou-se no passado dia 24 de Junho de 2017 em Arraiolos mais uma importante data na história do Priorado Ibérico da OSMTHU, a comemoração da Festa da Luz, de São João Baptista.
Este ano a alegria foi maior porque a Ordem estabeleceu nesse dia 3 novas Comendadorias, recebendo ainda um número significativo de Escudeiros que assim iniciam os seus estudos mais aprofundados no ideal da Cavalaria Espiritual Lusitana, depois de um período como Noviços em que tiveram a oportunidade de se familiarizar com os princípios da Cavalaria universal.
A festa iniciou-se a meio da tarde com um convívio típico, onde não faltaram as tradicionais sardinhas e o churrasco, em que participaram todos os irmãos e irmãs, bem como as famílias, vindos de várias partes do país, alguns percorrendo largas centenas de quilómetros, outros vindo logo dali do lado.
Ao final da tarde o Comendador Rui Herdadinha teve a oportunidade de lembrar algumas das lendas de Arraiolos, nomeadamente da cabeça da Igreja do Convento de Nossa Senhora da Assunção, onde iriam decorrer as cerimónias. Após uma rápida visita ao Castelo, a tempo de apreciar o por do sol alentejano que já é bem familiar aos membros mais antigos da Ordem, rumou-se ao Convento para iniciar a parte litúrgica do dia.
A Ordem reuniu em Capítulo Nacional, presidido pelo Grão Prior Geral. Após algumas curtas comunicações, em que se recordou a passagem dos Irmãos Ronald Cappello e Fernando de Toro-Garland, duas figuras incontornáveis para a Ordem a nível internacional, mas particularmente para o Priorado português, os Comendadores tiveram a oportunidade de informar o Prior e a congregação do decorrer dos seus projectos, os quais começam a ganhar ritmo e permitem prever um ano de 2017 / 2018 muito frutuoso.
Procedeu-se então à cerimónia de investidura das Comendadorias. Tratando-se de um encargo da Ordem sobre um Irmão, o ritual, apesar de simples, é carregado de significado e levado a cabo tal como o era na idade média, com igual intensidade e solenidade. Estabelece-se um vínculo pessoal e de confiança, mais que um laço, uma verdadeira atadura, cujo rompimento representaria o ato simbólico contra-iniciático correspondente e a correspondente punição in ordine e in theatrum mundi. Não é coisa para levar de ânimo leve.
Foram então investidos em funções o Comendador de Lisboa, das Chagas, Irmão Luis Fonseca, KCOT; o Comendador de Laccobriga, Irmão Vitor Varela Martins, KCTJ e o Comendador do Condado de Arraiolos, Irmão Rui Herdadinha, KCTJ.
O Comendador de Lisboa, das Chagas, recebe a investidura
O Comendador de Laccobriga recebe a sua investidura
O Comendador de Arraiolos recebe a investidura
Finalmente procedeu-se à recepção de Escudeiros, cerimónia que remete para uma série de leituras de carácter instrutório e lendário, rematada pelo compromisso de serviço e o vestir da Alba, primeira veste na Ordem.
A Ordem agradece à Pousada do Convento de Nossa Senhora da Assunção, na pessoa do seu Director, a amabilidade com que nos acolheram. A Ordem agradece ainda publicamente ao Comendador Rui Herdadinha e sua família pelo seu empenho, bem como a todos os Irmãos e Irmãs que contribuíram decisivamente para uma festa cuja recordação será difícil esquecer, quer tenha sido com o seu trabalho e dedicação (não faltaram comida, bebida e sobremesas), quer tenha sido pela sua alegre presença. Por sua causa, o dia mais longo do ano foi um Dia Maior.
A presente estrutura do Priorado nacional é hoje a que está expressa no seguinte gráfico.
Pombal, topónimo que deu o título a um estadista tão admirado como contestado, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Mello, é terra de história grande ligada aos templários e à fixação de fronteiras na reconquista cristã pelos cavaleiros do Templo. Terá sido o Mestre Templário Gualdim Pais, recém-chegado do Oriente, que numa das primeiras iniciativas da sua acção mandou erigir o castelo de Pombal com o intuito de dar continuidade a uma linha de castelos que defendesse o território conquistado aos mouros. Com 900 anos de história, o Castelo de Pombal conta, por isso, um pouco da história nacional e absorve o cariz do Mestre Gualdim Pais que neste edifício aplicou o vanguardismo da arquitectura militar da época.
Num concelho rico em paisagem e em história, surge como força aglutinadora a festa do Bodo, assumida como elemento central na identidade dos pombalenses. Esta festa de tão importante que é foi o motivo que levou à constituição da Confraria do Bodo. Por ser tempo e espaço de encontro entre os naturais de Pombal, mas também subsidiária da tradição antiga, esta confraria quis assim associar-se à história e à cultura de uma festa que se faz de vontades individuais e colectivas e da sua relação com o divino. Por isso, é preciso, primeiro, explicar devidamente a origem das Festas do Bodo.
Sendo esta uma história bonita onde a dádiva, sempre a dádiva, é a forma de retribuir a graça da divindade é também o resultado do entrecruzar da história, de protagonistas que deram um pouco de si à localidade e transformaram a sua paisagem cultural. Amplamente ligado à devoção e à crença na divindade, a Festa do Bodo de Pombal traduz na sua essência a vontade do povo em agradecer o feito divino dividindo, repartindo, partilhando o bolo, pão de trigo com farinha não levedada.
Conta-se que, em certo ano, uma praga de gafanhotos e lagartas invadiu as searas e os campos, as casas e os quintais e até os vasos utilizados pelas mulheres para transportar a água obrigando a que a água fosse coada antes de utilizada. Logo o povo decidiu realizar uma procissão da Igreja de São Pedro até à Capela de Nossa Senhora de Jerusalém invocando protecção. Após missa e promessa de grande festa caso a calamidade passasse, desapareceram os bichos infestantes e o povo deu graças pelo milagre. No ano seguinte, uma senhora de nome Maria Fogaça chamou a si a organização das festas prometidas e com todo o aparato realizou festas de acordo com a graça recebida no ano anterior. É, então, que se dá novo milagre. Por forma a agradecer a benesse divina, são feitos dois enormes bolos cujo destino é a partilha pelo povo. No entanto, quando estes estão prestes a ser colocados no forno um deles cai torto e é num ímpeto de coragem e devoção que um dos presentes, invocando Nossa Senhora de Jerusalém, entra dentro do forno endireita o bolo e sai ileso. De novo, o povo reclama milagre e vê no bolo o símbolo da divindade que quer dar graças a quem nele confia. Nascem, assim, as festas do Bodo, do pão doce que se partilha em sinal da graça divina.
Numa festa que vai além da lenda encontram-se relações com práticas das festividades do Espírito Santo. De facto, de acordo com a obra Arte de Furtar, atribuída a Padre António Vieira, «Na vila de Pombal, perto de Leiria, há um forno em que todos os anos se cose uma grande fogaça para a festa do Espírito Santo; e entra um homem nele, quando mais quente para acomodar a fogaça e se detém dentro quanto tempo é necessário, sem padecer lesão alguma do fogo que, cosendo o pão, não cose o homem». Esta festa é, por isso, o resultado da vontade de muitos protagonistas, do contributo que cada um deles deu a um acontecimento que respira as vicissitudes culturais, as mentalidades e a idiossincrasia que atravessaram aquele lugar.
Herdeira deste passado onde a lenda se cruza com a história num território onde a diversidade é o denominador comum, Pombal vê surgir a Confraria do Bodo como reconhecimento da importância destas festas na unidade do concelho. Constituída, em 2005, por pombalenses que se encontravam por ocasião das Festas do Bodo, esta Confraria encontrou a sua vocação, quer na importância das festas enquanto momento de reunião e de partilha à mesa, quer na importância do património natural, edificado e cultural de um concelho que se espraia do maciço calcário da Serra de Sicó até ao encontro com o Atlântico, na Praia do Osso da Baleia.
Num território geograficamente tão diverso, também a gastronomia é diversa e abrange produtos como o Queijo do Rabaçal, o azeite, o mel, o cabrito, a morcela de arroz, o arroz na versão malandrinho que a espécie carolino permite, os doces conventuais do Convento do Louriçal, as cavacas e os beijinhos de Pombal, enfim, tudo o que um concelho que vai da serra até ao mar pode oferecer. É, sobretudo, a diversidade à mesa de um concelho que não se esgota numa só realidade.
Trajados de azul, estes confrades defendem o património cultural das Festas do Bodo. No entanto, fazem-no no entendimento de que, quase sempre, a gastronomia é acompanhada de um rico património cultural imaterial que faz com que o acto de se alimentar não seja apenas uma satisfação de uma necessidade física, mas seja, igualmente, um acto cultural. Tal é verdade com toda a pujança por terras de Pombal onde a presença de tantas e importantes personalidades, que definiram o que hoje é Portugal, deram também o seu contributo para a súmula de tradições que caracterizam as Festas do Bodo. Uma festa que é uma linha de continuidade no tempo que vai juntando quem por ali nasceu ou passou. Uma festa que junta os confrades e os faz exaltar a partilha do bodo na convicção de que na dádiva se agradece o alimento que é de todos e para todos.
in sol.pt por Olga Cavaleiro
Memo to visitors to Israel: If you get a chance, don’t miss the crusader fort at Acre, a ride of about an hour and a half from Jerusalem. You’ll spot it on the map (it’s alternately called Akko) a little north of Haifa on the Mediterranean coast. To understand what you’ll see there, here’s a short history of the port – starting with a meeting in the 11th century thousands of miles away.
Nov. 27, 1095, was a red letter day in medieval history. Actually, it was a red cross day, that symbol having been proclaimed by Pope Urban II as the icon of a planned crusade to retake the Holy Land from its Muslim invaders.
Speaking at the Council of Clermont — a meeting of hundreds of clerics, noblemen and onlookers in southern France — the Pope hoped to recruit fighters with this pitch: “Here (you) are poor and miserable sinners; there, (you) will be rich and happy. Let none hesitate; (you) must march next summer. God wills it.”
So in the fall of 1096 a crusader army of tens of thousands of knights, vassals and serfs went charging off to the Holy Land using “God wills it” as their battle cry. Three years later, after slashing their way across Europe, Constantinople and the Mediterranean coast of the Holy Land, the Christian forces not only took the city of Jerusalem but went on to create the Kingdom of Jerusalem – a 360-mile-long strip of land stretching from Lebanon south through modern-day Israel and western Jordan down to the Gulf of Aqaba – among several crusader states.
Fast-forward two centuries, through seven more major crusades (and several smaller ones) and many more battles. During this period Muslim armies recapture the Kingdom of Jerusalem, then lose part of it again during the Third Crusade led by King Richard the Lionheart. The crusaders carve out another kingdom, but fail to take Jerusalem. Instead, they build a new capital at the Mediterranean port of Acre.
But things go south for the crusaders again, and by the late 13th century the conquest of the Holy Land has pretty much fizzled out. The caped knights have been booted out of just about every place they took, and now they’re down to their last “God wills it” stronghold — at Acre, where the cross of the crusaders had been flying (on and off) since 1104.
The crusaders’ last big holdout crumbled in 1291 when the flag of the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt was raised over Acre. Later on, the Ottomans captured the port and held on to it until the onset of World War I, when the Brits took over. The Union Jack flew over the port until the State of Israel was created in 1948.
Visitors to Acre will see the remains of all these cultures – and before them those of the Romans, Greeks and Canaanites, among others – in what’s left of their walls, battlements, churches, mosques, baths and courtyards. Tours of the city typically wind up in an underground labyrinth of domed halls and walkways, once the home of monastic military orders such as the Knights Templars and the Knights Hospitallers.
Among subterranean eye-poppers awaiting tourists is a 1,150-foot-long stone tunnel used by the Templars as a protected passageway between the fortress and the port. Also featured down there is a commercial street that passed through the Hospitaller quarter, high-domed knight halls, a huge dining room and a central courtyard – all painstakingly restored to offer a jump back in time to the days when guys wandering around with crosses on their tunics ruled the roost around these parts.
This aerial shot shows a different view of an ancient site built for the Knights Templar.
A camera mounted on a drone took a series of photos of Cressing Temple, between Braintree and Witham, showing the oak barns built during the 13th century, and the Tudor walled garden.
Rebecca Ashbey, a horticulturalist at Essex County Council, which owns the site, said: “The photos were taken by a member of staff who had a drone for Christmas.
“The pictures really show the structure of the garden off to great effect.”
The northern city’s rich heritage is blighted by neglect, casting a shadow on its many gems, including the Turkish bath, Crusader citadel and knights’ dining hall.
Acre is a dreamy, ancient Mediterranean seaside resort. It goes back millennia, which you can see on the spot.
“There are very few cities like Acre – it has a lot of history, a mixture of religions and unusual sites that you can weave a good story around,” says Kawas, manager of the new hostel at the entrance to Acre’s Old City.But Acre is, in many respects, a place that has failed to realize its enormous tourism potential.
In 2001, Acre and Masada became the first two places in Israel to be declared UNESCO World Heritage sites. But there is no comparison today between the number of visitors to Masada – which for several years running has topped the list of the most visited sites [requiring entrance fees] in Israel – and the still meager number of tourists who stroll through Acre. A one-day visit to the northern coastal city reveals why: There is a huge gap between the formal sites, which have been developed over the past few years by various tourism bodies, and everything in between. Wandering through the Old City’s alleyways, I was overcome with sadness. So much has been invested in the city over the last few years, yet these side streets, even the ones closest to the main market street, exude neglect.
The main section of the Old City, which is home to several thousand people,is quite small. It takes no more than 20 minutes to cross from one end to the other, but it lacks signs and is not particularly inviting to visitors. Each official site in the old quarter is a gem, but because these gems are not strung together, they fail to create a single piece of jewelry.
Acre is a fascinating city, but it can and should turn into a place that showcases not only isolated tourist sites, but also one that opens a window on contemporary life in the old quarter. In the meantime, here are a few of the gems worth viewing.
The Hospitaller’s Citadel
Something about medieval knights, who came to the Holy Land during the Crusades, sparks the imagination, conjuring up visions of courage. But the reality of the lives of these men in armor, who passed this way just under a thousand years ago, was apparently less glamorous than what the movies portray. Among other things, they required medical treatment and hostels where they could find refuge and safety in the untamed land on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. The Knights Halls in Acre’s Hospitaller Citadel were the jewels in the crown of the city. It is worth coming to Acre just to see them.
The spacious, lovely halls, which were built in the late 12th century and during the course of the 13th century, have high ceilings and thick walls. The lighting adds a fitting dramatic touch to the visit. The Hall of Columns, which was probably the knights’ dining hall, is the most impressive in the fortress, and causes a sigh of renewed wonder with every visit. A beautiful attraction such as would probably draw hundreds of thousands of tourists if it was in a European city.
Arranged around it are the Northern Hall, the Sugar Bowl Hall, the Art Hall, the Beautiful Hall and the Hall of the Imprisoned.
The Templar Tunnel
The 350-meter-long tunnel runs from the fortress to the seashore, adjacent to the port. It opened to the public in 2007, and for the past few months animated clips have been screened on the walls depicting the history of the Templars. Members of the order helped the Crusaders and the sick and moved to Acre from Jerusalem after its conquest by Saladin in 1187.
The Al-Basha Hamam
The 18th-century Turkish bath is probably the most well developed site in Acre’s Old City. It was built during the days of Acre’s governor Jazzar Pasha, when the city experienced its biggest construction boom. It is obvious that much effort was invested in making a visit here into a multidimensional experience: films are screened on the walls, dolls have been placed in the center of the hall, assorted accessories are scattered around the rooms and pictures and sounds enhance the atmosphere. It is even a little overwhelming, distracting from the beauty of the structure.
The large traders’ khan next to the port is one of the city’s nicest structures and unfortunately has not been developed at all yet. It is neglected and dirty, and visits there are limited to the entrance hall. This beautiful khan deserves better. It was built in the 18th century by Jazzar Pasha, at the same time as the hamam, and when I stood outside it, I tried, unsuccessfully, to understand why such huge sums were put into the hamam, while the khan was left untouched. The Acre Development Company plans to turn the Khan al-Omadan and the adjacent Khan a-Shuneh into a large hotel with 170 rooms, but there are no signs of this happening. In any case, such major plans are always a cause of concern when they involve a designated landmark.
The Treasures in the Walls Museum is the most interesting of the city’s three museums. The building located in the eastern wall of the Old City is exquisite, and the display features many items meant to preserve the local history, crafts, furnishings and arts. The collection is not organized or displayed scientifically, giving one the sense of visiting a big antiques shop. Address: 2 Weizmann Street, in the Eastern wall.
The Okashi Art Museum is located in a 300-year-old arched building. It is a fascinating structure, but one that distracts considerably from the works hanging on the white-washed walls. The permanent exhibit includes works by Avshalom Okashi, who lived in Acre for most of his life, and had his workshop in the museum. Alongside them are rotating exhibits of contemporary Israeli art. Currently on display is the “First Exposure 2012,”a photo exhibit featuring the works of 10 young photographers.
The Underground Prisoners Museum depicts the history of the place when it was a British-run jail that housed members of the pre-state Jewish undergrounds who fought to end the British Mandate. It may be a fascinating place, but memories of a long-ago visit during my school days prevented me from properly viewing the current exhibit and led to a hasty exit.
The Al-Jazzar Mosque
The mosque is known in Arabic as the Jama al-Basha (the Pasha’s mosque ) and is another relic of Jazzar Pasha’s extensive building activity 250 years ago. It is the largest mosque in Israel, after the al-Aksa mosque in Jerusalem, and the biggest one built here during the Ottoman period. The trapezoidal courtyard is a beautifully landscaped garden that exudes great tranquility. Scattered around are benches that allow a visitor rest and contemplation. In the center of the courtyard, there is a covered fountain that was used for bathing. The inside of the mosque is filled with decorative touches, rugs and colored glass windows. It is said that a clipping of the Prophet Mohammed’s hair is stored somewhere in the depths of the mosque and displayed once a year. I did not see it. Address: Al-Jazzar Street. The mosque is open all day and closes for short periods at prayer times.
There is evidence that the Acre port existed over 2,500 years ago. In recent years, extensive excavations next to the southern seawall have uncovered fragments of a stone pier, large stone anchors and clay vessels from the Mediterranean isles. The port reached its peak during the Crusader era in the 12th century. It achieved its greatest notoriety in the 18th century when Napoleon besieged the city and was blocked from reaching the port by ships that had been intentionally sunk.
The old port is now a marina; the main attraction is the Pisani port several dozen meters to the west. Two veteran restaurants, Abu Cristo and Doniana, compete for customers. Both have large balconies with views of the port. Not much has changed here in the last 40 years. The children who, in the 1970s, used to jump into the water from the walls above, are today responsible adults and have been replaced by other youngsters leaping into the sea with the same fervor.
The sites listed above have been developed over the last few years by various tourism bodies, including the Old Acre Development Company, the Antiquities Authority and the Ministry of Tourism. A glance at the list of projects the Old Acre Development Company is planning reveals how much work still remains. The list includes the Khan al-Shawarda, the city’s largest khan, where a commercial center and hotel are to be built. The small hamam, currently a dilapidated building beside the Khan al-Omadan, is slated to become part of a hotel. A facelift is also in the works for the Burej al-Quraim, an intriguing site northwest of the city that is considered to be the largest and most fortified seaside fortress – and offers fantastic views. All of these projects, if and when they are completed, will increase the number of hotel rooms in Acre, enhance the state of some buildings and further highlight the necessity of developing the alleyways themselves.
Getting there: Take Highway 4 from Haifa to Acre. At the Ein Hamifratz junction turn left (west ) and travel along the sea. At the first traffic light turn left, and follow the signs to the Old City.
Entrance fees: the Old Acre visitors’ center is in the Enchanted Garden on 1 Weizmann Street. Joint entrance ticket to many sites listed here (the Knights Hall, the Templar Tunnel, the Okashi Art Museum ) may be purchased. Sites are open from 9:00 A.M.-6:00 P.M. daily, including Saturdays. For more information see: http://www.akko.org.il
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.”
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].