Monday, April 15, 2024

The War of the Keys

The War of the Keys was called that because of the image of crossed keys (keys to the Kingdom of Heaven) on the papal flag. The war was between Pope Gregory IX and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Frederick vowed to go on Crusade, which Gregory supported wholeheartedly. The vow was on pain of excommunication. Gregory's predecessor, Honorius III, had granted Frederick several delays, but Gregory was not going to be patient anymore, and threatened Frederick with excommunication.

Along with that issue, Frederick laid claim to some lands in central Italy that the popes believed belonged to the Papal States. Also, Gregory felt that Frederick was abusing the church in Sicily.

Part of Frederick's agreement to go on Crusade was that he wanted to be King of Jerusalem. Currently, the King-by-marriage was John of Brienne, who was regent for his 12-year-old daughter, Queen Isabella II of Jerusalem. The marriage, in November 1225, removed John's regency and made technically Frederick King of Jerusalem. Yet still he delayed.

Gregory excommunicated Frederick in October 1227. Isabella died in May 1228. In June 1228, Frederick finally began the Sixth Crusade. While he was traveling, some of his followers invaded the disputed Italian territories. Gregory responded with an army intending to take Sicily from Frederick. For the leader of his army he chose John of Brienne. Gregory levied tithes from several Christian countries to raise money for his army. According to contemporary English chronicler Roger of Wendover, England resisted the tax. King Henry III of England called an assembly of nobles and prelates to hear from the papal legate about the tithe, but the nobles simply refused to pay. Henry did not do anything to interfere with the papal request, but he did not force his nobles to comply.

Meanwhile, Frederick was in the east and signing a treaty with al-Kamil, who was perfectly happy to giving Jerusalem to the Crusaders if they left him alone. When Gregory heard about this, he denounced the treaty and Frederick as being un-Christian.

Now, however, Frederick was free to return and face the pope's forces. We will see how that went tomorrow.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Canonized Anti-Semitism

The first thing we should establish is that "anti-semitism" is the wrong term for what happened to Jews in Western Europe and elsewhere. This may seem like a quibble, but it was not "semitism" that Christians objected to. The term "semitic" was coined in 1781 by a German scholar to designate a group of languages from the Middle East, namely those spoken by the descendants of Noah's son Shem. The German antisemitisch was coined in 1860 as a label and criticism of those who felt the "semitic races" were inferior to white races.

What Pope Gregory IX did was to formalize anti-Judaism, his objection to their religion, not their race. People cannot change their race, but they can change their religion, and opportunities were available. In neither case, however, did Gregory want them to be abused or killed by their neighbors.

Gregory brought a legal mind to the issue of Jews. As with the Papal Inquisition, where he demanded due process and objectivity over mob rule, with his statements on Jews he also established protections for them. His statements, however, formalized their unequal status in society and made it part of canon law.

He started with a 1233 mandate, that Christians needed to stop persecuting Jews for simply being Jews. A year later, he established the doctrine of perpetua servitus Judaeorum, "perpetual servitude of the Jews." By this he meant that they should never be in positions of political power from now until Judgment Day. This led to the idea of servitus camerae imperialis, "servitude under the emperor," that they would always be subject to the authority (whims) of the Emperor (of the Holy Roman Empire), who at the time was Frederick II.

One of the triggers for Jewish persecution was the Crusades. When the Christian population was stirred up with the idea of "taking back" the Holy Land, the act of mistreating Jews surged. Throughout the 1230s, Gregory heard complaints from Jews and mandated that those religious leaders in whose dioceses the crimes were committed should "force the crusaders of their dioceses who had killed and robbed Jews to provide proper satisfaction for the crimes perpetrated against the Jews and for the property stolen from them." This was not a generic request: the pope deliberately named those bishops and archbishops, etc., whom he required to see things right.

His idea of perpetual servitude of the Jews affected them for centuries, and anti-Judaism/modern anti-semitism are still rampant.

Even though Gregory saw their servitude to the emperor, he did not completely trust this particular emperor. He did, as part of his approach, bring charges against Frederick for mistreatment of Jews. That was not the pope's only problem with Frederick. Tomorrow I'll tell you about the War of the Keys and what the pope does when you say you will go on Crusade, but you keep putting it off.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Pope Gregory IX

Ugolino di Conti's birth year is suggested as somewhere between 1145 and 1170, but there are suggestions that he was in his 90s at his death in 1241, so if that is true the 1145 date looks more likely. Only 14 of those years were as pope, which is probably just as well. His legacy is largely negative because of his establishing the Papal Inquisition (not the original Inquisition), his formalizing of anti-semitism in church doctrine (that lasted into the 20th century), and (although this is a result of speculative hindsight and is likely erroneous thinking) the Bubonic plague.

He was first elevated to Cardinal-Deacon in December 1198 by his cousin, Pope Innocent III. In 1206 he was made Cardinal Bishop, and named Dean of the College of Cardinals in 1218. At the request of Francis of Assisi, Pope Honorius III made him Cardinal Protector of the Franciscans. (He had been a friend of Francis already, as well as of Clare of Assisi and St. Dominic.)

Honorius died on 18 March 1227 after trying to establish the Fifth Crusade that had been called by Innocent III. Innocent intended for this one to be led by the papacy, in order to avoid the disaster of the Fourth Crusade. Cardinal Ugolino was elected pope one day after the death of Honorius, taking the name "Gregory" because he was at the monastery of St. Gregory when he accepted the position.

One of his first acts was to expand the powers of an inquisition taking place in Germany. He also established a Papal Inquisition (mostly managed by Dominicans and Franciscans) to formalize what had already been begun and was being handled differently across Christendom. His aim was to introduce due process and objectivity, because too often executions were done by unruly mobs on the innocent in the name of defeating heresy.

He also called for Crusades in places other than the Holy Land, to bring Eastern Europe into alignment with the papacy. These Northern or Baltic Crusades were against the pagan Baltic, Finnic, and West Slavic peoples.

Some modern writers blame Gregory for the Black Death because of a bull he wrote that demonized cats. The widespread killing of cats (the thinking goes) removed a deterrent to the rats that spread the plague. What the proponents of this theory leave out, however, is that papal decree does not run to India and China where the plague was just as widespread as in Europe. Also, one would have to assume the killing of cats was consistent for over a century, since the plague arrived in Europe about 120 years after Gregory's bull.

We will not condemn every act of Gregory: In 1229, when the University of Paris had a strike, he wrote a bull that helped resolve the differences between Town and Gown.

One of his lasting achievements, however, was to institutionalize anti-semitism in the Church. For that, we will wait another day. See you tomorrow.

Friday, April 12, 2024

The Patron Saint of Television

Inspired by Francis of Assisi, Clare of Assisi (16 July 1194 - 11 August 1253) founded a new order for women, the "Order of Poor Ladies of San Damiano." She lived with them for the rest of her life; ten years after her death, the order was renamed the "Order of St. Clare." Her mother, Ortolana, and her sisters Beatrice and Catarina (who took the name Agnes and was also later declared a saint) joined her in the order.

Francis himself ruled the order at first, but finally convinced Clare to become abbess. She disliked the title, and often referred to herself as "mother" or "handmaid" or "servant." In 1215, the Fourth Lantern Council declared that any communities had to adopt an established order, similar to the Rule of St. Benedict. This clashed with Clare's preference, because her desire for strict poverty was not approved by the Benedictine rule. Pope Gregory IX feared that her strict poverty was too physically unhealthy. She eventually convinced him to relent, and he approved for her order what was called Privilegium Paupertatis ("Privilege of Paupers").

In her lifetime, she was credited with a few miracles. In 1234, the army of Frederick II of Sicily was plundering the part of Italy where Assisi is. His men set up ladders to scale the walls in order to enter the convent at San Damiano. Clare grabbed the ciborium—the vessel that holds the host—and carried it to a window. When she held it up at the window, the men fell off the ladders and fled.

Her tendency to fast and deprive herself made her often ill. One Christmas, she was too ill to attend Mass and stayed in her cell. She later reported to her comrades that she had seen the Mass performed in a vision while confined to bed. This incident inspired Pope Pius XII in 1958 to declare her the patron saint of television.

Pope Gregory IX knew Francis and Clare personally, starting when he was a cardinal. His name has been woven throughout this blog for many years, but he has not had center stage. Tomorrow I'll talk about his life and some of the terrible things he did.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

St. Clare of Assisi

Similar to St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare of Assisi (born Chiara Offreduccio) was born to a wealthy family—her father was a count—but she gave it all up to follow a life of poverty and devotion to God.

Her mother, Ortolana—who went on pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Santiago de Compostela—raised Clare and her sister Catarina to be devout Christians. When Clare was 12, her parents arranged a good marriage for her, but Clare begged to be allowed to hold off marriage until she was 18. Later, with the age of 18 approaching, she heard Francis of Assisi preach during Lent in 1212. She went to him and asked his advice on living a life inspired by the Gospels.

On Palm Sunday (20 March), she left her family along with her Aunt Bianca and went to Francis. There her hair was cut short, she put on a plain robe, and took the name Clare. She went into a convent of Benedictine nuns. Her father and others tried to bribe her to come home, but she would not give up the life she had chosen. Shortly after this attempt, Francis moved her to a Benedictine monastery farther away. Two weeks later, Catarina joined her, choosing the same lifestyle and changing her name to Agnes ("lamb").

The two eventually moved back to Assisi, to a small building made for them next to the church of San Damiano, which Francis had repaired as one of his first acts of devotion to his new lifestyle. It became the center of a new order founded by Clare. Originally known as the Poor Ladies of San Damiano, they were formalized as the Order of St. Clare in 1236. (This was 10 years after Clare had died.)

Prior to her death, she experienced an event that would later cause her to be named the patron saint of television. We will get to the story next time.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Francis the Saint

In 1224, Francis of Assisi was on the mountain of Verna, enduring a 40-day fast prior to Michaelmas. He had a companion, Brother Leo, who recorded the result of a vision Francis had in mid-September: "Suddenly he saw a vision of a seraph, a six-winged angel on a cross. This angel gave him the gift of the five wounds of Christ."

After the vision, Francis showed stigmata. The stigmata, from Greek for "mark" or "brand," are the wounds suffered by Jesus from the Scourging and Crucifixion. They are wounds on the hands and feet, the head from the Crown of Thorns, and on the side from the Holy Lance.

He was taken for medical attention for these open wounds, but no one could help heal them. Two years after the vision and the appearance of the stigmata, he died, on 3 October 1226.

Less than two years later, Pope Gregory IX, who as Cardinal Ugolino Conti had been given the task of guiding the Franciscan Order, and who was a friend of Francis, declared Francis a saint. He also founded the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, under which Francis' body was interred in 1230. The threat of Saracen invaders caused the tomb to be hidden to avoid desecration; it was not found until 1818! His tomb was renovated between 1927 and 1930. His remains were examined, confirmed to be those of the saint, and put in the tomb in a glass urn. He was named a patron saint of Italy in 1939, along with Catherine of Siena. He is the patron saint of animals and ecology, the patron against fire, and the patron saint against dying alone.

The order he founded has about 16,000 members in 1500 houses across the world. It inspired offshoots such as the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, and the Third Order of Saint Francis (who desire a religious life but not a monastic one).

He also co-founded the Order of Saint Clare, also called the Poor Clares, after Clare of Assisi, who is sometimes referred to as Francis' sister. She wasn't, but she had a similar story to his. I'll tell you about her tomorrow, and why she is the patron saint of television.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Francis the Brother of All

One of the most familiar mental images of Francis of Assisi is his connection with Nature.

While traveling through the Spoleto Valley, Francis saw several birds of all kinds. He ran towards the birds, which did not fly away. He told them

"My brother and sister birds, you should praise your Creator and always love Him: He gave you feathers for clothes, wings to fly and all other things that you need. It is God who made you noble among all creatures, making your home in the air. Without sowing or reaping, you receive God's guidance and protection."

The birds spread their wings and started singing. Francis was able to walk among them and touch them without them flying from him. He realized that animals and birds should be exposed to the Word of God and made it his habit from then on to spend time in finding animals to preach to.

His relationship with animals produced many anecdotes. One time while preaching to people, he had to ask birds to quiet down; they did until his sermon was done. Another time he was brought a rabbit that had been caught in a trap. Francis advised the rabbit to be more careful about traps in the future, and when the rabbit was released it hopped back to Francis' lap.

One day, while in the town of Gubbio, Francis learned that a wolf was menacing the town, killing and eating animals and people. He decided to meet the wolf despite the warnings of the townspeople. He went out from the town, accompanied by a fellow friar and some townspeople who wished to witness the event. The townspeople soon gave up and fell behind. Francis and the friar went on, and were soon faced with the wolf. Francis made the sign of the Cross and said "Come to me, Brother Wolf. In the name of Christ, I order you not to hurt anyone."

He continued, explaining to the wolf that it had been killing people who are made in the image of God. "Brother Wolf, I want to make peace between you and the people of Gubbio. They will harm you no more and you must no longer harm them. All past crimes are to be forgiven." Francis asked the wolf to make a pledge. He extended his hand, and the wolf extended a paw to place in his hand. The wolf then followed Francis back to Gubbio to show the townspeople that the conflict was over. The wolf lived another two years in the town, going from door to door and being fed by the townspeople.

Francis also bought two lambs from a man who was selling them to be slaughtered. One of them followed him everywhere after that. He would return caught fish to the water, telling them to be more careful in the future. On his deathbed, he thanked his donkey for carrying him everywhere, and the donkey wept.

Francis' life was an inspiration for many, and his sainthood was predictable. Let's conclude the story of Francis with his most remarkable sign of his devoutness and his canonization.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Francis the Leader

Francis of Assisi, prior to his episode on the Fifth Crusade, traveled to Rome with his followers to request of the pope permission to found a new order. This was in 1209, a couple years after he started preaching in his home town. Although we call this order the Franciscans, the actual name is the Ordo Fratrum Minorum ("Order of Lesser Brothers"). They were also referred to as Friars Minor.

The catalyst for this was a Mass in February 1208 at the chapel of St. Mary of the Angels. The Gospel lesson from Matthew was about the Apostles going out to proclaim the Kingdom of God. He began preaching and collected 11 followers who lived with him in an abandoned leper colony near Assisi called Rivo Porto.

The original rules of the order that Francis presented to Pope Innocent III are not now known, but according to his biographer and friend, Thomas of Celano, it was some passages from the Gospels. It was revised and expanded over time, but its basis was a rejection of personal property, as well as obedience and chastity. Francis and his followers were also tonsured while in Rome as a sign of their formal endorsement by the pope. Official recognition as an order and their fervent preaching helped the order to grow quickly.

The Rule of the order was revised each year, according to Jacques de Vitry in a letter he wrote in 1216. Amendments were proposed, and Francis would berate them for errors in behavior. While Francis was traveling in the East because of the Crusade, he had to leave the Order in others' hands. First was Brother Peter Catani, but he died within months. Then it went to Brother Elias. Some times, those left in charge of the Order in Italy were making changes that Francis did not want. One was a prohibition against eating meat, but Francis pointed out (on his return) that Acts 10:15 says "What God has made clean, you are not to call profane."

A final re-formulation of the Rule came in 1223, and it is what is followed today.

The most familiar image of Francis was not writing rules or traveling in the East, it is him among animals. Let's look at that facet of his life and beliefs tomorrow.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Francis the Crusader

When Francis of Assisi  looked for inspiration about how he should be organizing his new-found life of devotion to God—and because he was drawing others to him who wanted guidance—he decided to look into the Bible. The sections he randomly opened to were about a rich young man being told to give all he had to the poor, Jesus telling the Apostles to take nothing on their journey, and the idea to take up the cross every day. He told those following him that these were their guiding rules. Francis wanted them to live by the Gospel.

Becoming the leader of an organized group was not a goal he sought. That involved a formality and an authoritative role that he did not think was appropriate for him. He simply wanted to foster the idea of brotherhood among people from all walks of life who came to listen to him. He urged his followers to go forth in pairs to preach God's love, and they did. People soon realized that these poorly clothed and barefoot itinerant preachers seemed very happy with their simple life. The idea that one could be happy without owning anything became attractive to more and more people. Rather than fight poverty, they made poverty acceptable, and even more: desirable.

Although he did not want to be seen as special, he at least once did something that looked self-aggrandizing. During the Fifth Crusade in 1219 he went to Egypt to speak directly to the Muslim leader and convert him. al-Kamil was the Sultan of Egypt, and he received this beggar-looking man and listened to him. Supposedly, al-Kamil told Francis that he liked what he heard and would have converted to what Francis was talking about, "but we would both be killed." Francis' "soft approach" to Crusading was more successful than the papal legate's. al-Kamil supposedly gave Francis permission to visit sites in the Holy Land. We do know that Francis went to Acre and then took a ship to Italy. (A sermon by St. Bonaventure in 1267 claimed that al-Kamil had a death-bed conversion due to the meeting with Francis.)

The presence of "Franciscans" was growing more noticeable, and if so many people were going to be wandering and preaching, it was felt there should be some organization to control their message. Let's look at the birth of the Franciscan Order next time.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Francis the Convert

When young Francesco di Bernardone realized he wanted to live a more devout and pious life, the change did not happen all at once. His encounter with the leper (see link above) was a turning point, but there was more to do on this journey.

He went to the old church at San Damiano to pray, during which he heard Christ on the Cross say to him "Francis, repair my church." Taking this to mean repairing the building of San Damiano, he went to his father's shop and took some of the fine fabrics, selling them on the street so he could give the money to the church.

His father, Pietro, was furious. He took Francis to the bishop in the town square, accusing Francis of theft and demanding that he be forced to repay for the cloth he took. The bishop took Pietro's side and told Francis to return the money and not worry, because "God would provide." Francis not only gave his father the money, but right there in the town square he divested himself of his clothing (since it had come from his father), stripping down to just a hair shirt he had been wearing. He declared "Pietro Bernardone is no longer my father. From now on I can say with complete freedom, 'Our Father who art in heaven.'"

He walked away from town to live in the woods, a hermit with nothing. He later begged people to bring him stones and started to rebuild the crumbling San Damiano himself. He started to preach openly about returning to God and obeying the Church. People started to listen. Then they started to adopt his lifestyle, wanting to live simply, rejecting shelter and money. They slept in the open and begged for food.

Now that he had followers, Francis became concerned about the responsibilities of leadership. He now had to think about how his actions were influencing others. To do that, he had to think more deliberately about what his actions should be. He decided to open the Bible randomly and take its advice. He opened it in three places, and his inspiration formed the basis for his life and the Order he reluctantly founded. The first steps on the path to the Franciscans were taken. We will see how that turned out next.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Francis the Youth

About 1181 in Assisi in Umbria, Pica di Bourlemont gave birth to a son. Her husband, the cloth merchant Pietro Bernardone, was in France on business at the time, and returned home to find that she had named the boy Giovanni, after John the Baptist. Pietro was not happy: he did not want his son associated with religion; he wanted his son to eventually join him in business. Because Pietro had trade connections in France, he re-named his son Francesco, "Frenchman."

Francesco was a happy child, with no wants because of his father's wealth. He had a very permissive lifestyle in a permissive time and was well-liked by everyone. He took trips to France with his father, falling in love with the country and its troubadours. A natural leader, his biographer (Thomas of Celano, who knew him) said "In other respects an exquisite youth, he attracted to himself a whole retinue of young people addicted to evil and accustomed to vice."

When Assisi declared war on its neighbor, Perugia, Francesco saw an opportunity to win attention and glory. Assisi lost, horribly, and it was only Francesco's family wealth that saved him to be imprisoned and ransomed, not killed.

When the Fourth Crusade came along, Francesco saw a better opportunity for glory. He needed a horse and armor—an easy "get" for someone with his family wealth. He had the armor decorated with gold, and accompanied by a magnificent cloak. With all in place, he set off from Assisi to go and free the Holy Land.

One day out from Assisi, he had a dream in which God told him to return home. He followed the dream, even though it led to ridicule from neighbors and anger from his father for the money wasted on the armor and horse. He worked in his father's business, and waited for God's plan to unfold. He started praying more, looking for guidance. Finally, a simple yet profound moment came.

He was riding his horse through the mountains when he came upon a leper. Despite the fear of leprosy, he dismounted and kissed the leper's hand. When the kiss was reciprocated, he felt a sense of joy. Remounting and riding away, he turned to wave goodbye and could not see the leper anywhere. He saw this as a test from God that he passed.

Francesco now had a better idea of the direction of his life, but his first obstacle was his father. We'll see how that turned out tomorrow.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

John of Plano Carpini

Marco Polo is known for traveling to the Far East from Europe and observing things unknown to Europeans, but there were many travelers from Western Europe who went into unfamiliar lands for various reasons. One of these reasons was to bring Christianity to the inhabitants. The Franciscan John of Plano Carpini was one of those.

Carpini (c.1185 - 1 August 1252) was from central Italy. He was a companion of St. Francis of Assissi. In 1245, he was sent by Pope Innocent IV to the east with a letter for Ögedei Khan, who had defeated European forces four years earlier at the Battle of Legnica and almost took over all of Eastern Europe. The pope's intention was to protest the Mongol intrusion into Christendom, and to bring Christianity to the East. Incidentally, the mission could learn more about the enemy's intentions and strength.

Carpini had been at that time the Franciscan provincial in Germany. He set out with the pope's letter on Easter Day 1245 (16 April), with a fellow Franciscan, Stephen of Bohemia. They passed through Kyiv, where Stephen became ill and was left behind. They passed the rivers Dnieper, Don, and Volga; those names were first recorded by Carpini.

At the Volga they came to the camp of Batu Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan, where they were made to walk between two fires (similar—but not as dangerous—as the Ordeal of Fire endured by Peter Bartholomew) to remove any impure thoughts or poisons before they were bought before Batu. Batu sent them on to the court in Mongolia. This second part of the journey set off on Easter Day 1246 (8 April).

This was arduous, and they had suffered through Lent, melting snow for water and eating millet with salt for their sustenance. Their journey of 3000 miles took 106 days. Before they arrived at their destination, Ögedei died, and the envoys were in time to witness the instatement of the new Supreme Khan, Güyük Khan. You can see his response to the pope's letter here.

Güyük kept Carpini and his party until November, and then sent them on their way during winter. Carpini records that they often slept on ground after scraping away the snow. It took them until 10 June 1247 to reach Kyiv. From that point their journey became easier: Slavonic Christians welcomed them and treated them hospitably.

Carpini was given the archbishopric of Serbia and became papal legate to Louis IX of France, a much more comfortable task after his grueling journey eastward. He wrote a record of his trip, the Ystoria Mongalorum ("History of Mongol People"), the first European history of the Mongols. Not long after, a much more accurate account of Mongols was written by William Rubruck.

Rubruck, like Carpini, was a Franciscan. Tomorrow I will start an account of the life of their founder.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

The Cumans

Several years ago I mentioned the Codex Cumanicus, a lexicon of the Cuman language designed to help Christian missionaries preach to the Cumans. Thanks to this document, of the many variations of Turkic languages in the Middle Ages, Cuman is the best-known. They are mentioned in ancient Roman texts. Pliny the Elder mentions a fortress named Cumania in the area where there was a Cuman-Kipchak confederation (shown in yellow here) in the western part of the Eurasian Steppe.

Although they were a nomadic people, and therefore putting boundaries on their territory is a very fluid prospect, by the 11th and 12th centuries this confederation was the dominant force in the areas that are now Kazakhstan, southern Russia, Ukraine, southern Moldavia, and eastern Wallachia (in Romania).

This widespread area meant they were in contact with many others. They fought against the Kingdom of Hungary. They fought against the Byzantine Empire. They fought against each other: they were employed as mercenaries by Byzantium to fight against their ethnic cousins, the Pechenegs, with offers of gold from Emperor Alexios I. They had a specific use for gold: armor. Their higher-ranking members wore gold face plates in battle.

They were described as a handsome people, with blond hair and blue eyes. The Russian aristocracy sought Cuman women due to their beauty. Men and women both wore pants, tunics, and caftans, although women's tunics were shorter. Deep crimson was a popular color for clothing. Men shaved the tops of their heads and wore the remaining hair in braids. They wore conical hats made of felt with a broad brim or leather with fur trim. Women also wore conical hats, but with a veil that hung down the back.

A 13th century archbishop records a marriage between a Cuman princess and a Hungarian prince. Ten Cumans swore an oath that they would defend the Kingdom of Hungary. When swearing, they did so with a sword in hand, the sword touching the body of a dog that had been cut in half. A crusade historian also reports something similar: at an alliance between the Cumans and Byzantines, the Cumans had a dog walk between the two groups, then they cut the dog and had the Byzantines do the same. They swore that if the two groups failed in their oath that they would be cut in pieces.

The Cumans were overwhelmed by the Mongols in the 1230s, with the option to be destroyed or to become part of the Golden Horde. They chose the Golden Horde, and eventually blended in with other ethnic groups.

The story of the marriage above comes from one of those Christians who took an interest in the Cumans and their neighbors. Tomorrow I'll tell you about John of Plano Carpini. See you then.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

The Pechenegs

While Bishop Adhemar was traveling through Slavonia with the First Crusade, he was accosted by a group of Pechenegs. They were described in an 11th century dictionary of Turkic languages as one of a group of several Turkic nations living in Anatolia, in the Eastern Roman Empire.

The Pechenegs fought with their neighbors extensively, battling the Kievan Rus for generations. At an important battle between the Byzantine Empire and the Seljuk Turks—the Battle of Manzikert—Pecheneg mercenaries were employed by both sides! (The Turks won.)

In 1091, Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Comnenos, allied with a Cuman army, destroyed the Pechenegs as a nation at the Battle of Levounion in 1091. The Pechenegs had attacked the empire, which had been recently weakened through internal strife. Alexios' victory was the start of a Byzantine revival. The defeated Pechenegs were recruited by Alexios as a military division and settled in Macedonia. Cumans, themselves related to the Pechenegs, attacked their "cousins" in 1094, reducing their numbers.

An uprising of Pechenegs in 1122 was once again defeated by the Byzantines. Over time, those living south of the Danube were absorbed into Romanians and Bulgarians. The last recorded mention of Pechenegs was in 1168. A Byzantine historian referred to Pechenegs as "Chorni Klobuky" (Russian: "black hats"), referring to their national costume. Except for a few names of Pecheneg origin, their national identity has faded away.

So who were the Cumans, and why were they ready to ally with Byzantium against their ethnic cousins? Gold, of course. I'll explain tomorrow.

Monday, April 1, 2024

The Mugging of Bishop Adhemar

Besides sharing the story of Peter Bartholomew and his finding of the Holy Lance and his subsequent Trial by Ordeal, Raymond of Aguilers' Historia Francorum qui ceperunt Iherusalem ("History of the Franks who captured Jerusalem") offers so much more. He was attached to the retinue of Bishop of Le Puy, Adhemar, who was named papal legate and responsible for the spiritual guidance of the First Crusade. Adhemar (and Raymond) followed the army of Count Raymond IV of Toulouse.

Many Crusaders chose to head to the Holy Land by water, potentially a faster route, but prone to the changeability of the weather and severe storms. Many ships of Crusaders were lost at sea. Traveling over land had its own dangers. One was finding supplies, another was meeting up with hostile folk.

A third was meeting up with folk made hostile because you were an army that was commandeering supplies from them. The "People's Crusade," an enthusiastic and less-organized group led by Peter the Hermit—that started out early without waiting for the nobles and their armies to make better plans—alienated many of the people whose countries had to be crossed: they thought their cause would mean being welcomed and provisioned by any and all.

Count Raymond and Bishop Adhemar took the land route and had to deal with populations who were therefore understandably wary of these large Western European armies marching through their homeland. Fortunately, compared to the People's Crusade, Count Raymond's army was better able to handle opposition. That did not mean complete freedom from hostile actions, however. As Raymond records:

On a certain day, moreover, when we were in the valley of Pelagonia, the Bishop of Puy, who, in order to find a comfortable resting place, had withdrawn a little distance from the camp, was captured by the Patzinaks. They knocked him down from his mule, robbed him, and beat him severely on the head. But since so great a pontiff was still necessary to the people of God, through God’s mercy he was saved to life. For one of the Patzinaks, in order to obtain gold from him, protected him from the others. Meanwhile, the noise was heard in the camp; and so, between the delay of the enemy and the attack of his friends, he was rescued.

Adhemar survived, and reached Constantinople where Alexios I was emperor. Alexios was also very concerned about the large groups marching through his lands, even though his request to Pope Urban II for help with the Turks had been the catalyst for the Crusade. Adhemar went on to Nicaea and Antioch, where he died on 1 August 1098, never living to see Jerusalem conquered by the Europeans.

Who were the Patzinaks that attacked him? We more commonly call them the Pechenegs, and they were a thorn in the side of the Byzantine Empire in which they lived. I'll tell you who they were next time.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Raymond of Aguilers

One of our sources for the events of the First Crusade was the participant Raymond of Aguilers of Provence. Raymond was a lay canon (a lay person who has a role in the administration of a church) of the cathedral of Le Puy, and he probably joined the Crusade in the entourage of the bishop of Le Puy, Adhemar, who was also the papal legate.

During the Siege of Antioch in 1098 (pictured here: Kerbogha outside the city) he was ordained and made chaplain to Count Raymond IV of Toulouse. From his extensive Historia Francorum qui ceperunt Iherusalem ("History of the Franks who captured Jerusalem"), we learn a lot of what went on among those leading the Crusade, since he was positioned to be close to their discussions.

He was also close to the lesser population of the Crusade: he says he spent seven months sharing the sleeping quarters of Peter Bartholomew, whose story of visions and finding the Holy Lance that was used to pierce Jesus' side during the Crucifixion is told in Parts One, Two, and Three. Raymond was a firm supporter of Peter's sincerity, but even Raymond noticed that there were discrepancies between Peter's visions and the actual finding of the Lance.

Since it does not mention the demise of Raymond's patron, Count Raymond of Toulouse (28 February 1105), it is likely the Historia was probably written during the Crusade and completed shortly after, and so can be counted on as an accurate memory of events. On that score, however, we must always apply critical thinking: what motives would the medieval historian have for writing? It would be unusual to find a medieval historian who recorded events objectively. There was always an agenda to follow, such as the goodness of a patron or the holiness of an individual who deserved sainthood. Raymond is always careful to record that his observations had witnesses other than himself; however, those witnesses are often anonymous. There is circumstantial evidence that it was completed in 1101, or that at least parts were in circulation, because it is certainly a source used by Fulcher of Chartres for his history.

Raymond's original "boss," Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy, died along the way, but there's an anecdote shared by Raymond about him being "mugged." It shows how both those marching on Crusade and those whose lands were being marched through were exposed to danger. Have a Happy Easter, and I'll see you here tomorrow.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

The Holy Lance, Part Three

So Peter Bartholomew was about to undergo Trial by Ordeal to verify whether he was being honest about his visions and  discovering the Holy Lance. Two fires had been lit, each 13 feet long and four feet high with a single foot of space between them. Peter, carrying the "lance" and wearing only a light tunic, would walk between them. If he and the lance were unharmed, then it could truly be believed that his visions were real and this was the spear that had pierced the side of Jesus while on the Cross. It was 8 April 1099, Good Friday.

Raymond of Aguilers, from whom we have the details of this entire incident regarding Peter Bartholomew, was the "master of ceremonies." He announced the purpose of the test to the crowd, that Peter and the lance would be consumed if Peter were lying. To this the crowd responded "Amen."

When the flames were 40 feet high, Peter bowed before Bishop Peter of Narbonne and again swore that his visions were true. The bishop handed him the lance, and Peter walked through the flames, although at one point inside he stopped briefly.

(The illustration here is by Gustave Doré, showing he moment when Peter approaches the waiting crowd and a bishop—probably Peter of Narbonne—with the fire behind him.)

Once through, he shouted Deus adjuva! "God help (me)." The crowd was amazed and elated, and rushed toward him. Some rushed to grab sticks from the fire as souvenirs of the miracle. He was surrounded by a mass of supporters.

He was dead by 20 April.

What happened? According to Raymond of Aguilers, the burns were minimal. He was, however, physically wounded in the crowd that surrounded him after the ordeal. Was it accidental? Crushed in the throng? Raymond says his spine was shattered; also, that his legs were cut three or four times. The theory is that, even though the trial was doable—the pause inside the flames, Peter says, was because Christ spoke to him—he had detractors among the nobles because of the way he tried to trade on his popularity and criticize the Crusade's leaders and take over the spiritual leadership. These detractors had their agents in the crowd, with the intent to make sure he did not survive the day, even if he survived the ordeal. Maybe God was on his side, but he had made human enemies that were determined to eliminate him. In the crowd that rushed to him after he came through the fire there were men with knives who cut him.

We have this story in far more detail than I have shared here thanks to Raymond of Aguilers, who wrote a history of this part of the Crusade. I want to talk more about his role as a historian and participant, next time.

Friday, March 29, 2024

The Holy Lance, Part Two

After the "finding" of the Holy Lance, the Crusaders in Antioch felt emboldened to break the siege around the city by Kerbogha, the atabeg of Mosul.

Peter the Hermit was sent to Kerbogha to suggest settling the conflict with a duel, but Kerbogha declined. A different Peter, Peter Bartholomew, whose "visions" led to the "buried" "Lance," joined the fight against the Muslims. Unknown to the Crusaders, Kerbogha's army had some internal conflicts and was not as powerful as it appeared. His superiors decided to teach the arrogant Kerbogha a lesson by not sending reinforcements. Kerbogha was forced to retreat to Mosul.

Inside Antioch afterward, the issue of the Holy Lance was re-examined, even though some attributed their military victory to its presence. Peter Bartholomew's vision of the Lance suggested it was buried just below the surface, but teams of men dug far down without success, until Peter went alone into the hole and "found" the lance point sticking up from the ground. Even though Peter's vision predicted a win against the Muslims, there were those who questioned Peter's truthfulness. One was papal legate Adhemar of Le Puy, who may have already been aware that a piece of the Lance was said to be in Constantinople. 

Then, Adhemar died from plague on 1 August 1098, and Peter put himself forward as the spiritual leader on the Crusade. Peter actually claimed that Adhemar appeared to him in a vision and said he had suffered in Hell for three days because he had doubted the discovery of the Lance.

Peter claimed that Christ told him the Crusaders must march barefoot to Jerusalem, and other visions from Jesus and St. Andrew expressed anger at the sins of the Crusaders. When his further visions were ignored, and the veracity of the Lance was questioned, Peter volunteered to submit to a Trial by Ordeal to prove his innocence.

As a result, he went through trial by fire on 8 April 1099, which was Good Friday*. Peter would walk through a fire. Two piles of dry olive branches were made, four feet high and 13 feet long, with a one-foot space between them for Peter to walk through. Peter came to the trial wearing a simple tunic and prepared to walk through, carrying the Lance. If both appeared unharmed after the ordeal, he would be vindicated.

..and I will leave you there until tomorrow.

*Coincidentally this post has been made on Good Friday in 2024.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

The Holy Lance, Part One

One of the "side-effects" of the Crusades was allowing Western Europeans to look for artifacts connected to the Bible and the life of Jesus. One member of the First Crusade claimed to have found one of those artifacts.

Peter Bartholomew was a French peasant from Provençe who, while on Crusade, began having visions. He functioned as a soldier after the capture of Antioch on 10 June 1098 when reinforcements came from Muslims, and in the ensuing siege of the city, suffered from famine like the rest of the Christian occupiers. In this weakened state, he had visions of St. Andrew, which he shared with the Crusade's leaders.

In the visions, St. Andrew took him to the Church of St. Peter inside Antioch and showed him the resting place of the Holy Lance. This was the spear of the Roman soldier called Longinus who used it to pierce the side of Jesus while on the Cross. (The True Cross was another relic that was found in the east.) The leaders were skeptical, and Peter warned them that their disbelief would cost them three days in hell's fires. As Peter's news spread to the rest of the army, excitement grew, and the boost in morale was seen as a good thing, so Peter's story wasn't challenged. The visions also singled Raymond of Toulouse out for a special role in the Crusade. (Although Raymond would make a more humble decision later.)

Raymond and 12 select men went to the place where the Lance was supposedly buried and began digging. After a day of digging, they found nothing. Peter's vision claimed that he had seen St. Andrew place the lance in the ground; it should have been closer to the surface, but a day's worth of digging found nothing. Another twelve were chosen to continue digging, but they found nothing.

Peter was then dropped into the hole to see for himself. He urged everyone above to pray, and while they were praying and no one could see him clearly, Peter shouted the discovery of the Lance, its point sticking up from the earth.

This was fortuitous, but also questionable. As with the visions themselves initially, the sudden discovery by Peter alone was hard to believe and yet a source of great joy and morale for the troops. A letter was even sent to Pope Urban II from Bohemund of Taranto mentioning the Lance and that its presence emboldened the troops.

This morale boost was important, because Antioch was surrounded by the forces of Kerbogha, the atabeg of Mosul. The next step for the Crusaders (and a test for the importance of the finding of the Lance), came next. I'll tell you about it tomorrow. And we are not done with Peter Bartholomew.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Trial by Ordeal

Trial by Ordeal took many forms in the ancient world and the Middle Ages. In a sense, it was an appeal to God to reveal the culprit. In Old English it was called Godes dōm, "God's doom/judgement"; in Latin it was known as jūdicium Deī.

One simple method was cruentation, from Latin ius cruentationis, "law of bleeding," used in Germanic law. The belief behind cruentation was that the corpse of a murder victim would indicate the presence of its murderer by moving or spouting blood. It was used into the 18th century, even though after the Lutheran Reformation the application of a religious test in law was rejected in Denmark and Norway.

Another approach to Trial by Ordeal was the idea that God would not allow an innocent person to suffer. The accused would plunge his or her hands into boiling water, or carry red hot iron. Ordeal by fire was also tried, with the person walking at least three paces or walking across nine feet of coals. Of course this would produce burns, but they would be bandaged and re-examined in three days' time. A priest would then judge whether God had chosen to heal the innocent person's burns or let the guilty person's worsen and fester.

In Constantinople, before Michael VIII Paleologos (1224 - 1282) became emperor, he was accused of treason by Emperor John III Vatatzes and was ordered to go through trial by fire. He said he would hold the red-hot iron if the metropolitan bishop Phokas would take the hot iron from the altar with his own hands and place it in Michael's. This the bishop refused to do; the idea that innocents would not also be harmed by red-hot iron helped to discredit the practice. In fact, when Michael became emperor, he abolished the practice.

Pope Innocent III at the Lateran Council of 1215 forbade priests to take part in such things, and promoted compurgation instead.

The Byzantine Empire got the idea of trial by ordeal from the West, as the Crusades brought Western Europe ideas to Constantinople. One example they would have witnessed was the French mystic Peter Bartholomew, who submitted himself to ordeal by fire to prove his sincerity about a claim considered outlandish by others. What was he trying to prove, and how did it turn out? I'll tell you tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

William of Norwich

The first case in England of "blood libel" (although more precisely it was only child sacrifice) was the case of William of Norwich, who died about 22 March 1144. The Peterborough Chronicle, an attempt to continue the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, had this to report:

In his time the Jews of Norwich bought a Christian child before Easter, and tortured him with all the same tortures with which our Lord was tortured, and on Long-Friday hanged him on a cross for love of our Lord, and afterwards buried him—imagined that it would be concealed, but our Lord showed that he was a holy martyr, and the monks took him, and buried him reverently in the minster, and through our Lord he performs wonderful and manifold miracles; and he is called St. William.

Here is what really happened. William was an apprentice to a tanner, whose body was found on Holy Saturday 1144 in Thorpe Wood, north of Norwich. An accusation was made by William's family against Jews currently living in the city, so Bishop William de Turbeville decided to investigate. He summoned members of the Jewish community to his court to endure trial by ordeal.

Before the bishop could subject his "guests" to trials, however, Sheriff John de Chesney showed up and stopped any proceedings, since the bishop had no legal authority to do so. Jews were considered to be under the king's protection (at that time, Stephen of Blois): the Angevin kings respected the money-lending (and money-taking) opportunities their presence afforded the crown.

Bishop de Turbeville moved the body to the monastery cemetery and tried to declare William a martyr and create a cult around him for the sake of attention and donations to the church, but it was slow going. There was no evidence that Jews were involved, so no great public execution or punishment of any kind that would cause a sensation.

The bishop was not ready to give up, however. He encouraged a Benedictine monk, Thomas of Monmouth, to write a book about the event. Thomas's The Life and Miracles of St William of Norwich contained two chapters on his life and five chapters on miracles performed in his name afterward. Thomas created a story of a converted Jew who became a monk, Theobald of Cambridge, who explains to Thomas that the "ancient writings of his fathers" required an annual killing of a Christian. "Theobald" explains that this killing was ordered by a Jew in Narbonne, France, who claimed to be the Messiah.

Since the Jews at this time in Norwich had been there just under a decade, and came from Normandy, they were French-speaking, so the connection to Narbonne made sense to some. No one, however, seemed to notice that there was no evidence of an annual killing caused by Jews stretching back to the time of "ancient fathers." William's family was Anglo-Saxon, and there were many conflicts between indigenous Anglo-Saxons and the recently arrived Norman folk.

The cult of William of Norwich did not make Norwich rich, but it persisted. The bishop moved the body a few times, each time putting it in a more prominent place, ending up in a chapel built on the spot where the boy's body was found.

But now for a topic a little less grisly: when the bishop wanted to subject the Jews to trial by ordeal, what might that have entailed? There were many possible trial ideas, and I'll share them tomorrow.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Bury St. Edmunds' Darkest Day

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, so let's talk about a terrible Palm Sunday (18 March) event in 1190 in the English town of Bury St. Edmunds. We can probably blame the head of the local abbey for this. Abbot Samson of Tottington wanted to make sure his abbey was financially stable. His profligate predecessor, Hugh, borrowed a lot of money from Jews, and those debts with interest needed repayment. Several years earlier, the incident of Robert of Bury gave the abbey a chance to create a shrine to the martyred boy that would draw visitors and donations.

It was not uncommon that those in debt would stir up anti-Jewish sentiment and through death or false imprisonment of Jews manage to cancel their debts. Samson saw this option, but he also had another "problem" with Jews: by order of the king, Jews were allowed to practice their non-Christianity. The abbot was accustomed to have rights over the town similar to the king's rule over the country. The Jews were a threat to his authority, since they did not fall under it.

On Palm Sunday, preachers spoke out so strongly against the Jews that the congregation went out of the church to the Jewish quarter and dragged out from their homes and killed 57 Jewish men, women, and children. Part of the preacher's instigation was likely the memory of the death of Robert of Bury, whose shrine still exists in the crypt of the abbey church.

Abbot Samson then decreed that all Jews would be expelled from the town.

Later that same year was the massacre at Clifford's Tower in York.

In 2011, a medieval well was found to have 17 skeletons in it, all dating to the 12th or 13th centuries. Eleven of the 17 skeletons were of children. DNA analysis suggests that they were all Ashkenazi Jews and likely part of the massacre in 1190.

The story of Robert of Bury lacks any definitive records that have come down to us—such as arrest records—so it has been suggested that the frequent references to it are part of a growing story that was pushed to help justify Abbot Samson's and Bury St. Edmunds' actions.

In the abbey gardens there is now a memorial to the Holocaust that also specifically commemorates the 57 Jews killed in 1190.

And on the subject of child martyrs, we have not yet discussed the original example of blood libel in England, the story of William of Norwich. After we look at that tomorrow, we will move on to less grisly stories.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Robert of Bury

In the second half of the 12th century there was a monk in the town of Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk named Jocelyn de Brakelond. He became chaplain under Abbot Samson of Tottington. Jocelyn says he was with Samson "night and day" for six years. Jocelyn left behind some writing about his times, in which he refers to other things he has written that are no longer extant. One is the story of Robert of Bury and his miracles.

Robert was an English boy who died in 1181. The legend says he was kidnapped on Good Friday and killed by crucifixion to parallel Jesus' death. The details—and they are few—have to be cobbled together, but they are another example of blood libel.

In the following century, the chronicler John de Taxter mentions the murder taking place in 1181 (our only source for the date). Jocelyn's only surviving reference to the event tells us "the saintly boy Robert was murdered and buried in our church; many signs and wonders were performed among the people as I have recorded elsewhere." Whatever this other record was, it has not survived.

The story spread, however. Later mentions of it say he was martyred at Easter, or that he was "crucified by the Jews." The monk John Lydgate wrote a poem called Prayer for St. Robert that implies the death paralleled that of William of Norwich, another child saint, and suggests there was a Christian accomplice. An illustration made to accompany the poem in the 15th century has images that might make sense to those who had heard the story, but that we cannot interpret properly.

In the illustration (shown above), a woman is holding a child over a well. The inscription reads "the old woman wished, but was not able, to hide the light of God." Was she the Christian accomplice? Did she later turn the boy over to Jews to get rid of him? Or is this an act post-death, in which she tries to hide the body. Was the 15th century Lydgate conflating the story of Robert of Bury with the 13th century story of Little St. Hugh of Lincoln, found in a well? The illustration also shows an archer firing an arrow into the air while the body of Robert lies behind a tree; the symbolism of this escapes us. (I wonder if there was a story in which someone prays and fires an arrow which leads them to the body.) In another part, a kneeling monk prays.

Some historians believe the story of Harold of Gloucester showed the value of having a child martyr's shrine that would lead to visitors and donations. There are no details about Robert of Bury, his family, or arrests; there is only the public blame put on Jews and a shrine created at Bury St. Edmunds.

Another theory suggests that the cult of Robert the child martyr was enhanced and expanded years later to retroactively justify an action that took place in 1190, referred to as Bury St. Edmunds' Darkest Day. I'll explain tomorrow.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Harold of Gloucester

Our next example of the accusation of blood libel is Harold of Gloucester. As with similar cases of "child martyrs," the body was found and the search was on for the perpetrator. Harold's was the second significant case in the timeline of English Jewry.

Harold's body was found floating in the river after having disappeared on 21 February in 1168. Benedictines claimed that he had been spirited away by Jews and kept until 16 March, when they tortured and killed him. They claimed that marks on the child's body showed that he had been subjected to a crown of thorns and a crucifixion.

As it happens, there were a number of Jews who were not residents of Gloucester who had gathered there to celebrate a brit milah, a bris, the ritual of circumcision for a newborn. The temporary increase in the Jewish population leant credence to the idea that Harold was kidnapped for a special ritual. Accounts of the incident made by Christian writers place it during Easter, but the dates don't line up with Easter in 1144.

This incident, although it endured (see the illustration for evidence that modern merchandising has not "let it go"), did not cause as big a stir as that of Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln. There is no record of any Jews being arrested, much less tried, convicted, or executed. Also, there was no royal involvement, as there was with Hugh when Henry III was consulted on the case. Just as Hugh's death may have been played up in order to create a shrine for Lincoln Cathedral and draw worshippers and donations, the incident of Harold's death might have had an additional, "practical" facet. Accusations against the Jews may be why the Jews of Gloucester made loans to Richard "Strongbow" de Clare for the conquest of Ireland.

After Harold but before Hugh there was Robert of Bury, whose death spawned a full-fledged cult of worship. I'll tell you that story next time.

Friday, March 22, 2024

"Blood Libel"

The death of Hugh of Lincoln led to the arrests of so many Jews because of the belief in "blood libel": that the Jews stole/kidnapped/murdered Christians to use their blood in Jewish rituals.

Where this idea started—and why it was readily believed—is hard to pin down. A 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia called the Souda has an entry that "every seven years the Jews captured a stranger, brought him to the temple in Jerusalem, and sacrificed him, cutting his flesh into bits." A 5th century story by Socrates Scholasticus 

Some thought that the Jews were recreating the Crucifixion, but stories of Jews sacrificing non-Jews are older than Christianity. The 1st century Greco-Egyptian writer Apion told the story of Mithridates entering a temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE and finding a Greek held captive who explained that he was being fattened for sacrifice.

Blood libel accusations in medieval Europe increased at the time of the Crusades, when pro-Christian/anti-Jewish sentiment was spiking. The Crusades also included attempts to force conversion on Jews which were countered by Jews killing their own children to prevent them from suffering conversion. If Jews could kill their own children, the thinking went, then they would have no trouble killing others' children. (In fact, collective homicide/suicide goes back to Masada and was seen more recently—"recent" compared to the Hugh of Lincoln incident, that is—in the Clifford's Tower incident.

There was, of course, a known precedent for Jews to cause children to bleed, and that was the bris, the circumcision ceremony. One such ceremony was tied to another accusation of blood libel. As grisly as the concept is, I want to give some more examples of "little saints" like William of Norwich and Robert of Bury. First, however, let's discuss the case of Harold of Gloucester, where the accusation led to no real action except a war? I'll try to make sense of that tomorrow.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln

The murder of a child is a particularly heinous act that tugs at the heart strings. In the eyes of society, the murderer of a child must be a particularly horrible individual. The death of a small English boy in 1255 created a story that stuck in the cultural memory right up until modern times.

On 31 July 1255, nine-year-old Hugh disappeared in Lincoln. A month later, on 29 August, his body was discovered in a well. The search for the murderer was on, and attention turned to the segment of society that was often blamed for criminal acts: Jews.

John of Lexington, brother to the Bishop of Lincoln, imprisoned a local Jew named Copin, accusing him of the murder and offering him amnesty from execution in exchange for a confession. John supposedly convinced King Henry III to this amnesty deal, even though there was no evidence that Copin actually committed the deed. Henry arrived in Lincoln a month after the arrest of Copin. He ordered Copin executed, and then had 90 randomly selected Jews arrested and taken to the Tower of London for an investigation and trial about the murder. Eighteen of the Jews refused to participate in the trial, claiming it was a sham, and were hanged for their refusal.

As for the remaining Jews: a Dominican friar helped free one, John, who had converted to Christianity. The remainder were condemned to execution, but Dominicans—no doubt understanding that it was highly unlikely that there was actual guilt involved—pleaded for their lives and they were released.

Matthew Paris created a colorful, detailed, and wholly fictitious scene about the death:

This year [1255] about the feast of the apostles Peter and Paul [27 July], the Jews of Lincoln stole a boy called Hugh, who was about eight years old. After shutting him up in a secret chamber, where they fed him on milk and other childish food, they sent to almost all the cities of England in which there were Jews, and summoned some of their sect from each city to be present at a sacrifice to take place at Lincoln, in contumely and insult of Jesus Christ. For, as they said, they had a boy concealed for the purpose of being crucified; so a great number of them assembled at Lincoln, and then they appointed a Jew of Lincoln judge, to take the place of Pilate, by whose sentence, and with the concurrence of all, the boy was subjected to various tortures. They scourged him till the blood flowed, they crowned him with thorns, mocked him, and spat upon him; each of them also pierced him with a knife, and they made him drink gall, and scoffed at him with blasphemous insults, and kept gnashing their teeth and calling him Jesus, the false prophet. And after tormenting him in diverse ways they crucified him, and pierced him to the heart with a spear. When the boy was dead, they took the body down from the cross, and for some reason disemboweled it; it is said for the purpose of their magic arts.

There had been previous "martyrs" whose deaths had been blamed on Jews, but the case of Hugh had royal involvement which elevated it to legendary status. A shrine was built at Lincoln Cathedral to the little martyr and "little saint," drawing visitors and donations. This may well have been Lexington's motivation for turning the child's death into a martyrdom at Jewish hands, acting on his brother's behalf, to increase traffic and money to Lincoln.

Why did Paris' description involve so many Jews? Why were 90 Jews rounded up by the king? Why was it assumed that there was more involvement than just a single murderer? To understand that, we have to talk about one of the most ridiculous accusations against medieval Jewry, the belief in "blood libel." See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Financing a War

When Simon de Montfort wanted to kick off the Second Barons War, he needed funding. One of the easiest ways for most medieval Europeans to free up money was to force a cancellation of debts to the Jews. Since many of these debts were owed by Montfort's baronial friends, their gratitude would extend to supporting him against King Henry III.

One of the barons' demands of Henry was that he write off the Jewish debts. This he would not do: Henry used occasional tallages (taxes) on the Jews to fund his own endeavors. His healthy balance sheet needed Jews to be able to collect what was owed them so that he could access take it.

In April of 1264, Montfort encouraged his followers and others to begin widespread persecution and even execution of the Jews, destroying their records of debt. One of the main centers of the Jewish population in England was in Canterbury, where about 20 Jewish households accounted for about 100 or so Jews. There had been, in fact, a widespread persecution of the Jews a couple years earlier, when lay and clerical citizens attacked and burned some of their houses, although no one was killed that time.

A member of Montfort's rebellion, the brutal Gilbert de Clare, occupied Canterbury and instigated "The Massacre of the Jews." An unknown number of Jews were killed and their property looted, and several Jewish women were forcibly baptized. Any remaining Jews fled Canterbury. The most prominent member of the Canterbury Jewry was Solomon, son of Josce. When he returned in 1265 (he fled abroad during the troubles), Henry III returned his property to him.

Montfort's son Henry and the 6th Earl of Derby, Robert Ferrers, led a pogrom that killed all the Jews in Worcester. Montfort's son Simon led the attacks in Winchester. In London, a chief Montfort supporter, John Fitz John, led the attacks and is said to have killed two of the leading Jewish figures with his bare hands; a total of 500 Jews in London were killed. In 1264 and 1265, attacks were made in Lincoln and Cambridge, and financial records were destroyed.

Anti-Jewish sentiment was always bubbling just under the surface, looking for a reason to burst forth and lead to atrocities. There were often single incidents that were blamed on the Jews. Even if that blame was proven false, the ill feeling left its mark and was ready to be invoked to justify later attacks. One such that stayed in the public consciousness and could not be expunged was the story of little Saint Hugh of Lincoln, which I will share with you tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

War Comes to Oxford

By the early 1260s, Oxford had become a place where scholars went to teach and learn. Violence was not unknown, as conflicts between students and townspeople were common. Town vs. Gown is not only a common phrase to express this conflict, it was the very first post in this blog.

Oxford became a center for another conflict, however, at the same time that the colleges of Balliol and Merton were beginning. This conflict was a little more widespread and is called the Second Barons War.

The First Barons War was a rebellion against King John and led to the Magna Carta in 1215. John's son Henry III had his own troubles with the barons who were always looking for ways to increase their own power and reduce the king's authority. Simon de Montfort, the 6th Earl of Leicester, in April 1263 called fellow barons to meet him at Oxford where they discussed rebellion against Henry's policies.

Oxford was a significant meeting place, because a few years earlier it was the site of the Provisions of Oxford, a series of reforms forced on Henry in 1258 in exchange for the barons agreeing to shore up the royal treasury (Henry had depleted it fighting in Sicily on behalf of the pope). The barons and their armies marched on London and trapped Henry in the Tower, taking him prisoner. Montfort took over the government, but his authority did not last long and Henry escaped.

Henry reached out to Louis IX of France to arbitrate. Simon de Montfort agreed to this. Louis declared the Provisions of Oxford annulled in January 1264. Henry prepared for the inevitable breakdown of negotiations and took his forces to Oxford (more centrally located than London) and made it his military headquarters. On 12 March in 1264 he suspended all teaching until Michaelmas (29 September).

Montfort, wishing to make sure he had funds to fight a war, did what many medieval nobles did: he made sure people would have money and be grateful to give it to him by eliminating their cash debts. He did this by attacks against Jews, the moneylenders, and therefore ensuring that debts would not have to be repaid. Let us go into some of the specific atrocities tomorrow.