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ORIGIN OF THE CRUSADES. A.D. 622-1090.
GREAT events in history are seldom sudden and spontaneous in their origin. They may commonly be traced to causes long anterior to themselves. This, beyond all question, was the case with the transactions we are now about to consider. Their hidden source is to be sought four hundred years before they transpired.
The origin of the Crusades is to be found in the rise and progress of Mohammedanism, which, propagating itself by force of arms, at one period threatened either to extirpate all the nations of Christendom, or to subdue them to its own despotic dominion. The spirit of Mohammedanism was essentially the spirit of conquest; and its conquests were multiplied with the most astonishing rapidity. Within a brief period it penetrated to the very heart of Europe. The whole of Christendom was thrown
into the utmost consternation, and, but for the signal victory of the illustrious Charles Martel, who completely defeated an army of four hundred thousand Moslems, the very existence of Christianity would, according to human appearance, have been endangered.*
The Mohammedans of the east, therefore, and the professed Christians of the west, were arrayed in the most determined hostility against cach other. A bitter rivalry subsisted between them. From the end of the seventh century up to the period of the Crusades, Christianity had been struggling against Mohammedanism. After being dangerously menaced, it had conquered it in Europe, and confined it to Spain. Thence also it constantly strove to expel it. In the Crusades this grand struggle was at its height. This was the great crisis in the conflict between these two social and religious systems. †
Towards the period at which the Crusades commenced, however, numerous other influences combined to originate the enterprise. The age was one of intense feeling, in which religious ideas though they were corrupt and erroneous-were completely in the ascendant. The arts and sciences were confined to the monastic cell. The clergy were the sole instructors of the people. Christianity was disrobed of her heavenly majesty, and decked out in false and meretricious ornaments. Its hallowed name
*Schlegel's Philosophy of History, Lecture XII. † Cuizot's History of Civilization in Europe, Lecture v11.
was associated with the most abominable superstitions, and the grossest crimes. Still, such as they were, religious influences were predominant. Religion was a ruling passion of the times. But, amidst the abject superstition which prevailed, the military spirit, also, had universally diffused itself. All the great lords possessed the right of peace and war. They were engaged in perpetual hostilities with each other. Valour was the only excellence which was held in esteem, and which gave one man the pre-eminence above another.*
The Crusades were in character with the age to which they belonged. It was the age of chivalry. The order of knighthood was esteemed the highest earthly distinction. Kings received it: all coveted it. The object of every young man's ambition was one day to become a knight. This institution was at once the embodiment of the two ruling passions under the influence of which the Crusades were undertaken. The religious and the warlike spirit -contradictory as it may seem were both combined in chivalry. The principal church of the city was the place where the ceremony of the ancient knights' investiture was solemnized. Bishops and clergy, as well as knights and nobles, were present on the occasion. The high mass was chanted, and the novice approaching the altar, presented the sword to the priest to be blessed and consecrated to the cause of religion and of virtue. Nor was it * Hume's History of England, vol. i.
until the youthful aspirant had plighted his vow, to spare neither his blood nor his life in defence of the Catholic faith, that the object of his ambition was gained, and that the honour of knighthood was conferred.* At no other than at such a period could such a movement as the Crusades have had an existence. It needed the very elements which were then diffused throughout society to originate it.
Nothing, however, contributed more powerfully to criginate the Crusades, than the superstitious veneration with which the land of Palestine was regarded throughout Christendom, and the passion for pilgrimage which, from a very early period, had prevailed. In the fourth century, Jerusalem was visited by Constantine, who, with his mother Helena, attempted to fix the spot where their newly-adopted faith had found its cradle and reared its stage. From that time forward it became a practice among Christians to resort to the holy city, tracing the memorials of the labours, and sufferings, and death of the Redeemer of mankind. At length, as Christianity became increasingly corrupt, and as the doctrine of human merit, and of the efficacy of ceremonial performances gained the ascendency, a pilgrimage to these scenes of hallowed interest was regarded as a work of exalted piety, certain of receiving a glorious recompense. Such pilgrimages, therefore, were greatly multiplied, and the feelings of reverence
*James's History of Chivalry, chap. ii.
Histoire des Croisades, par M. Michaud, tom. i. p. 2.
with which the whole region of Judæa was contemplated were of the most enthusiastic kind. The Christian votary wandered amidst the ancient glories of Mount Zion with a transport of delight. "All dear to him," to adopt the language of an eloquent writer;" all inestimable to him was interwoven with her suburban villages and adjacent districts. Gate and street, upland and dell, were holy. The atmosphere was holy; whose breath had drawn it, and whose voice had thrilled it? That ground was holy; whose foot had trod it, and whose form had shadowed it? That stream was holy; whose lip had tasted it, and whose sigh had mingled with its murmur? Holy was desert, garden, mount. Holy was court, tribunal, pillar. Holy was the way to the scene of that death on which the votary hung his eternal hopes. Holy was the recess of that sepulchre whose empty cavern was his boast. All as he gazed upon the panorama of Zion was renewed. All filled him with anguish, veneration, joy. The heart dilated to each horizon, and, as the picture spread, a solemn reality was stamped upon it, and it became a passing, living scene.' Besides this sacred interest in the city itself, other influences combined, about the tenth century, to multiply the number of pilgrimages to Jerusalem. A general belief prevailed that the end of the world was at hand, and all became desirous of visiting the spot where it was expected Christ would appear for "judgment;"
Robertson's History of Charles v., vol. i. sec. 1.