1095 Pope Urban II convened the Council of Clermont and, in the
final hours of the conference of prelates, called for the First
Crusade. Click here for more on the First Crusade
painted a picture of the oppression of the Christian church in the
Holy Lands and challenged the knights of Christendom to throw off
the yoke of the saracen (Muslim) oppression. Urban was
calculating that such a war against the Muslim infidels would put
an end to the fratricidal wars in feudal Europe and stop the
threats made against the holy orders by rapacious nobility.
The cheers that greeted Urban II's call ushered in two centuries of
crusades whose troublesome legacy is with us to this day.
The pope's xenophobic references
to 'saracen foreigners' became the central idea within the colonial
discourse that dominated the papacy throughout the crusades - the
assertion that spiritual grace made possible and legitimated
lordship in the secular sphere, and the notion that heathens and
infidels lacked rights to property. This latter idea, first
applied by the church against Muslims in the Holy Lands, would have
enormous consequences centuries later when agents of European
monarchs began laying claim to foreign lands during the Discovery
Era in the 15th century.
By all accounts, crusading
knights were murderous, superstitious, and notoriously
adulterous. Their main source of power came from
ecclesiastical centers of power, such as the Vatican.
Click here for more on knighthood
A young knight was literally
bathed in 'holy water', dressed in a pure white garb including a
chastity belt, and required to pray throughout the night prior to
his official welcoming while laying his weapons before the
alter. After making his confession, a priest would dedicate
the knight's skill and weapons to the service of the Father, the
Son, and the Holy Spirit. The new warrior would then be eager
to take part in tournaments to test his mettle and build his
reputation. Great valor shown in a crusade was one of a
knight's means of securing a place in heaven.