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Monday, November 28, 2022

Crusaders, Pilgrims and Militant Monks

 One of the unique features of the population of the Holy Land in the crusader era was the number of transients. In almost any year, tens of thousands of people who did not intend to remain in the Holy Land were temporarily present. Yet despite the itinerant status, they all contributed to the face of the crusader states. 

The first Franks in the Holy Land were the participants of the First Crusade, and the vast majority of these returned to the West. In the succeeding 200 years, waves of crusaders periodically swept over the Holy Land. The overwhelming majority of these men likewise returned to their homes after the military campaign ended. In addition to the participants in organised military expeditions, individual fighting men made the journey to the Holy Land as ‘armed pilgrims’ for reasons of personal penance, sometimes voluntarily and other times imposed by a confessor. These men joined in ongoing military actions or participated in local operations before returning home when their penance was completed. All of these men can be called ‘Franks’ yet need to be distinguished from the permanent Frankish population of the crusader states because of the transient character of their stay in the Holy Land. While they temporarily swelled the military forces available to the armies of the Frankish states, they retained Western European perspectives and identities.

The same is true of the many unarmed pilgrims who flooded the Holy Land between 1100 and 1291. The numbers of pilgrims who made the long and dangerous journey to the Holy Land in this period are astounding. Just three years after Jerusalem returned to Christian control, more than one thousand pilgrims were killed in a single storm when twenty-three pilgrim ships were wrecked off Jaffa harbor. Yet that was a period when most pilgrims travelled on cargo ships, which could take no more than fifty passengers. Within a few decades, special pilgrim ships with a passenger capacity of 200 were in operation, and by the thirteenth century, the pilgrim ships could take up to 1,500 passengers. The military orders transported 6,000 pilgrims per year from the port of Marseilles alone. Presumably they transported similar numbers from the Italian ports and Sicily, while the bulk of the pilgrim traffic traveled in commercial vessels. The number of religious tourists to the Holy Land easily exceeded fifteen thousand annually.

The pilgrim ships left Western Europe in two waves each year, one in the spring and another in the fall. Although ships generally travelled independently, within a few weeks of one another, hundreds of ships brought thousands of pilgrims to the ports of the Levant, predominantly Acre, but also Haifa, Caesarea and Jaffa. Pilgrims also came overland. They came from every Christian country in the world. There were Ethiopians, Egyptians and North Africans, Armenians and Georgians, Norwegians, Scotsmen, Hungarians, and citizens of the semi-independent Italian city-states and all the component parts of the Holy Roman Empire. Unlike the crusaders, who were by definition fighting men, many pilgrims were women. Some women accompanied their husbands, fathers or brothers; others came solo, many as widows and nuns. Male or female, most pilgrims remained in the east only one season, i.e., about six months; very few stayed more than a year. They contributed considerably to the local economy, yet they were visitors, not residents.

Members of the military orders were the last type of transient resident in the crusader states. The military orders were a new form of religious institution that enabled men to be both monks and knights. While members of these orders were expected to renounce all wealth, attend mass multiple times a day, fast, pray and eat in silence, and for the most part live in controlled communities segregated from the secular world (especially women), members were not required to give up the profession of arms. Rather, these orders were designed to capture the religious zeal of the time and funnel the fervor and energy of fighting men into religious channels. This spirit of militant Christianity gave birth to no fewer than seventeen military orders, eight on the Iberian Peninsula, two in what is now Italy, and two in German-speaking Europe in addition to the orders founded in the Holy Land. The most famous and powerful of the militant orders were the Templars, the Hospitallers, the Teutonic Knights and to a lesser extent the Knights of St. Lazarus, all of which were established in the crusader states.

The individual history of these orders is beyond the scope of this book. The point here is that, although the raison d’être of both the Templars and Hospitallers was to defend of the Holy Land and the Christian pilgrims that visited it, they were not subject to local ecclesiastical or secular authority; neither the King nor the patriarch could command the Templars, Hospitallers, or Teutonic Knights. Furthermore, while these orders maintained a standing presence in the Holy Land and garrisoned key castles, the individual members of these orders were drawn from around the world, and their sojourn in the Holy Land was temporary. The affiliation and loyalty of members of the militant orders were to their respective order, not the crusader states.

The bulk of this entry is an excerpt from Dr. Schrader's comprehensive study of the crusader states.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades.


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