I apologize in advance to those here who have already assiduously learned these Medieval history lessons and find them redundant in their intellectual ordnance. If you know the facts on the much-maligned Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades — and their historic relationship to Western civilization from your own investigation, you may skip this article. But if you only think you know and have depended for your knowledge on the usual pabulum of standard contemporary education, you should read on.
The Spanish Inquisition was, in fact, more of a national instrument than a religious persecution. Careful, painstaking research in the last century has concluded that the exaggerations by both Protestants and enemies of the Christian church have resulted in a contrived propaganda war, a largely created “Black Legend.”(1) As such, the alleged infamy of the Inquisition has been much inflated, used as a tool of anti-Christian propaganda in particular to discredit Catholic Spain and the Catholic Church. Take for instance, the burning of heretics and witches in Protestant Geneva, German Principalities, and Scotland, were more cruel and much worse than those carried out by Tomas de Torquemada and the autos de fe of the Spanish Inquisition (SI). Taken in the proper historical comparative context, neither Spain nor the Catholic Church have anything to apologize for in the SI. Consider the following statistics that have come about from ongoing investigation of the Inquisition files available to the scholars seeking the truth: The best estimate is between 3,5000 persons were executed by the Spanish Inquisition in all of the 350 years of its existence. This compares much more favorably than the approximate 150,000 “witches,” who were burnt at the stakes or were killed by other means in the rest of Europe, mostly Protestant countries in Northern Europe, Germany, England, Scotland, and Scandinavia.
Despite the condemnation of torture attributed to the SI, the fact is that only 2% of victims of the SI were tortured and usually for less than 15 minutes. The Inquisition had written instructions that were to be followed rigidly. Only 1% were tortured a second time. The Iron maiden execution method, for example, was never used Spain, but used in Germany. Protestant England and Scotland killed ten times as many heretics and witches, as did Spain and all her colonies with heretics. The Catholic Church looked the other way and was forgiving and humane towards “witches.” Prisoners in Spain begged to be jailed by the holy inquisition than by the secular powers.
The truth is that while Spain used her conquering armies during the 15th through the early 17th centuries to subdue the world and expand her empire, the northern European Protestant countries were using their printing presses to calumniate Spain. They used propaganda and forgeries that claim Spain’s holy inquisition had tortured and executed hundreds of thousands. This calumniating propaganda, which Spain called the Black legend, was then extended to demonize King Philip II, as a monster who had even killed his son Don Carlos, supposedly a would-be-liberator of Flanders, as portrayed in one of Verdi’s operas. In reality, Don Carlos was an unmanageable adolescent, deranged and probably insane, he had not political ties and died in an accident.
It is time the truth be told and that the immense, incalculable contribution of Spain and the Catholic Church to Western civilization be recognized.
During the Dark Ages it was the Christian church that held Western civilization together, a civilization based on the twin pillars of a Greco-Roman legacy and a Judeo-Christian inheritance. And so by citing one, two, or three various isolated incidents by the church over a period of centuries, can anyone in the balance judge the net contribution of the church to civilization as maleficent? If you think so, you have been brainwashed by the secular, public school system. The United States of America is the culmination of Western civilization. That is why USA bashers likewise abhor Western civilization, Judeo-Christian teachings, and the Christian church.
The number one question for our time is: Will our secular society today stand firm and vanquish the same enemies of culture? They are ignorance and government socialist dependence from within, and the resurgent Islamic enemy that we have fought off and on for centuries (i.e., 7th, 8th, as well as 15th and 16th centuries) from without?
The Crusades are frequently mentioned in today’s anti-Western lexicon. Frankly, they have been much maligned and their purpose denigrated. It is necessary and just that before we discuss the impact the Crusades may have had in the world today, that we relate a bit of introductory history on the Crusades.
First of all, it must be noted that by the time the Christians woke up from their slumber and Pope Urban II exhorted the First Crusade in 1095, the Mohammedan Arabs with fire and scimitar had crushed and subjugated the entire Persian Empire and over half of Christendom. They had been at war with the world for nearly four centuries, leaving hundreds of thousands of victims, i.e., Christians, Jews, Persians, Arabs, North Africans, etc., in their wake of war and conquest. The truth is that if Jerusalem had been left an open city, as it had been for centuries, and not closed to Christian pilgrims by the militant Islamic rulers, the Crusades might not have happened!
Many knights went on the Crusades to bring themselves fame and glory in the old tradition of chivalry; a few went solely to make their fortune, but the vast majority of Crusaders went on the journey to the Holy Land to conquer Jerusalem and attain the “Kingdom of Heaven!”
They went for reasons of faith — i.e., in religious devotion, to obtain absolution or remission of sins, and be granted salvation in the afterlife. Many Christian noblemen and commoners did not go to seek riches or plunder, despite what the reader may have been led to believe by the sensuous sensationalism of the popular culture, the instructions of teachers with the omnipresence of anti-religion bias, or the lectures of “objective” professors with an axe to grind with religion in general and with Christianity in particular, bashing being so widespread in our times!
The truth is that many a nobleman sold his land, borrowed money from rich bankers, abandoned their homes or castles, even their families to go on the Crusades — and most of them lost everything, including their lives.
Thousands of Crusaders, including poor children, never reached the Holy Land and drowned or were lost on the way to nowhere. Thousands more, including women and camp followers, never made it and died of hunger and inhuman privations. Thousands of others were captured and sold into slavery.
Those who were fortunate enough to reach the Holy Land were greeted with new trials and tribulations. They fought bravely and savagely the equally determined Saracens. In the end, only a valiant few obtained fame and made their fortune. For instance, the Knights Templar became fabulously rich, but this aroused the distempered envy, lethal greed, and bitter enmity and brutality of the King of France, Philip IV, “the Fair,” who had that Order of Knights arrested, tried in rigged secret courts, convicted of heresy, blasphemy, treason, and other concocted crimes in order to seize their wealth and fortunes. The leaders of the Templars were tortured to death or executed. Their last Grandmaster was burned at the stake as a heretic, and the Order was disbanded in 1314. Their treasures were seized by the King of France, a king worthy of revolutionary justice and regicide for his utter brutality and greed. The Pope was helpless and could do nothing but acquiesce in this travesty of justice and royal act of insatiable plunder.
The Knights Hospitallers were also a religious-military, monastic Order of knights who fought in the Holy Land. Through the unfolding centuries, these knights would also be known as the Knights “of St. John,” then “of Jerusalem,” later “of Rhodes” and finally “of Malta.” They established hospitals and shelters, provided food and protection for pilgrims, while fighting the Islamic enemy with an admirable degree of courage and sometimes humanity. After the conquests of the Mamluks of Palestine and the Holy Land, the Knights of St. John escaped to Rhodes in 1310, and they defended that island successfully against many invaders over the centuries. Most notably, they defended the island against the onslaught of Mohammed II, “the Conqueror” of Constantinople (1451-1481), and veritable founder of the Ottoman Empire.
By this time, the Mamluks, the Crusaders’ nemesis, were history having been conquered by the Ottoman Turks. The Knights of St. John finally yielded the island of Rhodes in 1522 to the great Ottoman Sultan, Sulayman I, “the Magnificent” (1520-1566). Their bravery and courage was much admired by the great Sultan and rewarded by another great monarch, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (1519-1558), who ruled an empire in two hemispheres where the sun never set! The Knights of St. John were given a key island in the Mediterranean — and became the Knights of Malta in 1530. Their subsequent, heroic and successful defense of Malta against the depredations and finally the massive Ottoman attack is one of the great chapters in the annals of history.
After the defeat of the Turks in 1571 at the famous naval Battle of Lepanto the knights lived peacefully in Malta until the modern age. In one of those great, intriguing ironies of history, it took the same year and a new conqueror, Napoleon Bonaparte, for historians to once again recall the names of forgotten warriors, the Knights of Malta and the Egyptian Mamluks, now only pale semblances of their ancestors, and both conquered in 1798 by the French general and modern warfare! Malta was surrendered to the French general; the Mamluks were defeated at the famous Battle of the Nile.
Those are some of the untold but truthful tales of the Crusaders and the knights who followed them down the blazing path of history. So much for generalities, perhaps I should now give more specific details about these historic Crusades.
The First Crusade (1095-1099) was called forth in a popular speech to the people by Pope Urban II to liberate Jerusalem from the Seljuk Turks. Christians were no longer allowed to travel or worship in the Holy Land. The crusaders turned savage because of their religious ardor as well as their privations, thirst, hunger, heavy losses in their ranks, and the usual frailties of human nature that are incited when men are in life and death crises.
One of the main reasons that the knights of the First Crusade were successful was because the Islamic world of the Middle East was divided between the Shiite Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt and the Sunni Seljuk Sultanate. The Seljuk Turks had conquered Persia and Mesopotamia and much of the Near East in the 11th century. After a harrowing journey, the knights of the First Crusade and their followers were able to take advantage of this to conquer Jerusalem.
The route for the Crusaders, from Europe to Palestine, involved 3000 miles of poorly marked or non-existent roads, traversing rivers, mountains, invading hostile territory, encountering attacks from political or national enemies or plain brigands, and a thousand other dangers. They also encountered death from thirst or drinking contaminated water; hunger and famine; disease and pestilence. The journey could take up to five months of travel by horse and much longer for those traveling on foot. But reaching Jerusalem and fighting the Saracen enemies also meant the absolution or remission of past sins.
The Second Crusade (1147-1149) was inspired by the preachings of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and ordered by Pope Eugenius III after the Latin kingdoms lost the city of Edessa to the Seljuk Turks in 1144. This Crusade ended in failure and the Latin kingdoms including the Kingdom of Jerusalem were left in a precarious situation, besieged on all fronts by the growing Islamic threat.
The Third Crusade was called forth by Gregory the Great, a saintly man and scholar of impeccable character. He gave his wealth to the people to dedicate his life to the church and his studies… Yes, admittedly, there was the sordid massacre of the Third Crusade in Jerusalem, the result of the savagery of the times and the impulsive and poor, reprehensible judgment of King Richard I, the Lion-Heart.(2) What goes around comes around. He paid in due course for his crime. Both Richard and Saladin were courageous men, but Saladin (below) was praised for his chivalry and mercy, even by his enemies; and he is as such remembered to this day, particularly by the learned descendants of his Christian opponents.
The Fourth Crusade was diverted by that savvy Venetian, Doge Enrico Dandolo, to Constantinople. The capital of the Byzantine Empire was sacked and plundered. Happily, many of these treasures made their way safely to Venice, where many of them still stand today, including the magnificent bronze horses atop St. Mark’s cathedral.
The Fifth through the Eighth Crusades did not result in any long-term benefits to Christendom, despite the devotion and ardor of the Christian knights. In the Seventh Crusade the ascetic and pious King of France, Louis IX (St. Louis; 1226-1270) was captured and had to be ransomed. The Eighth Crusade was the final campaign and it also ended in catastrophic failure. It brought an end to the city of Acre in 1291, the last Latin territory in the Holy Land. The Egyptian Mamluks were at last victorious.(3)
The Muslims today actually prefer the Mamluks, as the popular heroes of Islam because they wiped out the last Crusaders and the last vestiges of the Christian or Latin kingdoms in the Holy Land. They in turn were wiped out by the Ottomans. Most of the Middle East was at one time Christian, part of the Byzantine Empire, with the exception of the Persians.
Religion and Morality
Truth be told, despite the religious wars, heresy controversies, the Inquisition, etc. (all of which have been discussed at great length in the secular media and Hollywood movies) — by in large, the Christian religion and the church have had a tempering and beneficent influence upon the course of Western civilization, not to mention providing the solace and comfort to those who faithfully believe.
The writing of such secularists as David Hume, Francois Guizot, even Edward Gibbon, not to mention, Will Durant in his History of Civilization, will confirm this observation. And those who criticize with little understanding are well advised to take heed of Alexander Pope’s good counsel: “A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.” (Alexander Pope (1688-1744); “An Essay on Criticism,” 1709)
The second question relates to the value of religion to the moral code and the definite inverse relationship to government control over the people. If people were angels no controls would be necessary (I favor ordered liberty); therefore, we will have spiritual (e.g., church, spiritual, or moral) or government (i.e., force) control. We have been blessed with a government that up to recently had “limited” powers…so…
The belief in God and religion provides an incalculable support to the moral code and allows the police power of the state to loosen its grip on the population. History shows that atheistic, authoritarian states use force rather than religion to enforce conformity to government tyranny. Nazi Germany, the former USSR, and China provide good examples!
Even J.J. Rousseau and Voltaire, although agnostic and deistic, came to support the need for the people to believe in God as an adjunct to the moral code and civil harmony. Even Voltaire, “the sage of Ferney,” who always ended his letter with ecrasons l’enfame (“let us crush the infamous one [the church]”), recognized the benefits Christianity had on the people and toward this end built a chapel for his servants, dependents, and family at his beautiful estate at Ferney.
(1) References for the debunking of the “Black Legend” of the Spanish Inquisition have been gradually accumulating since 1914 with Julian Juderias’ book, La Leyenda Negra y La Verdad Histórica (“The Black Legend and Historical Truth”) about the Spanish Inquisition. Prominent historian Edward Peters concluded from his exhaustive research on the Inquisition: “The Inquisition was an image assembled from a body of legends and myths which, between the twentieth and the sixteenth centuries, established the perceived character of inquisitorial tribunals and influenced all ensuing efforts to recover their historical reality.” Peters, Edward. Inquisition. New York: The Free Press, 1988. See also: Madden, Thomas F. “The Real Inquisition: Investigating the Popular Myth.” National Review Online. June 18, 2004. Even Wikipedia has caught up with historic reality and used the misinformation as the example of the Black Legend as a teaching too. There is even an excellent documentary, The Spanish Inquisition and the Black Legend, produced by the BBC with A&E in 1994 that is a must-watch, convincing narrative, fully illustrated.
(2) The greatest crime of the Crusaders was the conquest and sacking of Jerusalem during the First and Third Crusades in which more than 3,000 innocent people were cruelly and injudiciously massacred. But in the context of crimes and sins of Christianity vs. Islam, this terrible episode must be placed in the proper perspective, as I have described.
Moreover, this number is dwarfed by the number of victims of Jihad and Islamic conquests, from Persia to North Africa, from the Holy Land and Jerusalem to Constantinople, from Afghanistan to India, from the Pyrenees to the gates of Vienna.
It has been estimated that over 300 million people perished in Jihad over the 14 centuries of Islamic wars of conquests and later religious strife. Eighty million souls were exterminated in the conquest of India alone.* And countless millions more were taken as slaves.
And these heinous massacres by the Crusaders in Jerusalem one thousand years ago were nearly exceeded in flashes of destruction against the Twin Towers in New York City in which in a matter of minutes nearly 3000 innocent people were slaughtered in the horrendous terrorism of September 11, 2001, a day that will live in infamy in the memory of man.
* Durant, Will. The Story of Civilization (1935), “The Moslem Conquest of India”; Vol. I, Chapter XVI, Section VI, pp. 459-476
(3) The Crusades not only increased commerce and trade between East and West, but also resulted in the acquisition of knowledge for Europeans. For example, the Damascene process for making swords is of interest. The Arabs of Damascus would thrust the sword being forged into the body of a slave, and then immerse the blade in cold water, making the metal into a formidable weapon for cutting and slashing the infidel enemy. The Europeans never used this method. For one thing, they did not learn about it until 500 years after the Crusades. For humanitarian and theological reasons, the method was modified so swords were thrust into animal skins soaked in hot water thereby obtaining nearly equal results.
Less ghastly is the knowledge Europeans derived from the acquisition of new products and commodities such as sugar and spices, sesame, pepper, ginger, cloves, rice, citrus fruits (oranges and lemons), watermelons, dainty fruits such as peaches and dates; beautiful fabrics such as silk, velvet, and died cloth; better hygiene and sanitation from frequent bathing; exotic perfumes; makeup and talcum powder; the compass; as well as crossbows and gun powder.
Written by Dr. Miguel Faria
Miguel A. Faria Jr., M.D. is Associate Editor in Chief and World Affairs Editor of Surgical Neurology International. He is a former Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery and Adjunct Professor of Medical History. Dr. Faria is the author of Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise (2002). He has written numerous articles on the blessings of liberty and the venalities of totalitarianism, collectivism, and communism — all posted at his website: HaciendaPublishing.com.
The article can be cited as: Faria MA. On the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades. HaciendaPublishing.com, September 12, 2011. Available from: https://haciendapublishing.com/on-the-spanish-inquisition-and-the-crusades/.
Copyright ©2011 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.