Massacre thy neighbour? The medieval Church had a strange way of showing Christian love. Muslims, Jews and 'heretics' were all on the receiving end as clerics and kings shored up their authority and power by orchestrating

attacks on other groups.

"He that doth not take up his cross and follow me is unworthy of me?"

'Deus vult!' - 'God wills it!' - came the cry from the crowd as Pope Urban II made his heartfelt call to Christian arms. What God willed, it seemed, was that they march off to the Middle East and make war with the Muslims there. The Church's claim to comprehend the will of God was to inspire a long and bloody series of atrocities from the end of the eleventh century through to the fourteenth. Urban's speech was certainly arresting. The Saracens, he said, his voice trembling with emotion, had been

 Urban II, caller of the First Crusade, seems to have envisaged only a very limited local action to assist the eastern churches. In the event, the campaign he set in motion was to catch the imagination of western Europe, dominating religion and politics for several centuries.

'penetrating deeper and deeper into Christian lands' to Europe's east. They had defeated the Christians seven times in battle, had 'killed or taken prisoner a great many, destroyed fine churches and laid waste to extensive areas of land.' Having captured Anatolia, they had pitched their camp on the banks of the Bosporus - on the very threshold of Christian Europe, in other words. Scarcely able to continue with his peroration, apparently on the point of breaking down completely, he pleaded with those clerics, knights and nobles who had gathered at the Council of Clermont for their support.

The Red Cross

'This is why I beg you and urge you - no, not just I: the Lord Himself begs and implores you, as heralds of Christ, whether poor or wealthy, to rush off and expel this rabble from your brothers' territories, and to bring rapid relief to those who worship Christ.'

First prostrating themselves on the floor before the papal throne, they rose and went spilling out on to the streets in a shoutings cheering throng. To the outside observer, they may have looked no more than a well-dressed mob: they themselves, though, felt seized with sacred emotion. Enlisted by their Pope in what amounted to a militarized pilgrimage, they pinned on their clothes a red fabric cross - in French, croisade.

The Holy City

Pope Urban I1's summons, in 1095, came in response to a request from the Byzantine Emperor, Alexius I. Informing His Holiness of the invasion of Asia Minor by the Seljuk Turks, he requested his help in defending Christian Constantinople. At this stage, neither Alexius nor Urban envisaged anything more than a small

This is why I beg you and urge you

... whether poor or wealthy, to rush

off and expel this rabble from your

brothers' territories ...

French force to be sent in support of Constantinople's defenders, under Byzantine leadership. But Constantinople, with all its glories, did not haunt the Western imagination the way Jerusalem did: medieval maps often placed Jesus' city at the centre of the world. The streets along which Christ had walked, the scenes of his passion and death - Jerusalem was a uniquely special city. The thought of a pilgrimage here had inspired Christians for generations. A surprising number of people had indeed made the journey to see the land they'd read about in scripture or been told of in church - an undertaking which could take them many years.

They'd succeeded in doing so despite the fact that, for some four centuries, these 'Holy Places' had been held by Muslims: they'd been fleeced by traders and tax-gatherers and pushed around by officials, but never seriously abused. Still less had they been prevented from pursuing a pilgrimage that the Muslims looked on more with mild amusement than hostility. Now, however, all of a sudden Western rulers decided to feel outraged: how could Christianity's holiest shrines not be in Christian hands?

Fighting for Salvation

Those who answered Urban's summons, he subsequently clarified, would automatically receive an 'indulgence' - time off from the years of suffering they might otherwise expect in purgatory when they died. Some modern historians have attributed mercenary motives to the Crusaders, arguing that they marched eastward only in search of power and plunder. They have underestimated the part played by the fear of death - and, more particularly, of damnation - in the medieval mind. There was nothing fake about the fervour the Crusade evoked, although arguably much of that was superficial - even cynical - to the extent that a sort of spiritual self-interest appears to have prevailed.

It took Europe's kings a year to mobilize for the First Crusade: ordinary people were a great deal quicker off the mark. Within weeks of Urban's appeal, a rag-tag army of beggars, peasants, artisans and lowly knights was already on the march. Women and children flocked along on this great adventure. Most came from southern Germany and Northern France. There, itinerant preachers were whipping up a fever of expectation that the end of the world was coming, and that people should secure their salvation in a final battle with Satan and his Pagan forces. The most famous of these preachers, Peter the Hermit, roamed the towns and cities of France and Flanders, calling all to join what was to become known as the People's Crusade, and he marshalled many thousands in that cause.

The People's Pogrom

Impatient with a history of kings and queens, modern historians have inevitably been drawn to the story of the People's Crusade - aptly named, for it was truly a democratic phenomenon. For better and for worse the poor of medieval Europe appear to have been every bit as capable of cruelty and greed as their betters. The Crusade was wildly anarchic in its organization (if it can even be called that) and utterly undiscriminating in its violence.

Muslims or Jews, what was the difference? Why travel hundreds of miles to face an unknown and

The Council of Clermont, 1095, became a rallying point for a western Christendom which saw itself as being threatened by the Islamic danger from the east. Pope Urban's impassioned speech moved all who heard it - and echoed across Europe - soon great armies were marching in a military pilgrimage for Christ.



The concept of 'race' is a comparatively recent one, a product (ironically) of the 'Enlightenment' that transformed the fields of philosophy and science from the seventeenth century. It's accordingly anachronistic to talk of 'racism' in the pre-modern period. That doesn't of course mean that equality and easy-going tolerance reigned, just that prejudices were articulated and justified differently.

Hatred of the Jews in medieval Europe was virulent: they were despised and feared by the wider populace for their supposed role in killing Christ. Their economic function in an age before banking was also profoundly unpopular - even as it was obviously necessary. The lending of money at interest was banned by the Church, who saw it as amounting to the buying and selling of time - God's property, not a commodity in which mortal men had any business trading.

Then, as in so many centuries since, the Jews were the scapegoat of first resort in Christian communities when crops failed, plague struck or times were otherwise hard. The greater the persecution, the more marginalized the Jews became, the more unknowable and 'alien' they came to seem - and the deeper the fear and suspicion with which they were viewed.

Anti-Semitism was by no means confined to the lower orders: Godfrey de Bouillon, leader of the French in the 'official' First Crusade, vowed at one point that he wouldn't even begin his journey to the Holy Land till he'd 'avenged the blood of the crucified one with Jewish blood' and completely destroyed anybody who 'bore the name of Jew'.

frightening foe when Christ's killers were to be found in the ghettoes here at home? More and more people travelled through Lorraine towards the Rhine - in almost the opposite direction from Jerusalem. There they forced their way into the cities of Aachen and Cologne, where local hooligans were emboldened to attack those who, not content with crucifying Our Blessed Saviour, now tortured honest Christian men with the usurious interest on their loans.

'This slaughter of Jews was done first by citizens of Cologne,' a Christian eyewitness, Albert of Aix, reports:

'These suddenly fell upon a small band of Jews and severely wounded and killed many; they destroyed the houses and synagogues of the Jews and divided among themselves a very large amount of money. When the Jews saw this cruelty, about two hundred in the silence of the night began flight by boat to Neuss. The pilgrims and crusaders discovered them, and after taking away

Left: The noble crusader of nineteenth-century stereotype gave way in modern times to a more cynically-imagined opportunist, bent on plunder. Neither image is adequate: the Crusaders seem to have been swept up in something real - a rush of sincere (if borderline-hysterical) piety.

God willed it - apparently. Here, less of the Holy Places, a crusading rampages through a European ghetto. Confused,  ill-informed and badly led, the were a menace to the societies they were sworn to protect, leaving trails of devastation across the Continent.

all their possessions, inflicted on them similar slaughter, leaving not even one alive.'

Further massacres and attacks on synagogues took place in Speyer and Mainx. In the latter, seeing the cruel ferocity with which the Christians were attacking their neighbours, Jewish men murdered their wives, and mothers killed their children, as an act of mercy.

No mercy was shown in the town of Worms. Here over 800 Jews were murdered in response, it appears, yo a rumour that some of their co-religionists had murdered a man and thrown his body a well. Allowing him to rot down there a while, they had then tried to use the contaminated water to poison the supply of the city as a whole. Many Jews, fleeing the fury of the mob, had sought sanctuary with the local bishop in his palace. Unimpressed by his ecclesiastical authority, the 'Crusaders' simply smashed down the gates, stormed in and massacred those they discovered hiding.

Mayhem on the March

At last, the Crusade began making its way southeastward, out of French and German lands.

Robbing, murdering and raping as they went, they moved on through Hungary and the Balkans: Alexius I was appalled at the ragged, hungry shower that turned up outside the walls of Constantinople in the summer 1096. Rather than have them admitted - even for a moment - into his city, he had these motley 'Crusaders' across the Bosporus to Asia Minor without further ado. There they were simply swatted aside by the army of the Seljuk ruler, Kilij Arslan. They had come an awfully long way for such an ignominious defeat.

The First Crusade proper got off to a more promising start. The Crusaders quickly captured the Seljuk capital, Nicaea, in what is now northwestern Turkey. But as they fought their way over the Anatolian mountains into northern Syria, triumph turned inexorably into disaster. Despite the months of preparation that had gone before, serious logistical



The more sober Christian commentators viewed the 'People's Crusade' askance, to put it mildly. Albert of Aix was completely horrified. This distinguished    chronicler did all he could to distance himself (and his faith) from what he seems to have seen as a hideously parodic pilgrimage, a savage satire on human stupidity and greed. The 'Crusaders', he claimed, 'asserted that a certain goose was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and that a she goat was not less filled by the same Spirit. These they made their guides on this holy journey to Jerusalem. They worshipped these animals excessively; and most of the people following them - like beasts themselves - believed with their whole minds that this was the true course. May the hearts of the faithful be free from the thought that the Lord Jesus wished the Sepulchre of His most sacred body to be visited by brutish and insensate animals, or that He wished these to become the guides of Christian souls, which by the price of His own blood He deigned to redeem from the filth of idols!'

Yet such critiques ring hollow given the bestial cruelty of the First Crusade as it unfolded the following year: would 'Lord Jesus' have found the attitudes and conduct of his 'noble' followers so much more appealing?

inadequacies became apparent: thousands died during the relatively short - but desperately demanding - march to Palestine. A vast army - not just men (and women and children) but horses and beasts of burden - had to make their way across arid terrain in a time of scorching heat. Feeding and, especially, watering them all was an impossibility. Many thousands expired agony: of the 100,000 who had set out, only 40,000 arrived exhausted at the gates of Antioch.

The Agony of Antioch

Met became the strategic centre of Syria, the city was iy fortified: undaunted, the Crusaders settled l for a lengthy siege. Beset by hunger, and harried %m fighters foraying out from the city in nighttime aids, the Christians had an extremely unpleasant time, i seven died of starvation, Matthew of Edessa i (the figure was almost certainly much higher ; the common soldiery). After seven long, hard , Bohemund of Tarent talked the city's Christian its into betraying their fellow-citizens and ; the gates. On 3 June 1098, Antioch was taken I thousands of its inhabitants were slaughtered. They

: The Crusaders took their first great prize, the Syrian city in June of 1098. Starting as it seemed they meant to go on, they fell upon a defenceless populace in a vengeful rage. Thousands were slaughtered in the bloodletting - including Christians.

included a great many Christians, but the Crusaders didn't distinguish, falling on all in a vengeful rage.

... Even Dogs

Buoyed up by this success, the Crusaders were able to hold their prize against a Turkish relief force led by Kerbogha of Mosul. Mopping up resistance in the area around, they attacked the city of Ma'ara. They were winning their war, it seemed, but they were no

... to relate that many on our

side, driven mad by the pains of

starvation, cut chunks of meat

from the buttocks of Saracen 

corpses they found in the field.

nearer to being able to feed themselves: both sides lacked supplies after so many months of fighting back and forth. At Ma'ara, it was claimed, the Crusaders fell upon the vanquished defenders and the terrified citizenry and - not content with killing them - tore at their bodies for flesh to eat.

Truth is the first casualty in war, it is said, and horror-stories are never lacking when there's an enemy to be smeared, but the reports of cannibalism at Ma'ara don't come mainly from Muslim sources. Rather, it was in the testimony of shocked Christian chroniclers like Radulph of Caen that those at home read of children roasted over fires on spits and adults being boiled in macabre stews. 'I shudder', wrote Fulcher of Chartres, 'to relate that many on our side, driven mad by the pains of starvation, cut chunks of meat from the buttocks of Saracen corpses they found in the field. Having set out to cook them over their fires, they couldn't even wait till they were properly done, but fell upon them, gorging like wild beasts.'

Albert of Aix confirmed the incident, although his report is as remarkable for the sliding scale of atrocity he seems to see in the fact that the Crusaders 'didn't just eat Turks and Saracens but even dogs'. Their army now numbering only 20,000, the Crusaders advanced

A French tapestry of the seventeenth century shows the heroic light in which the capture of Jerusalem (1099) was later to be cast. The reality was a senseless spree of killing, the Crusaders killing Muslims, Jews - and Christians - alike; 'neither women nor children were spared,' one chronicler recorded.

Bernard of Clairvaux proclaimed the Second Crusade at the request of Pope Eugene III, calling kings and commoners alike to the red-cross banner. St Bernard seems to have been horrified when he saw the anarchy he had unleashed, personally intervening to try to prevent several German pogroms.

on Jerusalem, arriving outside its gates on 7 June 1099. After another siege, a party led by Godfrey of Bouillon breached the walls on 13 July. They celebrated with a spree of killing. 'No one had ever heard of such a bloodbath among Pagan peoples as this one,' wrote Archbishop William of Tyre. Thousands of men, women and children were put to the sword: no distinction was made between Muslims and Jews. 'If you had been there,' wrote Fulcher of Chartres, 'you would have seen our feet stained to our ankles in the blood of the slain ... none of them was left alive; neither women nor children were spared.'

Diminishing Returns

It would be an exaggeration to say that it was all for nothing. Four 'Crusader States' were established in the Middle East: the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Principality of Antioch and the Counties of Edessa and Tripoli (in northern Lebanon) became important centres for commercial and cultural commerce between East and West. From the modern perspective, it's tempting to see these states as what we would call 'colonies'. Except that the overwhelming superiority in wealth, technology and military strength the European powers were to enjoy over their subject nations in the nineteenth century was to be entirely absent here. If anything, it was the other way round. By the standards of an Islamic world that was way ahead in science and learning, the 'Franks' really were the rude 'barbarians' the Muslims saw them as. They were easily to be dislodged by a united and organized Islamic force. In 1144 Imad ad-Din Zengi reconquered Edessa, in northern Syria, with his Seljuk army, prompting alarm in Europe and an unsuccessful Second Crusade (1145-49).

The First Crusade had established a depressing template: the Crusaders proved more adept at massacring Jews in Germany during their muster for the wars than they were at dealing with well-armed and well-commanded Muslim armies. Again, the ghettoes of Cologne, Mainz, Speyer and Worms were to bear the brunt. The campaign in the Middle East was ineffective. It was only thanks to continuing disunity among the Muslims that the Crusaders were able to maintain some sort of hold in the Holy Land. When the Muslims found a strong and capable leader in the shape of Salah ad-Din ('Saladin', as the westerners called him), they retook Jerusalem easily in 1187.

The Brutality of Richard I

For all the chivalric myths about Richard the Lionheart the Third Crusade he led was, at very best, a qualified success. Except in atrocity, where it was well up to the mark. An old-fashioned English historiography rooted in public-school values of sportsmanship and fair play has bequeathed to us an idealized view of the relationship between England's Richard I and Saladin - one of elaborate courtesy based on mutual respect.

 The Second Crusade (1145) began with this solemn scene in the Basilica of Saint-Denis (now in northern Paris), Louis VII vowing to fight for Christ. Subsequent events proved anticlimactic: both French and German contingents were ignominiously defeated, the Holy Places left more firmly than ever in Muslim hands.

Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, or 'Saladin', a warrior of Kurdish birth, led Islamic forces with daring and with flair. Despite the 'Lionhearted' courage of England's Richard I, the Third Crusade was another failure, Saladin strengthening his hold on the 'Holy Places'.

In fact, relations between them were ill-tempered and vindictive. Having taken the Syrian city of Acre in 1191, Richard opened negotiations by having 2700 Muslim prisoners put to death. Saladin responded with mass-executions of Christian captives. By 1192, the Crusade had secured visiting rights for Christian pilgrims, but nothing else.

The Holy City certainly lay more firmly than ever in Muslim hands.

Sack and Sacrilege

Would it be fourth time lucky? It depends upon your point of view. The Crusaders of 1202-04 did return home as conquerors. Not of Jerusalem, though, but of Constantinople, a Christian city. Short of money, the force sent out by Pope Innocent 111 diverted to the Byzantine capital to shake down the Emperor Alexius III for funds. Finding him uncooperative, they ended up laying a long and cruel siege.

Crusading on the Home Front 

The whole crusading ideal was looking a little tarnished by now, it might be thought, but that didn't stop churchmen and rulers from devising ever more 'Crusades'. In Iberia, the centuries-long drive to take back Spain and Portugal from the 'Saracens' came to be seen as not just a campaign of conquest but a holy war. And then, in 1209, crusading came home with a vengeance to the south of France, when Pope Innocent III proclaimed a war against Carhars.

Waylaid by Mesud I's Seljuk Turks, the German crusading army was defeated at Dorylaeum in 1147. King Conrad III escaped with a handful of survivors, but they could do little to help a French force which was to be badly mauled itself at Damascus the following year.

These simple, largely uneducated and yet earnestly idealistic men and women had never done anybody any harm - paradoxically, this very innocence increased the threat they posed. The greed and cynicism of the Church was particularly apparent to the poorest in society: like many others the length and breadth of Europe, those of southern France felt they had seen through the hypocrisy of those who were supposed to be their spiritual guides. Unlike disillusioned souls elsewhere, though, they had found comfort in another creed. Catharism conceived of the cosmos as essentially dualistic, a system in which God and Satan warred with one another and body and soul were locked in eternal opposition. The soul was eternal and belonged in heaven, the realm of God and of light. All that was material and mortal belonged to this world - that of Satan - and was dark and bad. Since Christ, according to the scriptures, was 'the Word made flesh', it followed that he and his teachings must be evil too. The worldliness of the Church was all too obvious. Far from being the 'Bride of Christ', preached Cathar Arnald Hot, it was 'espoused of the Devil and its doctrine diabolical'. Such teachings drew on a deep well of frustrated idealism, and many flocked to follow what seemed to be a purer path. King Philippe II was concerned at what he saw as a threat to the social order. As far as Pope Innocent III was concerned, Catharism could not be ignored. The heretics were like

In the killing fields of Languedoc, poor peasant families were slaughtered in their thousands, but towns like Beziers certainly weren't spared. Anything up to 20,000 may have been killed here; afterwards, in the words of the Pope's legate Arnaud Amalric, 'the whole city was despoiled and burned'.

'Our men spared no one,' crowed papal legate Arnaud Amalric after the taking of Beziers in 1209. Many good Catholics must have been in the southern French city along with the Cathar 'heretics'. 'Never mind. Kill them all, and let God sort them out,' Abbot Amalric said.

the 'Saracens', he said, and in 1209 he proclaimed a crusade against this enemy within.

Massacred in God's Name 

From the military point of view, the 'Albigensian Crusade' was a grotesquely one-sided affair: it took its name from the town of Albi, a hotbed of heresy. Although local magnates like Count Raymond of Toulouse were involved (covetousness of his lands and power was an unacknowledged cause of the Crusade, as far as the northern French barons were concerned), for the most part the 'enemy' were defenceless peasants. All the panoply of medieval war-making - mounted knights with retinues of foot soldiers, including archers and crossbowmen, as well as companies of mercenaries - were deployed against unarmed civilians. Siege-engines smashed through the walls of country towns.

No mercy was shown towards the defeated - the crushing of heresy was sacred work. At Beziers, the Papal Legate boasted, 20,000 men, women and children were put to the sword. Over a thousand were burned alive after seeking sanctuary inside a church. Although Pope Innocent tried to rein in the carnage from about 1213, it had acquired an unstoppable momentum. All told, as many as a million may have died.

Foreshadowing the Yellow Star

Elsewhere in western Europe, Catharism had never gained ground the way it had in France's Languedoc

 Innocent III proclaimed a Fifth Crusade in 1215 at the same Lateran Council at which he announced his hostile measures against the Jews.

- but there were was always that old, reliable scapegoat-group, the Jews. Hostility towards 'Christ's Killers' had never entirely gone away but it had flared up recurrently in times of economic and social stress. In York, in 1190, for instance, word of a pogrom prompted local Jews to seek refuge in the tower of the city's castle. Anti-Semitic feeling had been whipped up by Richard Mabelys and other nobles who seem to have been motivated mainly by the consciousness that they owed large sums of money to the Jews and didn't want to pay it back. But the Church's representatives were ready and willing to cast a cloak of piety over this persecution: while the Jews cowered inside the tower, a priest celebrated mass outside and urged on his congregants against the Jews. So it continued for six days, at which point their despairing captives - fearing 



The Jews, rather than the Romans, had always borne the blame as the killers of Christ: a grim mythology had grown up around this 'fact'. In 1144, rumours erupted in Norwich, England, that a little boy named William who had gone missing had been abducted and ritually crucified by the city's Jews. Drawing off young William's blood, they had mixed this in with meal to make their matzos, or unleavened bread. The story was taken up internationally, sparking off a wave of persecution, with similar kidnappings and killings reported across much of Europe. This despite the strict prohibition on the eating of blood-derivatives insisted on by the Jewish Torah - and the expansion of the original story in an investigation ordered by Pope Innocent IV in 1247.

The Church's own ambivalence can't have helped: although investigation after investigation formally refuted the 'Blood Libel' officially, priests at local level shared the prejudices of the masses. And the cult of 'Saint William of Norwich' received at least tacit recognition from the Church after a series of miraculous cures were allegedly worked at the supposed 'martyr's' shrine. When, in 1255, the body of a nine-year-old boy was found at the bottom of a well in Lincoln, he too was said to have been ritually murdered. Again, the 'Blood Libel' was repeated and again attacks on Jewish communities in Lincoln and abroad were unleashed. And again, the Church was ambivalent in its reaction. On the one hand, officially, it scoffed at the stories and deprecated the attacks on Jews; on the other, it was only too happy to recognize the miracles that were supposedly worked by 'Little St Hugh of Lincoln' and cash in on the pious pilgrims who flocked from far and wide to see his shrine.

death or, still worse, forced baptism - committed collective suicide: 150 died.

In 1215, anti-Semitism was given the official imprimatur of the Catholic Church, whose Fourth Lateran Council issued a series of decrees against the Jews. To begin with, Jews were prohibited from employing Christians as servants - no Jew should have authority over any Christian, in other words. Notoriously, it further stipulated that Jews (and Muslims) had to wear distinctive garb so that their 'perfidious' presence should always be evident to the Christian communities among which they lived. The brutal enforcement of Catholic orthodoxy in the reconquered kingdoms of Spain had forced loyal Jews and Muslims underground, giving rise to a whole new bogeyman: that of the sinisterly secretive crypto-alien, preying on innocent Christians. It was an aspect of the Jews' malicious cunning that they could conceal

Desperate Jews in York in 1190 were reduced to killing their wives and families to pre-empt the threat of murder conversion. Never exactly in short supply, Christian hypocrisy special depths in the hatred felt for Jewish 'usurers' on services so many relied.

themselves in plain sight. The Lateran Council's orders were supposed to drive this hidden menace out into the open - there should be no way for the Jews to conceal their secret  'shame'.

The Northern Crusades

The Christians of medieval Europe knew (or thought they did) about the Jews from their sacred scriptures. By and large, though, they had only the vaguest idea of what Islam was. In records of the fighting in Iberia and the Middle East, the enemy is generally referred to in ethnic terms as 'Saracens' or 'Moors'. Where their beliefs are concerned, they tend to be described as

Overlooking Latvia's Gauja Valley, Sigulda Castle was built by the Brothers of the Sword in the thirteenth century. As their name suggests, the Brothers had a rough and ready way of making converts. (They were later absorbed into the Order of Teutonic Knights.)

'Pagans'. In truth, of course, Islam is one of the three 'Religions of the Book', sharing the Old Testament both with Judaism and Christianity. All three faiths revere Abraham as a founding patriarch and prophet; all share fundamental values and beliefs.

In Christian Europe's remoter northern fringes, however, real 'Pagans' did still exist. Around the Baltic, in Lithuania, Latvia and northern Prussia, people still followed age-old religious practices, worshipping the deities they saw in the sun, moon and stars, and in streams and trees.

As so often, Christ and Caesar - Catholicism and colonial rule - went hand in glove: these kingdoms were at least nominally Christianized and were supposed to be under the rule of the Polish kings. After repeated invasions, however, they still didn't accept anybody's overlordship - nor had they wavered in their commitment to the Pagan gods.

Again, accordingly, the call went up for a crusade. It found a response in the Teutonic Knights. This military order had an impressive (if, to modern eyes, perverse) record of 'real' crusading, having been founded in Acre at the time of the Third Crusade. Like the Knights Hospitallers, these German priests had started out tending the sick, but they had come to interpret their brief of 'care' a great deal more widely. By 1198, their role as fighting clerics had been acknowledged by the Church.

Their function in the 'Prussian Crusade' was quite clear: from about 1230 onwards they made a series of sweeps through Prussia and beyond into what are now the countries of Latvia and Lithuania. The Pope

Not content with persecuting paganism, the Teutonic went after Russian Orthodoxy, which led to dramatic defeat at 'Battle of the Ice', 1242. Alexander Nevsky's tactical retreat enticed them out on to the treacherous surface of Lake Peipus where they were cut to pieces by Alexander's infantry.

had granted Prussia to the order as a 'monastic state' - in theory, at least, they were the country's rulers. In practice, this was untamed territory and they struggled to make their way against determined guerrilla opposition. Allowing themselves to be surrounded by the Samogitians at the Battle of Durbe in northwestern Lithuania in 1260, they suffered a damaging defeat that triggered an uprising across the whole of Prussia. They fought back, however, slowly and painfully restoring some semblance of order and at least the appearance of Christian observance in the region. At one raid in Sokma, Lithuania, in 1275, the chronicler Nicholas von Jeroschin reported, the Teutonic Knights 'killed so many of the unbaptized that many drowned in their own blood'.

In 1377, John Wycliffe was summoned to appear before Courtenay, Bishop of London, in Old St Paul's, to defend his 'heretical' views. Uncomfortable as he clearly was with a great deal of what Wycliffe said, Courtenay made no move to stop the wayward priest from preaching.

Reformers or Heretics?

The wealth and corruption of the medieval Church was evident to anyone with eyes to see: inevitably, impatience was going to grow. In 1177, Peter Waldo, a prosperous merchant from Lyon, France, underwent a spiritual crisis, giving away all his possessions and going on the road as a mendicant preacher. St Francis of Assisi was to do much the same thing a few years laser, but he and his Franciscans went out of their way to be tactful to their superiors in the Church, managing to remain loyal - even obedient - Catholic clerks to the last. The 'Waldensians' scorned such compromise. They were openly confrontational,  attacking Church leaders as representatives of the rich and powerful. Ultimately, they rejected the authority of its priests.

John Wycliffe (1320-84) was an English priest and scholar, but his words struck a chord with many of his country's less educated people, who came to hear him preach at his parish church in Lutterworth, Leicestershire. Like Waldo, Wycliffe argued that the Church had no business being rich or involving itself with the concerns of temporal government. Even in religious affairs, he argued, it had made too much of its own importance. The whole elaborate hierarchy should be scaled down, he said, and translations should be made of the Bible so that ordinary people could come to their own understanding of the Word of God and what it meant. It's easy to see why the Church might regard Wycliffe as a heretic. He denied the doctrine of 'transubstantiation': the bread and wine were not substantively changed, he said, they remained bread and wine, even as they took on the nature of Christ's body and blood. But his followers, known as 'Lollards', were seen as a threat more to secular than religious authority. The Church itself seemed extraordinarily unperturbed. News travelled slowly in the fourteenth century, and the workings of the Church ever ground slowly. By the time the authorities in Rome had fully digested what Wycliffe was saying, he had been dead for over 20 years (seized by a stroke as he said mass in his church in Lutterworth). Not to be cheated of their punishment, they pronounced him a heretic, had his body dug up and burned and the ashes thrown into a nearby river: better late than never, they must have thought.

Peter Waldo sits in pensive pose - though the Church's chief concern was that this French heretic might prove more a doer than a thinker. The 'Waldensian' line was frankly revolutionary, calling on followers to disregard the orders of a hierarchy who served 'two masters', God and Mammon (money).



Today, the teachings of Jan Hus are seen as paving the way for Luther and the Reformation. In his day, the Czech reformer was condemned as a heretic, even though he denied having said most of the things his clerical accusers claimed. He seems in fact to have been exercised more by the corruption he saw in the Bohemian Church. Despite this, in 1415, he was burned at the stake. His followers, outraged, rose up against the Bohemian Crown and the Holy Roman Empire, which had the backing of Pope Martin VI. Inevitably, he proclaimed crusades - a series of them, in 1420, 1421 and 1424. Thanks to the rebels' resourcefulness and courage, these failed to make much headway. The Hussites were helped by the hand-held cannons they used - a great leveller in the field of battle, these early firearms made infantrymen a match for the most heavily armoured knights.

A Tale of Two Trials

The Catholic Church has always shown an unholy readiness to turn a blind eye to monstrous sins committed by its political allies while upbraiding its enemies' merest faults as enormities. One example, ironically, came with the trial and execution of the 'Maid of Orleans', Joan of Arc - later, of course, to be numbered among the greatest saints. Joan, just 19 when she was executed by the English, had donned man's clothing to lead the French to a series of victories against the armies of Henry VI. Finally, though, she was defeated and captured at Compiegne.

Asked if she knew she was in God's

grace, she answered: 'If I am not,

may God put me there; and if I am,

may God so keep me.'

The initial intention of the English was to try her as a witch, but this proved impossible when a physical examination proved her a virgin (the conventional wisdom was that witches copulated with demons). Backed by the Bishop of Beauvais, a supporter of Henry's claims to France's throne, she was instead accused of heresy - and when this charge in its turn could not be proved, of 'insubordination and heterodoxy'. That the height of her heterodoxy appears to have been the wearing of man's clothing did nothing to assuage her guilt in the eyes of the English court.

She was burned at the stake in the town square in Rouen in 1431. Does it make it better or worse that a quarter of a century later, its fences mended with the monarchy of France, an embarrassed Catholic Church ordered a retrial of this 'heterodox' heroine? Pope Callixtus III had her case reconsidered and her original conviction was thrown out. Even so, it was not until 1920 that she was made a saint.


The War on Witchcraft

Joan of Arc was an extraordinary young woman, and virtually nothing about her case is unremarkable. One of its most unusual aspects is the attempt to brand her as a witch. This can seem surprising, given modern assumptions about 'medieval superstition'. In fact, few in the Church at this time took the idea of witchcraft seriously. The uneducated did of course swap stories of witches, warlocks, spells and curses, but clerics don't for the most part seem to have been much bothered by such notions. The idea that 'magical' powers might exist ran contrary to Catholic ideas that only God and his goodness reigned: there could be no such thing as a real 'witch' or 'wizard', so there was nothing to be feared. 

The great European witchhunts were to take place in the seventeenth century, a post-Reformation phenomenon, and they were invariably driven by Protestant kings and lords.

The execution of Jan Hus in 1415 was intended to make an example of the Czech reformer. It did, but it was an example of the wrong kind. His cruel killing confirmed for his followers the outright evil of a Church he had criticized only for its worldly ways.

Joan of Arc was motivated as much by her religious faith as by her French patriotism, yet the local hierarchy connived with the English over her trial. The attempt to convict her of witchcraft failing, she was sent to the stake for 'insubordination'.

Has the Catholic Church been the victim of a witch hunt, then? Not quite. Admittedly, the feeling that the modern Church has been at best sexist and arguably misogynistic in many of its attitudes has helped foster a widespread assumption that it would have been well to the fore when there were defenceless old women with cats to be persecuted. As it happens, that isn't actually how it was. 

Yet the Church is not to be absolved so easily.

There are clear indications that it was moving in this general direction itself in the years coming up to the Reformation. The book which was to become the manual of the Protestant witchfinders, the Malleus Maleficarum: ('The Hammer of Wrongdoers') was written by two German Dominican priests, Henricus Institoris and Jakob Sprenger. Published with the blessing of Pope Innocent V111 in 1487, it turned centuries of Carholic orthodoxy on its head by arguing for the reality of witchcraft as a practice and insisting on the need to prosecute.

Modern feminist critics of Catholicism won't be too surprised to learn that the Dominicans saw the roots of witchcraft as lying deep in the horrifying abyss of female sexuality. 'All witchcraft stems from fleshly lust, which in women is insatiable', they wrote. Witches were confirmed in their evil beliefs and their magic powers by their couplings with the Devil. Men might have relations with him too, Henricus and Sprenger acknowledged, but women were much more highly sexed - so there were far more witches than there were wizards. Nor does it come as too much of a shock to find that witches were to be identified by breaches of feminine propriety - boldness, assertiveness, argumentativeness - even a failure to cry in the face of a prosecutor's attack.

So much Catholic doctrine was unceremoniously ditched by the reformers, it's a tragic irony that they should have held on to Malleus Maleficarum. Though written by Dominican friars, this witchfinder's manual, the 'Hammer of Wrongdoers', was more or less ignored till taken up in post-Reformation times.