The glory of the Catholic Church in the Medieval Times:  The Crusades, Art and Architecture

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As the medieval times marched towards the creation of Western Civilization, the Catholic Church was the driving force behind all that was good at that time such as the Crusades, the wars fought in defense of the Church, as well as the art and architecture of that time which was the crowning glory of society and the Church.  Medieval comes from the latin word, “medium aveum” meaning the Middle Ages. The medieval times were a glorious era in the Church and the history of the world, but many refuse to see it and instead refer to these times as the dark ages.  In demonstrating the truth about the crusades, one should be able to see that they were just wars fought in defense of the Church and the Holy Land.  The medieval times was a major period in classical civilization, as shown through the art and architecture that came forth from that period. The Catholic Church was the driving force behind all of this good.  It was the Catholic Church that influenced men to join the Crusades and it was the Catholic Church that was behind the architectural beauty in the art and architecture of these medieval times.  All of these things existed for the greater glory of God and His Church.  By showing the proof of the good that came forth from the medieval times, one should be able to see that this was not a period of darkness, but of light.  The world that we experience owes a great deal to the medieval times because they contributed much to what is now the modern world.  The Medieval Ages were not the “Dark Ages” as supported by the truth of the Crusades, as well as the art and architecture that came out of the Catholic Church at that time which formed Western Civilization.

The Catholic Crusades were military wars, taken in defense of the Holy Land against rowenathe Moslems, in the name of the Church.  The truth of these battles is to be found with the Church. The Church has always been militant and at all times she has had valiant warriors to defend her. These warriors were knights of Christ and the Church.  “By translating the notion of a “holy warrior” into Christian terms, a succession of medieval popes and churchmen created the crusader, a “knight for Christ.”[1]   The Crusades were called at a time when the infidels i.e. the Mohammadens had taken control of the Holy Land.  There were four principal crusades. The First Crusade was called by Pope Urban II in 1095.  The First Crusade, from 1095-1099, established the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem and provided more lands for the crusaders.  To understand the important connection between the Crusades and the Catholic Church, one would do well to listen to the words of Pope Urban II, calling the crusaders to battle:  “Christians, hasten to help your brothers in the East, for they are being attacked. Arm for the rescue of Jerusalem under your captain Christ. Wear his cross as your badge. If you are killed your sins will be pardoned.”  Thus, the Crusades were Catholic in origin and fought in defense of Christ’s Church.  The Second Crusade, from 1147-1149 was called in response to the capture of Edessa by the Turks.  This Crusade was mostly a failure because only a few thousand crusaders escaped death at Asia Minor.  However, in the interval between the Second and Third Crusade, the two famous military orders were established, namely the Hospitallers and the Templars, whose duty was the care of sick and wounded crusaders, as well as the protection of the Holy Land.  Third Crusade failed in part because it resulted in the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187. This Crusade also marked the beginning of the Teutonic Knights.  “Finally, in failing to regain Jerusalem, the Third Crusade marks the beginning of forty years of almost continuous crusading from Europe.”[2]   The Fourth Crusade resulted in the capture of Constantinople instead of Jerusalem.  Thus, one can see that the objectives of the Crusades was the capture of the Holy Land, particularly Jerusalem, from the occupation of the Moslems.   Finally, the Crusades gives one a perfect example of the Church Militant in action.  The duty of the Church Militant is to fight against the world, the flesh and the devil.  The militant crusaders fought the enemy, which were the Moslems.  Thus, the truth about the Crusades demonstrates that the Crusades were not the hallmark of the Dark Ages, but were rather the wars fought in the name of the Church that saved the Holy Land and Christendom.

[1]  “The Crusades and Medieval Christianity,” Utah State University, 2013, http://www.usu.edu/markdamen/1320hist&civ/chapters/15crusad.htm (accessed November 25, 2014).

[2]  Professor Ellis Lee Knox, “Results of the Third Crusade,” History by Knox, http://europeanhistory.boisestate.edu/crusades/3rd/17.shtml  (accessed November 26, 2014).

The art of the medieval times was heavily influenced by the Catholic Church because it showed forth the glory of God in all aspects.  The Passion of Christ was a frequent focus of Italian painting and this was done with much emotion.  “…The episodes of the Passion are colored by painful emotions, such as guilt, intense pity, and grief, and artists often worked to make the viewer share these feelings. In this, they supported the work of contemporary theologians, who urged the faithful to identify with Christ in his sufferings that they might also hope to share his exaltation.”[3]   The artists wanted the viewer to meditate upon the event being portrayed in the picture, thus; medieval art provided much good for the Church.  “The climactic moment of the Passion story is the Crucifixion itself. Paintings of the subject were usually intended to foster meditation on Christ’s self-sacrifice, and they thus indicate his sufferings by showing him hanging heavily, with bowed head and bleeding wounds.”[4]   Many of the famous paintings that one can still see today are a cause for meditation upon the event they portray and thus; even art can lift one’s mind and soul to God.  “According to resolutions agreed at the Council of Trent in 1563, the Catholic Church reaffirmed the value of images in Christian devotion and the importance of the emotions in religious experience.”[5]   In addition to the Passion, the Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary was another popular theme in religious art.  In Byzantine spirituality, she was central.  “Most images of the Virgin stress her role as Christ’s Mother, showing her standing and holding her son. The manner in which the Virgin holds Christ is very particular. Certain poses developed into “types” that became names of sanctuaries or poetic epithets. Hence, an icon of the Virgin was meant to represent her image and, at the same time, the replica of a famous icon original. For example, the Virgin Hodegetria is a popular representation of the Virgin in which she holds Christ on her left arm and gestures toward him with her right hand, showing that he is the way to salvation.” [6]   In Byzantine art, all manner of symbols were used to represent an aspect of virtue.  The color blue represented the Blessed Virgin.  The white lily was a flower used to represent the purity of Our Lady.  The rose represented Our Lady’s love for God.  The crown represents authority, exultation, triumph and grandeur and was always most fitting to adorn the head of the Queen of Heaven.  Therefore, art played a major role in the medieval times, especially in inspiring a greater love for God and the Church through meditation on the wonders of the Faith shown therein.

[3] Sorabella, Jean. “The Crucifixion and Passion of Christ in Italian Painting”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/pass/hd_pass.htm (accessed December 1, 2014).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

The greatest and most beautiful works of art in all of Christendom are found in the architecture, displayed most notably in the famous cathedrals of Europe.  The Gothic architecture flourished during the late middle ages.  The many great cathedrals of Europe attest to this.   Of course, it was the Catholic Church that was behind this architectural beauty that made Christendom so great.  “Gothic architecture and Gothic art are the æsthetic expression of that epoch of European history when paganism had been extinguished, the traditions of classical civilization destroyed, the hordes of barbarian invaders beaten back, or Christianized and assimilated; and when the Catholic Church had established itself not only as the sole spiritual power, supreme and almost unquestioned in authority, but also as the arbiter of the destinies of sovereigns and of peoples.”[7]   Chartres Cathedral is the finest example of the Gothic style of architecture.  Still standing tall and perfectly preserved, it proves the great influence the Catholic Church had over the great wonders of Christendom in the architectural beauty of the greatest churches.  What is most notable about the Gothic style is its tall structure, attained through the development of pointed arches and ribbed vaults.  High towers and arches also emphasize height.  All of this represents the might and glory of God.  The pointed arches reach towards Heaven, which these churches so gloriously represent and are instrumental in lifting one’s mind towards the Heavenly. Another cathedral that stands tall in honor of the Catholic Church is Notre Dame.  It’s the epitome of what Gothic architecture looks like.  One of the first Gothic Cathedrals, it has weathered many storms and today stands as a testament to the indestructible Catholic Faith, which it represents in its beauty, revealed most gloriously in the Gothic style of architecture.  Another popular style of architecture is that of the Romansque architecture.  This architectural style was most notably known for its semi-circular arches, which eventually evolved into the Gothic style of architecture.  This style is known for its thick walls, round arches, large towers, naves and high bell towers.  The churches were built in the shape of a cross which became known as the latin cross.  During this period, the construction work was sponsored by great monastic orders, such as the Cluniac order.  Some well-known churches of the Cluniac order are St. Martin in Tours, St. Sernin in Toulouse, and Santiago de Compostela in Spain, all of which have great similarity in plan and design.  Hence, the architecture of the medieval times stands as a testimony to the grandeur of the so-called dark ages and the influence the Catholic Church had over this aspect of civilization.

[7] Cram, Ralph Adams.  “Gothic Architecture.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06665b.htm (accessed December 2, 2014).

As proven, the Catholic Church had a major influence over all those crusaders who gave their lives in defense of the Church and all that was beauty in the art and architecture of those times.  Every knight of old who spilt their blood and turned the fields of the Holy Land red will testify to this truth –  the true darkness of their age was their enemy as they fought to civilize the barbarians who had invaded Jerusalem.  It was the Divine Potency that enabled the Templar to carry the cross into battle in defense God and the honor of his homeland.  The art expressed the cause, the architecture the conquest, as the whole drama unfolded throughout the land once trodden underfoot by One shod with the Gospel of the preparation of peace.  And thus it was ever meant to be: just war.  The blows of Christ expressed in a human dimension that transcends time and place; the birth pains of an ever approaching cataclysmic Armageddon like conclusion of the passion of the human race, uniting the sufferings of the image He made, to the sufferings of His Christ for the redemption of the world as it groans towards a new day with the former passing away, creating the scars from the wounds formed by the whip in the athletic scourge’s hand; the sword in knight’s clenched fist, the whole Body of Christ must be redeemed, it seems.  What is left of Christendom today is the art and architecture from those so-called dark ages which stands as proof that the influence of the Catholic Church surpassed all times and places and shaped every facet of society, as only it should since the Catholic Church is the ruler of all peoples and nations.

~Damsel of the Faith

Bibliography

 Bréhier, Louis.  “Crusades.” In The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1908, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04543c.htm  (accessed September 23, 2014).

Carroll, Anne W.  Christ the King, Lord of History.  Charlotte: Tan Books, 2012.

Cram, Ralph Adams.  “Gothic Architecture.”  In The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1909, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06665b.htm (accessed September 23, 2014).

Lucas, Herbert.   “Ecclesiastical Architecture.”  In The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1909, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05257a.htm (accessed September 23, 2014).

Michuad, Fr. Joseph.  “The History of the Crusades.”  New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1900.

Norris, Michael. Medieval Art: A Resource for Educators. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005.

Sorabella, Jean.  “The Crucifixion and Passion of Christ in Italian Painting.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000 http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/pass/hd_pass.htm  (accessed December 4, 2014).

Knox, Professor Ellis Lee.  “Results of the Third Crusade.” History by Knox, http://europeanhistory.boisestate.edu/crusades/3rd/17.shtml  (accessed November 26, 2014).

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6 thoughts on “The glory of the Catholic Church in the Medieval Times:  The Crusades, Art and Architecture

  1. newenglandsun

    I need to get a history of the inquisition going myself. The crusades are often misunderstood by the atheists and Protestants trying to justify breakaways from the Catholic Church. Indeed, the Byzantine Church is probably entirely innocent and the Catholic Church probably should have respected their wishes to stay out of the conflict as the Byzantines actually had an empire but the Catholic Church did what they thought was right in this instance.

    I’ve been thinking about going into Medieval Studies at the Catholic University of America right now with a focus on philosophy and theology (so many good intellectuals in this period from St. Thomas Aquinas to St. Anselm). An Eastern Catholic deacon I talk to on a regular basis (mostly because he also works at my university) is also a Medievalist himself albeit with a focus on Medieval English Church history (but I still know more St. Anselm than he does! 🙂 ).

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  2. newenglandsun

    The feminists like to use the High Middle Ages as a time period to attack the Catholic Church’s views on women. The problem is that many women were in temporal power in this time and not oppressed at all as the Angelic Doctor admits in Summa Theologica, Supplement, Q. 39, A. 1. Even further, it was St. Hildegard of Bingen, a doctor of the Catholic Church, who contributed most to the Church’s views on the metaphysical distinctions between women and men. Feminists like to assert the notion that women being made in the image of God in a different way than men resulted in a degrading of women but indeed, women was said to be created in the image of God in a way that was both different and in some ways superior to men as well. For it is she alone who has the ability to create life in her womb. Of course, modern day feminists like to destroy life in their wombs. Go figure.

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