Teutonic Knights: Battle for Christianity

The Teutonic Knights

Teutonic Knights

The Teutonic Knights were founded on the 19th November 1190, during the Third Crusade to the Holy Land.

On the 6th February 1191, they were legalised by Pope Clement III, receiving the protection of Pope Celestine III in 1196.  This knightly Order; The Teutonic Knights consisted of forty knights an order of German Knights.

The Teutonic Knights played their part in the Holy Land, but their main object was to bring Christianity to the pagan inhabitants of the Baltic’s.

In 1197, the Cistercian Abbot, Berthold of Loccum, was posted to Livonia (Latvia) in the eastern Baltics.  The pagan inhabitants of Livonia did not take to the Abbot, and attempted to drown this man of God, and then they set fire to the church as he preached his words.

Abbot Berthold, returned to Germany, where he raised a Crusader army, to put down these pagan’s of Livonia.

On the 24th July 1198, Berthold was wounded in battle by a Livonia lance, and then murdered by these pagan people.  The death of their leader, and man of God, enraged these Crusader’s so much, that they mounted a campaign of terror against them, and forcibly baptised 150 of them.

These German crusader’s returned home, as the Livonia’s renounced their new faith, washing off their baptisms in the River Dvina.  Any remaining priests were driven from their lands, for they were not prepared to accept Christianity on their lands.

The Crusader’s faced an uphill battle, bringing Christianity to this pagan race of people, and the eastern Baltic.  From Finland in the north, to Prussia in the south, would take nearly a century, before it came under Christian rule.

When the 13th century began, the eastern boundary of Baltic Latin Christendom ran from Danzig in Poland to Gotland on the Swedish coast.

Located between the Vistula and Dvina rivers to the north and east, lay an almost impregnable barrier of forest and lakes, stretching from the Baltic shoreline to Russia.

Prussians, Lithunians and Letts, collectively referred to, as the Balts.  These individual tribes, lived in this remote wilderness, and each would mark out their own boundaries.  They lived along the coastline, and in the valleys of Vistula, Neman and Dvina rivers.  They survived by farming, cattle breeding, harvesting of furs, honey and wax, sourced from the forests.

The country to the north covered an area between Dvina and the Gulf of Finland, consisting of open land areas and mountain ranges.  With forests of oak, elm and ash in the main.

This was home to the Livs, located on the Baltic coast, with Estonians living on the southern coastline and offshore islands.  Groups of Letts were located between the Livs and Russians in the east.

Territorial divisions did nothing to change the view of Western Christendom, that they were devoted to paganism.  They worshipped the Sun, Moon and Stars, whose festivals often involved acts of human sacrifice.

Homes were constructed of earth and timber, decorated with animal skulls to ward off evil.

One German Chronicler of the 1230’s sent out a warning, if Christian’s fell into the hands of these evil heathens, they would be relieved of life and property.

The lands of the eastern Baltic were dangerous, but also enticing, with large supplies of natural treasures.

Western traders wanted a share of their natural treasures: Fur – fish – timber – honey – beeswax and amber.

Western traders faced tough competition from the Russians, who had control over several Baltic tribes.  An alarmed Catholic Church feared the response, from the Church of Rome.  For Russians, their true church was the Eastern Orthodox Church, and in the eyes of Rome they needed salvation.  Russian missionaries carried out large numbers of baptisms, to the detriment of the Catholic faith.

By the start of the 14th century, and countless, bloodied battles, German forces captured the lands of Latvia and Estonia, and forced the acceptance of Catholicism upon its inhabitants.

Many Baltic tribes did not convert to Catholicism, allowing the practice of pagan customs and beliefs to continue…

The Cistercian Order

Cistercian Monks

Cistercian Monks

The Order of Cistercians also known as Trappists, is a Roman Catholic religious order, which consists of monasteries of monks and nuns.  It is part of the larger Cistercian family which can trace its origin back to 1098.  Cistercians follow the rule of St.Benedict, and are part of the Benedictine family as well.  Cistercians dedicate their lives, to seek union with God, through Jesus Christ, within a community of brothers or sisters.

Saint Robert of Molesme-art

Saint Robert of Molesme – Artists Impression

On the 21st March 1098, St.Robert of Molesme, Abbot of the Benedictine Abbey of Molesme, felt compelled to lead twenty-one of his monks to Citeaux, and establish a new monastery.  This new abbey was dedicated to the restoration of Benedictine Rule in its most primitive form.  A life devoted to prayer and poverty.

Tension rose amongst his followers, and the relationship between the new monastery at Citeaux, and the Benedictine Abbey of Molesme, they had left behind.  The monks of Molesme, grieved by the loss of their holy leader, and it wasn’t long before they obtained a papal decree, forcing St.Robert to return to Molesme, and take up his position once again as their Abbot.

Abbey of Citeaux

Abbey of Citeaux

The Abbey of Citeaux, continued after the loss of St.Robert’s return to Molesme, by a small number of monks who chose to remain and carry on the order.  The new Abbot was St.Alberic, who was later succeeded by St.Stephen Harding.

St.Robert, St.Alberic and St.Stephen Harding, each Abbots in their own right, are celebrated as founders of the Cistercian Order.

With the guidance of St.Alberic, the small community of monks, built their first church, and settled down to their new way of life.  St.Stephen Harding, an Englishman from Dorset, was one of the founding Abbots, of the Abbey of Citeaux.

St.Bernard was born in 1090, to parents Tescelin de Fontaine, Lord of Fontaine – les – Dijon and Alethe de Montbard of high French nobility in the Burgundy region.  In 1109, his mother died, and his life was to undertake a dramatic change.

For the next three years, Bernard a nobleman from Fontaine – les – Dijon, went on a spiritual journey.  Then in 1112, the twenty-two-year-old felt he had his calling from God, and knocked at the doors of the Abbey of Citeaux, fourteen miles to the south of Dijon, with thirty of his relatives.

Stephen quickly sensed Bernard’s talents, and so it was, after three years as a monk, St.Bernard was sent to Vallee d’Absinthe in the Diocese of Langres, where he founded the Abbey of Clairvaux.  St.Bernard was accompanied by four of Stephen’s own brothers, uncle and two cousins, alongside an architect and two other monks.

The land, upon which the Abbey of Clairvaux was to be built upon, was a gift from Hugh, Count of Champagne, who would eventually become a member of the Knights Templar.

Abbey of Clairvaux

Abbey of Clairvaux

The project they were faced with, was to build a new abbey from the ground upwards.  This new abbey would be built by their own hands, stone by stone, in the name of their God, and Bernard would become the Abbot of the Abbey of Clairvaux.

It didn’t take long, for the news to filter through, as disciples and monks flocked to St.Bernard, wishing to follow in the steps of the renowned Abbot; St.Bernard of Clairvaux.

During St.Stephen’s tenure, four daughter-houses were created; La Ferte, Pontigny, Clairvaux and Morimond, between 1113 and 1115.  This monastic life led by the Abbey of Citeaux, saw an ever-growing network of monasteries rise up through medieval Europe.  Which led to the Carta Caritatis (Charter of Charity) being drawn up, designed to harmonize a sense of unity in its monasteries.

Almost in unison with the Templars, the Cistercians grew in wealth.  Like the Knights Templar, the Cistercian order was exempt from taxes and tithes.  They were expert in farming, industry and commerce.  The lead used on their Abbey roofs, was sourced from their own mines and smelted in their own works.

The construction of their Abbey’s were well thought out, and water was a major concern in any build.  Abbey’s would be situated by a secluded river or stream.  Monks would create a dam, designed to carry water to all parts of the Abbey; flowing through kitchens, washing facilities and indoor plumbing.

The Cistercian Order opted for plain cloths on their altars, with a plain wooden cross, whilst their Benedictine rivals had altars, crosses and candle holders made of gold.

The very rule of the Templar order, held this monastic institution with the highest regard, and many a co-operative venture would be undertaken by the two.

It is said, if a knight was expelled from the Knights Templar, he was not free to join secular life.  The said knight would seek shelter in a Cistercian monastery, in the hope that he would be rehabilitated.

In 1128, St.Bernard and Pope Honorius II attended the Council of Troyes, to settle conflicts within the French Church.  He offended Cardinal’s by his words, and was denounced by these men, yet his words, led to a strong bond with the Pope.

saint-bernard-of-clairvaux

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

St.Bernard, man of God became a renowned churchman in Christendom, known for correcting abuses within the faith.  He went out on a limb, defending church rights against the monarchy, who sought control of its resources, and chose their own bishops.

With news from the Holy Land, that the Crusader state of Edessa had fallen to Turkish forces.  Fear rang out, for Antioch and Jerusalem, which could see them fall into Islam control once again.

St.Bernard of Clairvaux was the man who called, who promoted the founding of the Knights Templar, and created the monastic rules of life they would follow.

St.Bernard called for a new crusade to the Holy Land, asking knights to arm themselves and wear the cross upon their chest, showing to all, they be God’s warriors.  He even used part of his own habit, fashioning crosses for many a warrior.

On the 21st August 1153, St.Bernard of Clairvaux died at the Abbey of Clairvaux in France.  At the time of his death, some 343 Cistercian monasteries had been established .  Sixty-five by him, and the remainder by fellow monks of the order.  In 1174 St.Bernard was canonized by Pope Alexander III.

The Cistercian Order continued to expand, and by the year 1200, there were in excess of 500 houses, and at the time of the reformation the number had risen to 742.

In 1664 Pope Alexander VII recognized within the Cistercian Order two observances; the Common and the Strict.  Among these arose Armand Jean de Rance, an Abbot who underwent conversion in his Abbey of Notre Dame de la Grande Trappe.  A renewal in the practice of monastic enclosure, silence and manual labour, expressing a spirit of apartness from all worldliness and a dedication to prayer and penance.  His was one community, lucky enough to have escaped destruction at the hands of the French Revolution.

During the French Revolution, Augustine de Lestrange travels led to the creation of Cistercian Orders in England, Belgium, Spain, Italy, and America.

In 1892 Pope Leo attempted to create a single Cistercian house under one order… but this proved impossible, for it now consisted of many national congregations.  This resulted with the Pope recognizing two Cistercian Orders: Order of Citeaux and Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, also known as the Trappists.

In 1120, the Benedictine nunnery of Tart, adopted Cistercian Order rules, and sought an ever closer alliance with the monks of the order.  In modern times, the Strict Observance order, has sixty monasteries of Nuns, serving with Monks of the order in Rome.

According to the Modern Catholic Encyclopedia, the Cistercian Order have given to the Church many spiritual masters:

Bernard of Clairvaux
William of Saint Thierry
Alfred of Rievaulx
Guerric of Igny
Isaac of Stella
Gilbert of Hoyland
Adam of Perseigne

Cistercian Nunnery of Helfta in Saxony
Saint Gertrude the Great
Saint Mechtild of Magdeburg

12th Century Spiritual Masters
Thomas Merton
Thomas Keating

(Images) Abbey of Clairvaux and Citeaux: Wikipedia
(Image) Cistercian Monks: Wikipedia
(Image) Saint Robert of Molesme: Pininterest

The Siege of Malta

Siege of Malta

Siege of Malta

The Knights Hospitaller had been driven out of the Holy Land, when Acre fell in 1291.  In 1309, they captured Rhodes, becoming the Order of the Knights of Rhodes.  In 1522, they were forced to leave Rhodes, having been defeated by Suleyman the Magnificent, a Turkish warrior.

With no place to call home, the gift of the island of Malta, by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V in 1530, must have seemed a blessing.  The downside was, Malta was arid and infertile, fresh water was scarce.  The inhabitants were poor.  Yet it was home.

The Knights of St.John had a fight on their hands, for in 1565, Turkish forces tried to capture Malta, by sending a fleet of eighty-one ships and 30,000 soldiers.

On the 18th May they sailed into the Bay of Marsaxlokk, where the mighty army disembarked and set up camp on the Plain of Marsa.

The Turks set their sights on capturing the Fort of St.Elmo, which stood on the Sceberas Peninsula.  The fort resisted capture until the 23rd June 1565.  The victory was a small one for the Turks, as they had lost 8,000 men in the siege against the fort.  The Turkish commander, Dragut Rais, lies among the dead.

The Turks captured four knights, beheaded them, and nailed them to crosses and floated them across the harbour to Fort St.Angelo.  Grand Master la Valette replied by beheading Turkish prisoners, and firing their heads from cannons, landing among Turkish forces.

The Turks attempted the capture of Birgu (Vittoriosa) and L’Isla (Senglea), but suffered heavy losses.

On the 7th September, 8,000 Sicilians arrived in North-east Malta, the Turks withdrew from Malta.

Grand Master la Valette, fearing another siege by the Turks, built new fortifications and a city on the Peninsula.  On the 28th March 1566, the foundation stone was laid.  Walls built, with a huge ditch across the peninsula.  In 1568, la Valette died, aged seventy-three, and the city was named after him.

In 1574, the knights built the hospital; Sacra Infermeria in Valetta. In 1676 Grand Master Cottoner founded the School of Anatomy and Surgery.

Grand Master Antoine de Paule created additional fortifications across the peninsula to the south of Valetta, based on the designs of Pietro Paolo Floriani in the mid 1600’s.  In the 18th century a suburb of Valetta was built between the two lines of fortifications, and called Floriani after its designer.

1693 was a bad year for Malta, for it was devastated by an earthquake.

By the end of the 17th century, the Turkish threat against Malta ceased, as the Turkish Empire was in decline.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s French fleet anchored off Malta on route to Egypt.  He asked for water for his ships, but the knights refused.

Malta Surrender to Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte forces seize Malta

On the 11th June 1798, Napoleon’s forces landed on Malta, and captured the knights… French knights were permitted to stay on Malta; all others were forced to leave.  Napoleon forces seized all the treasure from the churches, before leaving six days later, leaving 4,000 men to guard the island.

On the 2nd September 1798, the Maltese rose up against the French at Mdina.  The French withdrew to Valetta and the Maltese people appealed to the British for assistance.  A blockade was imposed on the island…

The French forces at Valetta, surrendered on the 5th September 1800.

Wikipedia Images

The Maltese Cross

order-of-st-john-medal

The Maltese Cross was officially adopted by the Order of the Knights Hospitallers of St.John in the year 1126.

It consists of eight points, which denote the eight obligations of the knights:

  • To live in truth.
  • Have faith.
  • Repent one’s sins.
  • Proof of humility.
  • Love justice.
  • Be merciful.
  • Sincere and whole-hearted.
  • Endure persecution.

Some years later, the eight points of the cross, came to represent national groupings, of the noblemen who were admitted into the brotherhood.

  • Auvergne
  • Provence
  • France
  • Aragon
  • Castille and Portugal
  • Italy
  • Baviere (Germany)
  • England, Scotland and Ireland

The current symbol of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta is the Maltese Cross.

The Knights of Malta

Knights Hospitaller

An ancient hospice for Christian pilgrims, was located in Jerusalem, and had been in existence well before the arrival of these Crusaders.  The Hospice was founded by Abbot Probus around 600AD.  It underwent restoration in 1010 by the Emperor of Charmagne, only to be destroyed by Caliph El-Hamin, and in 1023 restored by the citizens of Amalfi.

In 1048, the Order of St.John was born by Amalfian merchants and its founder Gerard from Martigues in Provence, who also went by the name; Blessed Gerard, the then Benedictine Abbot of St.Maria Latina.  First came the construction of a church, convent and hospital in Jerusalem, offering care to pilgrims of any faith.

The Hospice had been dedicated to St.John the Almoner.

What would follow over the coming years would be the creation of a chivalric order, which would evolve into a military machine.

A Papal Bull was issued on the 15th February 1113, by Pope Paschal II, approving the hospital’s foundation, and placing it under the protection of the church.

As such, the Order was ruled by a Grand Master, who was answerable only to the Pope.  Knights were chosen from aristocratic families of England, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy.

The popularity and praise Gerard received from 1st Crusade warriors, led to his separation from the Benedictine Order, and the foundation of the Order of Hospitaller’s, who adopted the Augustinian rule.

Their habit: A long black monastic cloak, with slits on each side for arms, with an eight pointed white cross on the breast, which included the arms of the Republic of Amalfi.

St.John the Baptist became the new patron saint of the order, replacing St.John of Almoner.  The Order of Hospitaller undertook three solemn vows: Chastity, Obedience and Poverty, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre before their patriarch; Dragobert.

As their fame grew across the land, they received many donations, which allowed the Order to purchase properties in the Holy Land and across Europe.

In 1099, the First Crusading armies, had taken three years, marching across Europe, traversed the sun-scorched waterless plateau of Asia Minor.  Thousands of their comrades had perished on the journey, from its hardships, or slain by Turkish warriors.

As they came upon the Holy City of Jerusalem, they fell to their knees in the sand, and wept.

On Friday, the 15th July 1099, at 3.00pm they stormed the Holy City of Jerusalem in their thousands, on the very day and hour their saviour had died.  The first knight to enter was Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke of Lower Lorraine, who humbled himself in prayer, at the tomb of his saviour.  Unlike others, he was devoid of earthly ambitions, and fought for the love of Christ, a true warrior of God.

Godfrey of Bouillon

Godfrey of Bouillon

Eight days after the capture of Jerusalem, Godfrey of Bouillon was elected as its first Christian King.  He refused to wear a crown or receive the title of King.  This humble warrior, in the city where his saviour had died, accepted he be its defender and ruler.  Knowing his life was short, created a Christian kingdom.

In the year 1100, Godfrey took his army to Caesarea of Philippi, an enemy held town on the Mediterranean coast.  The Muslim leader went out to meet the mighty Godfrey, King and ruler of Jerusalem, on the pretext of making peace.

Godfrey accepted and ate the dishes presented to him, and his military commanders in good faith.  What was thought to be a gift of peace, was far from the truth, as Godfrey’s life was taken from him, by a deadly fever, possibly brought on by eating poisoned food.  He was buried in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Gerard from Martigues in Provence, known as Blessed Gerald died in 1120, secure in the fact, that the Order of the Hospital of St.John of Jerusalem had been created.

By 1126, the Order had begun its military defence of pilgrims in the Holy Land.

Raymond du Puy  from Provence became the elected successor of Gerard of Martigues, and took the title of Master.

Raymond du Puy laid down the foundation for an order of chivalry, with the introduction of the Knights Hospitaller, to run alongside one of prayer and caring for others.  He laid down rules to be observed during military engagements; Swords must not be drawn, unless the standard of the cross was displayed, either in defence of the Kingdom of Jerusalem or in siege against a pagan city.  The military body had been founded in 1123, in response to Egypt’s invasion of Palestine.

Events taking place in the Holy Land would change the future of the Hospitaller’s.  For it was on the 4th July 1187, Saladin defeated Christian forces and the Kingdom of Jerusalem fell. The Hospitaller’s were forced to relinquish their headquarters in Jerusalem for Tripoli on the east coast of Palestine, where they stayed until 1197, then moving to Acre.

The Knights Hospitaller’s, felt robbed of their role as defenders of the Holy Land in 1291, when Acre fell to the Mamluks, and they had been driven out of the Holy Land and sought refuge in Cyprus.  It was here they changed their method of waging war, and became a force to be reckoned with, in naval power.

In 1309, the Hospitaller’s conquered the island of Rhodes, and changed their name; Order of the Knights of Rhodes, which they ran as an independent state, exercising their right of sovereignty.

In the year 1343, the Order conquered Smyrna, and took part in battle in Egypt and Syria.  They supported Armenians in their defence against Muslim forces.

When the Knights Templar were disbanded, their goods, their wealth was transferred to the Order of St.John of Jerusalem, under the order of the Pope, which greatly increased the wealth of the Order.

In 1522, a six-month siege by Suleyman the Magnificent, a Turkish warrior, led to their defeat and on the 1st January 1523, they left Rhodes.

In 1530, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V gave them the island of Malta, and duly went by the name of; Sovereign and Military Order of the Knights of Malta.  In 1565, it resisted a four-month siege by the Ottoman fleet.  A Spanish task force came to the assistance of the Grand Master; Jean Parisot de la Valette in his defence of Malta.

In 1571, the Turkish navy was destroyed at the “Battle of Lepanto” by the combined fleets of the Knights of Malta, European forces led by Don Juan of Austria, half brother to King Philip II of Spain.

A new capital of Malta was built, in recognition for his achievements in the defence against the Turks of 1565, they named it after their Grand Master; Valetta.

As the centuries passed by, these knights, gave up their military lifestyle, returning to their roots, by offering medical care, attracting patients from near and far.

The French Revolution of 1789, abolished the Order in France and confiscated its properties.  Malta rejected the French Revolution, offering shelter to nobles fleeing France and supporting countries at war with them; England, Spain and Russia.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte

In 1798 they lost Malta to Napoleon Bonaparte, but regained it in 1802 under the Treaty of Amiens.

In 1814, the Treaty of Paris gave Malta to Britain, and the Hospitaller’s left, moving their headquarters to Sicily where they remained until 1826.  From there they moved to Ferrara, and in 1834 finally settled in Rome.

From 1834 to 1961 they were known as the Knights Hospitaller of St.John of Jerusalem, and in 1961 to the present time are formally known as the Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St.John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, and a closed fraternity of the Roman Catholic Church.

The order no longer governs any territory, yet it is recognised as a sovereign nation by the Vatican, the only authentic Order of Malta by the Pope, and as such does issue its own passports.

In 1966, Pope Paul VI reformed the statues of the Order of Malta, abolishing its militant character, and vowing it would serve the poor and sick.

In times when the Pope’s life is threatened, the Swiss guards that guard the Vatican are dismissed, and the Knights of Malta, become guardians of the Pope.

Wikipedia Images

Chartres Cathedral: The Labyrinth

Chartres Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral – France

As one gazes upon the beauty of the gothic styled Chartres Cathedral, built in 12th century France.  One asks what mysteries, what holy designs, will one find?

Located within, upon the stone floor, is an ancient styled Labyrinth, which would have been used by monks for contemplation.

Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth

Chartres Cathedral – Labyrinth

So what is a Labyrinth?

A Labyrinth is a path representing our spiritual journey, with many a twist or a turn, and the walker would find themselves, uncertain where the path was taking them, yet they were never lost.

The Labyrinth has the hand of God, gently guiding us, even though we feel lost or confused, we are being led forward.

As one walks the path to the centre, one walks the way of the world, asking as we walk step by step for God’s forgiveness, for our wrongdoings, and seeking to make amends for our acts.

Upon reaching the centre, it is for us to open ourselves to the love of God, before taking the path back, seeking to follow in the ways of Christ.

The walk of the Labyrinth, gives the walker a chance to seek out how to resolve problems in their lives.  Seeking guidance, times of personal bereavement, or just to walk hand in hand with God.

In its simplest form, a Labyrinth is a path of medication.  You just simply walk it, and allow the mind to be at peace, as the body takes over.

One could describe the Labyrinth, as having three paths:

  • Symbolic path of purgation.
  • Illumination, opening ourselves to the Divine in the centre.
  • Union, is our return path taking the benefits of what we have received, back into our lives.

During the time of the Crusades, Labyrinths were built to provide an alternative, as not everyone could make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  The centre of the Labyrinth represented the Holy City of Jerusalem, and became the substituted goal of the journey, for pilgrims.

Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth:

The Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral, measures forty-two feet in diameter and was built between (1215-1235).  13th century churchmen instructed builders of Chartres, that numbers and symbols were to be used in its design.  The significance of which is drawn from Ancient Greek thoughts; Plato and St.Augustine reflections on the divine order of creation.

The path is laid out in eleven concentric circles intricately woven into a sacred geometric pattern.  It is then surrounded by twenty-eight semi-circular lunations per quadrant, creating a third of the year’s lunar calendar around the Labyrinth’s perimeter.

Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth 1

Labyrinth Design

Wikipedia Images

Holy Land Pilgrimage

Holy Land

A Pilgrimage of the mind
as we set forth on her land,
she receives us, as travellers
upon this forgotten land.

We feel the sands of time
press down, under our feet,
as we seek out ruined temples
to mingle with our mind.

Hundreds of years have passed
many a knight sought fame,
as they came in their thousand’s
the sands ran red; with their blood.