Baltic Crusades: Holy Frontiers

Crucifixion - Giotto

The Catholic Church sensed an intrusion by the Russian Orthodox Church, making inroads into the Baltic lands, and in the conversion of its people.

Meinhard, an Augustinian monk from Holstein, travelled by way of the Dauvaga River in the latter part of the 12th century.  His mission was to convert the people of Livoniato, building the first church and creating a Christian community.  His successor, Bishop Berthold used crusaders in the conversion of its people by force.  1198 is considered the starting point of the Baltic Crusades.

Bishop Albert successor to Berthold established the Swordbrothers, a Crusading Order in 1202, who received papal blessing in 1204, and by 1208 had converted the Kur and Lett people to Christianity by forcible means.  Bishop Albert established the City of Riga, a city built upon by merchants and crusaders.  He became a strong leader and fended off the Danish forces, prior to his death in 1229.

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Baltic Crusades: Latvia

Catholic Preachers of Baltic Crusades

In the year 1180, Catholic preachers arrived in Latvia with German merchants by way of old Viking trading routes along the Daugava River.  Upon arrival, they established communities, built churches, went forth preaching and performing baptisms among the Livonian people.

These “Holy” men were welcomed by the pagan tribes of this land.  However, things changed, when Livonian’s refused to convert to the new religion, only then did the Catholic preachers show their true colours, by calling upon armed forces to aid them in their goal.

In the early years of the 14th century, after countless and bloodied battles, that the lands of Latvia and Estonia were eventually captured by German forces, and converted to Catholicism.

The new religion; Christianity saw the people of Latvia and Estonia baptized by force.  As many parts of this new religion was not forced upon the Baltic tribes, thousand’s of its people continued to practice their pagan customs and beliefs.

Wikipedia Image

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

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

Knights Templar: Cathedral of the Pyrenees

cathedral-of-the-pyrenees

The village of Saint Betrand de Comminges has a long history dating back to 72BC, when the Roman colony of “Lugdunum Convernarum” was established by Pompey, a Roman General, with a population close to 30,000 people.

The city was destroyed by vandals in 408 AD and again in 585, when it suffered a similar fate, at the hands of Gontrand of Orleans, King of the Franks.

In 1073, Bertrand was nominated to the post of Bishop by Count Raymond IV of Toulouse, his cousin.  Ten years later, Bertrand became Bishop in 1083, and in 1218 was canonized, becoming Saint Bertrand.

cathedral-of-the-pyrenees-2

Cathedral of the Pyrenees

In 1083, Bishop Bertrand ordered that the Cathedral of the Pyrenees with its Romanesque cloisters be built upon a steep hill, some 1700 feet high.  This fine cathedral would dominate the valley, located between the Pyrenean peaks.

As one enters the cathedral, located on the outer left wall, a relic, a crocodile to ward off evil spirits, brought back from the Holy Land by a pilgrim.

Three men through history are responsible for the construction of this fine cathedral, which dominates the valley:

12th century – St.Bertrand de I’Isle

14th century – Bertrand de Got; Pope Clement V

16th century – Jean de Mauleon

The first phase of the construction: The porch, displays twelve apostles, surmounted by the Adoration of the Magi, presenting gifts to the Virgin Mary, with an image of Bertrand in the background.

Numerous pillars depict the Green Men.  Columns are decorated with foliage, plants and leaves similar in design, to those found in Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland.  Rosslyn has three enigmatic pillars, whilst here we have two enormous pillars, with a circumference of 11.45 metres.

cathedral-cloisters-of-the-pyrenees

Cathedral Cloisters

On the cathedral’s south wall, the cloisters are located, open to the Pyrenees, a place of prayer for the monks.

The second phase of the construction: Bertrand de Got was Bishop of Comminges from 1295-1299 and in 1304 Archbishop of Bordeaux.  In 1305 elected to the post of Pope Clement V.  Bertrand de Got, was the first in a line of pope’s through history, to be crowned with a papal tiara.  A stone from the Pope’s tiara was lost, as he himself stumbled, as a wall collapsed during the parade, killing some bystanders.

In 1307 he sided with King Philip IV of France, calling for the arrest of the Knight’s Templar, and in 1312 officially abolished the order in Vienne.  In 1314 Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Knight’s Templar was burnt at the stake on charges of heresy in Paris.  Molay vowed his accusers would follow him to their death, within a year.

Bertrand de Got’s proposed extension and gothic embellishments to the cathedral were completed by 1350, under the guide of Hugues de Castillon.

The mother of Pope Clement V was Ida de Blanchefort, related to Bertrand de Blanchefort.  Grand Master of the Knight’s Templar 1156-1169.  Who would have believed that a grand master descendant, would abolish the Knight’s Templar.

Any secrets found in St.Bertrand de Comminges, would only be known to Pope Clement V, as he had served in the cathedral.

pope-clement-v

Pope Clement V

Bertrand de Got, became Pope Clement V.  In 1306, the Chateau de Duras, was taken over by the de Got family.  Pope Clement’s nephew was Bertrand de Got, and he was partly responsible in over seeing the expansion of the chateau into a fortress; 3,000 square metres in size with eight round towers.

It is said, it had been built to defend the valley and its food production.  On the other hand, did the fortress have something of considerable value hidden within… the money came from the Knight’s Templar, so could there be a link to the Holy Land relics?

In 1430, Bishop Pierre de Foix, built a grand mausoleum for relics of Saint Bertrand.

pyrenees-choir-stalls

Choir Stalls

The third phase of the construction: Located within the cathedral, the 16th century choir stalls, known as a wooden church within a stone church made from oak and walnut, of Renaissance style and inaugurated for Christmas 1535.  A series of sixty-six stalls, depict characters from the bible, the brainchild of Jean de Mauleon.

Wikipedia Images

Second Crusade: St. Bernard of Clairvaux

saint-bernard-of-clairvaux

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

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.

Aged nine, Bernard attended Chatillon-sur-Seine school.  In 1109 at the age of nineteen his mother died.

The young Bernard, felt he had been called by God in 1112, aged just twenty-two, to enter the order of Cistercian Monks of Citeaux.  Bernard’s testimony was so compelling, some thirty friends and brothers felt compelled to follow him into monastic life in 1113.

The Abbey of Citeaux, founded by St. Robert of Molesmes was dedicated to the restoring of Benedictine Rule in its most primitive form.  A life devoted to prayer and poverty.

After three years as a monk, St. Bernard and twelve monks were sent to Vallee d’Absinthe in the Diocese of Langres; where he founded the Abbey of Clairvaux.  In 1116, he was named Abbot of Clairvaux.  In just a few years, disciples and monks were flocking to St. Bernard, wishing to follow the renowned Abbot; St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

In 1128, St. Bernard was called upon by Pope Honorius II to attend the Council of Troyes, to assist in the settling of conflicts within the French church.  He offended Cardinals by his suggestions, who denounced him, as nothing more than a meddling monk, yet his words struck a chord with Cardinal Harmeric and the Papal Court, which led to a strong bond between St. Bernard and the Pope.

St. Bernard this man of God was becoming a renowned churchman in Christendom, as he assisted in correcting abuses within the faith.  Defending church rights against the monarchy who sought to control its resources, and choose their own bishops.

In 1143, St. Bernard must have been a proud man, to see one of his pupils and fellow Cistercian Monk; Bernard of Pisa elected by his peers as Pope, taking the name; “Pope Eugenius III.”

Within a few years, news came from the Holy Land that shocked the Christian world.  The crusader state of Edessa had fallen to Turkish forces, with Antioch and Jerusalem highly likely to fall into Islam control once again.

St.Bernard will be remembered for calling for the founding of the Knights Templar, and he was responsible for the monastic rules of life they would follow.

St. Bernard was put in charge of rallying support for a new crusade, asking knights to arm themselves and wear the cross, showing they be God’s warriors.  He even cut off pieces of his own habit, and fashioned crosses for many warriors.  It is said that King Louis, Queen Eleanor of France and the Holy Roman Emperor; Frederick Barbarossa accepted these cloth crosses.

The Second Crusade was a failure, and he attributed the defeat, believing the crusaders no longer believed in securing the Holy Land.  He believed it be the sinfulness of the crusaders that led to its failure.

On the 21st August 1153, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, aged 63 died at Clairvaux in France.

His Legacy:

At his death, some 343 Cistercian monasteries had been established by him and fellow monks of his order.

In 1174 was canonized by Pope Alexander III.

In 1830, was named doctor of the church by Pope Pius VIII.

Image: Wikipedia

Knights Templar: End of a Holy Order

Crusader Wallpaper 1

On the 16th June 1291, marked the end of a Christian presence, in the shape of Crusader’s and Knights Templar in the Holy Land.

The order of the Knights Templar, which had been created to offer protection to pilgrims, left the Holy Land, bound for Cyprus and France.

These pilgrims bound for the Holy Land, to walk in the steps, once trodden by Jesus, were left to the mercy of bandits.

The Knights Templar grew apart from the Catholic Church’s teaching, beliefs and practices.

The war in the Holy Land, had stretched France’s finances, whilst the Knights Templar, had seen theirs grow strength to strength, in property, land and wealth.

France’s finances were under direct control of the Templar’s, making France dependent on them.

King Philip IV of France

King Philip IV of France

Rumours circulated, by the King of France Philip IV, that these Templar’s were devil worshippers.  If proven, Philip IV would have been able to seize their wealth, and take control of France’s finances.

It wasn’t long, before King Philip IV and Pope Clement V, came to the conclusion that these Templar’s, were set on changing the political and religious landscape across Europe.

Orders were issued, that on the 13th October 1307, the King’s men were to carry out arrests, and seize the assets of this decadent and treacherous order.

News must have leaked out; for on the 11th October 1307, twenty-four knights took a fleet of eighteen Templar ship’s from LaRochelle, laden with the bulk of the Templar’s wealth; gold and silver bullion, crown jewels of European countries, sacred artefacts, manuscripts etc.

Knight Templar Ships

Templar Fleet escaping France

Some accounts believe they headed towards Scotland, then on to Canada or America, but her final destination was unknown … there are even suggestions, that some Templar’s took their share, and created the land we now know as Switzerland.  As the treasure moved around, over the centuries, so it grew.

Although Philip IV had succeeded in grabbing the Templar’s land and property, he did not find a single cent or coin of their fabulous wealth.

By order of Philip IV of France, in October of 1307, any Templar found within French lands, would be arrested, sentenced to trial, on charges of homosexual activity and the worshipping of idols etc.  If found guilty, would be burnt at the stake.

In November 1307, orders were sent out by Pope Clement V, across the lands of Europe, that these Templar’s were to be arrested on sight.

In the March of 1312, Pope Clement V dissolved the Knights Templar.  Yet a question has never been resolved, were they guilty of their crimes or not, for they had been tortured, for a yes against the crimes.

Knights Templar Burnings

Burned at the stake

Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, was burned at the stake, on charges of heresy on the 18th March 1314.  He cried out to his God, that Pope Clement V and King Philip IV, his accusers, should join him.

Thirteen months after his persecutors had condemned him to death, his curse became a reality.

Pope Clement V was attacked violently by bouts of dysentery, and quickly sent to his grave.  His dead body was moved to Carpentras, where the court of Rome resided at that time.  His body was placed in a church, which caught fire, and the mortal remains of the pontiff were almost consumed by fire.

He had accrued a vast amount of money and treasure during his lifetime, which had been deposited in a church in Lucca for safe keeping.  Whilst his relations quarrelled over his legacy and their rights, it was stolen.

In the very same year, Philip IV of France died of a disease which baffled his doctors.  Phillip blamed this disease upon the individual, whose information led to the arrest of the Templar’s.  Philip’s informer was hanged.  Philip’s last days, were that of an embittered leader.  He even accused the wives of his three sons with adultery.

Images: Wikipedia