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…

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