"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Memories of the Crusades

As I have had too many occasions to remark, few instances in Christian-Muslim relations are as wildly, deliberately, tendentiously misunderstood than the Crusades. Execrable nonsense from the likes of the fatuous Karen Armstrong, Bill Clinton, and others too numerous to mention have made these events so misunderstood as to cause one to despair. What we continue to need is calm, dispassionate, serenely detached narrating of the history based on the factual evidence without regard for present felt political purposes. Along comes a new book, released only last week, that may do that:

Nicholas L. Paul, To Follow in Their Footsteps: The Crusades and Family Memory in the High Middle Ages (Cornell University Press, 2012), 336pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:

When the First Crusade ended with the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, jubilant crusaders returned home to Europe bringing with them stories, sacred relics, and other memorabilia, including banners, jewelry, and weapons. In the ensuing decades, the memory of the crusaders' bravery and pious sacrifice was invoked widely among the noble families of western Christendom. Popes preaching future crusades would count on these very same families for financing, leadership, and for the willing warriors who would lay down their lives on the battlefield. Despite the great risks and financial hardships associated with crusading, descendants of those who suffered and died on crusade would continue to take the cross, in some cases over several generations. Indeed, as Nicholas L. Paul reveals in To Follow in Their Footsteps, crusading was very much a family affair.
Scholars of the crusades have long pointed to the importance of dynastic tradition and ties of kinship in the crusading movement but have failed to address more fundamental questions about the operation of these social processes. What is a "family tradition"? How are such traditions constructed and maintained, and by whom? How did crusading families confront the loss of their kin in distant lands? Making creative use of Latin dynastic narratives as well as vernacular literature, personal possessions and art objects, and architecture from across western Europe, Paul shows how traditions of crusading were established and reinforced in the collective memories of noble families throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Even rulers who never fulfilled crusading vows found their political lives dominated and, in some ways, directed by the memory of their crusading ancestors. Filled with unique insights and careful analysis, To Follow in Their Footsteps reveals the lasting impact of the crusades, beyond the expeditions themselves, on the formation of dynastic identity and the culture of the medieval European nobility.
Paul is editor, with Suzanne Yeager, of a collection of articles also published this year on the Crusades: Remembering the Crusades: Myth, Image, and Identity (Johns Hopkins U Press, 2012), 296pp.)

About this book the publisher tells us: 

Few events in European history generated more historical, artistic, and literary responses than the conquest of Jerusalem by the armies of the First Crusade in 1099. This epic military and religious expedition, and the many that followed it, became part of the collective memory of communities in Europe, Byzantium, North Africa, and the Near East. Remembering the Crusades examines the ways in which those memories were negotiated, transmitted, and transformed from the Middle Ages through the modern period.
Bringing together leading scholars in art history, literature, and medieval European and Near Eastern history, this volume addresses a number of important questions. How did medieval communities respond to the intellectual, cultural, and existential challenges posed by the unique fusion of piety and violence of the First Crusade? How did the crusades alter the form and meaning of monuments and landscapes throughout Europe and the Near East? What role did the crusades play in shaping the collective identity of cities, institutions, and religious sects?
In exploring these and other questions, the contributors analyze how the events of the First Crusade resonated in a wide range of cultural artifacts, including literary texts, art and architecture, and liturgical ceremonies. They discuss how Christians, Jews, and Muslims recalled and interpreted the events of the crusades and what far-reaching implications that remembering had on their communities throughout the centuries.
Remembering the Crusades is the first collection of essays to investigate the commemoration of the crusades in eastern and western cultures. Its unprecedented multidisciplinary and cross-cultural approach points the way to a complete reevaluation of the place of the crusades in medieval and modern societies.

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