Web Analytics

Christianity in Middle Ages and Renaissance

Crusades and their Historical Legacy
The Protestant Reformation
Christianity and Colonialism
Last Updated: 21 May 2014  

Crusades and their Historical Legacy

Islam, Christiantiy and Judaism co-existed in relative harmony in Cordoba, the cultural and scientific capital of Europe, during the Moorish occupation of Andalucia in Spain during the 10th Century, for example, and one should not assume that they are incompatible on religious or cultural grounds by default, on account of modern historical events, nor that fundamentalism and politicisation is by default part of these faiths. Of course, Cordoba was not the model of religious harmony, as non-Muslims were generally treated like second class citizens, and there was an underlying resentment of the Muslim occupation. But beyond this, there was a great deal of harmony in the society, more than we see anywhere today. Once the Moors left Spain, Christian kings, whilst on occasion spoiling Mosques to Christianise them as a kind of insult to Islam and a representation of religious victory, were in many cases still inspired by Moorish architecture and culture, which was often viewed as being more evolved and superior. For example, the 14th Century Alczar palace was build in the same style as the Alhambra. Southern Spain would cease to be the cultural and scientific centre of Europe. One might even argue that Spanish palate for pork and pork based food products was perhaps a reaction to the Islamic past, and a sign of cultural and religious defiance. The Crusades can be seen as an inferior or more backward culture attacking a more sophisticated one (in terms of philosophy, education, science and culture). During the latter half of the last millennium, Islamic countries and empires have been in decline with Europe and later the Americas rising to economic dominance in the world. Christianity itself has declined as well as Islam, and it is possible that in the Middle East there is a socio-economic rivalry of the West, and a jealousy of prosperity which is used by unscrupulous religious and political figures for politicial end, turning it into a religious issue.

The Crusades of the Holy Land by Roman sponsored forces were never viewed by the Arabs as being a religious war, despite the religious rhetoric, but merely as a brave attempt at imperialistic style conquest. Whilst there were some religious fundamentalists amongst their ranks, most of the Crusaders were motivated by money (being very poor) and the chance to sack and pillage those they defeated, and in some cases to rape their women (not unlike the Vikings). Raiding loot has been a common theme amongst invading armies for several millennia. King Richard's Crusaders, whilst on route to the Holy Land, stopped off at Lisbon and the soldiers attacked the city, looting, killing Jews and Muslims, burning down homes and raping women. Many were arrested and only released when their ships were about to leave dock.

The Muslims reconquest of the Holy Land and Bizantium was also just a conquest for land and spreading Islam. It was not anti-Christian as such. Indeed for all the religious rhetoric of the Crusaders, the Christian inhabitants of the captured territories got along very well with the Islamic inhabitants. The Crusaders were not really embodying Christian values in any sense nor seeking to spread Christianity as they actually invaded and sacked the Orthodox Christian captial Constantinope (named after the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine)! Ironically, the Byzantine Empire, the largest Christian Empire at the time, had requested the assistance of the Pope against invading Muslim forces. It was really just about showing who was boss and settling old scores as much as capturing land and seizing wealth. Recruits were motivated by fictitious stories of acts of barbarism by moslems against Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem, and by promises of salvation if one died in combat in this 'Holy War'. The Crusades were pitched by the Pope and religious leaders as a Holy War, as opposed to necessary/defensive war that was still sinful (as had been the previous attitude towards war by Christian church leaders). They inspired an unprecedented level of religious fanaticism and desire for bloodshed in the name of religion. There were even isolated incidents of cannibalism, documented by both Christian forces and Islamic historians of the time, impaling 'pagan' (i.e. Muslim) children on spits and boiling them - although such incidents were probably very rare and were no doubt a result of starvation. Butching men, women and children was quite commonplace (by both sides) during the Crusades. Yet the Crusaders were far from widely accepted as righteous warriors by Christians at the time, and the Byzantines were initially horrified by the first Crusaders that arrived on their doorstep.

It should be noted that Saladin, the Kurdish ruler and most powerful leader in the Middle East of the day, recruited muslims using similar religious rhetoric as the Crusaders in order drum up support for the recapture of the Muslim city of Jerusalem and land of Palestine for its original inhabitants; and for his own benefit, to extend his empire and make a name for himself. He was however regarded highly by King Richard at the time and was close friends with many senior European figures. He had no wish to slaughter the Crusaders and their communities, but merely to recapture the land and re-establish 'muslim' control or his control over the territories. Although recruiting on religious grounds, he was not anti-Christian, and was aware of the history of Christianity in the Middle East, in Jerusalem, and indeed that Syria had been Christian (not from the West but from Jerusalem) long before it became a Moslem nation. Saladin was the most successful Muslim leader in Islamic history in terms of conquest of land, and is regarded as a hero by many Muslims today. Many Muslim political leaders have identified with him (in their dreams!) However, he is not the anti-Christian and anti-Zionist figure that he is made out to be by modern Muslim extremists. Such people conveniently ignore the facts about him and history, and choose to reinterpret history for their own benefit.

The Crusades were very much forgotten in the Middle East once the Crusaders were driven out and the lands recaptured, pushing Muslim control even further north than ever before, and actually capturing much of the Byzantine Empire and beyond. Memories of the Crusades were awakened again however during the European Colonial period, when empires spread into Northern Africa and India, although there really is no comparison between the Crusades and Colonial rule. During the WWI, the Germans sided with Austro-Hungary and the Turkish Ottoman Empire, which controlled Jerusalem, and when the Allied Forces came to Jerusalem, leaders were very conscious about the sensitivity about the Crusades. However, the Western media was very quick to draw parallels and make insensitive comments about the latest Crusade. The subsequent British occupation and management of Palestine was handled rather badly, and the influx of Jews and expulsion of Palestinians from their land and separation of Muslims from Jews was regarded as similar to Crusader settlements and expulsion/slaughter of Muslims. Israelis or Zionists were later compared with and thought of as Crusaders by many Islamic Extremists.

Today there is still a huge amount of insecurity and ill feeling in the Muslim world towards the west, and the perception is that the Crusades never actually ended. This is a modern interpretation of what the Crusades were about. Indeed it is just socio-economic ill feeling essentially and feeling of emasculation. Muslim countries resent having anything thrust up on them or that comes from the 'West', even if it is actually what they want (e.g. democracy or economic development), as a matter of principle. By addressing these socio-economic issues and encouraging the countries in question to be seen to be developing initiatives themselves, they will be more lively to succeed, and arrive at a point of greater religious tolerance and mutual understanding between two of the great monotheistic religions that have more in common than they would like to admit.

Some view the Crusaders, pretending to represent Christian values, but really just after land and stealing wealth, are similar to the interventions of the West in the Middle East, for example, the invasions of Iraq on the pretext of anti-terrorism but 'in actuality' an attempt to secure oil resources and open the country up to corporate interests. However, this is a very expensive theft, and the value of the oil has been paid many many times over by American tax payers and the lives of inhabitants and Western soldiers alike.

Modern Islamic fundamentalism and indeed terrorism associated with Al Qaeda can be seen as the Crusader ethic living on today. The Christian instigators of the Crusades were the creators of modern Islamic fundamentalist terrorism in a sense. Al Qaeda capitalise on the ill feeling about the Crusades in the Muslim world by referring to Westerners (including any Christian denomination and indeed anyone European or American) as Crusaders, manipulating people's feelings to gain support, wanting to expel the 'Crusaders' from 'Muslim soil' (as they did 1000 years ago) regardless of whether they are there to protect democracy or not. There is still a fundamental lack of cultural appreciation about the effect of the Crusades in the minds of modern Muslims, and the actual slaughter that went on during the Crusades, on the request of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church seems to have conveniently forgotten about this. Westerners use the term 'Crusade' in casual conversation to mean a committed effort to do a particular task, unaware of its offensive connotations amongst Muslims. If we were to describe an attempt to eradicate inefficiency in the office as a 'holocaust', we might find it similarly distasteful. Modern conflict in Palestine is clearly fuelled to some extent by perceptions of the Crusades, with an Islamic Extremist desire to 'expel all infidels from the Holy Land', i.e. modern day Jews. Of course, not all or indeed most Muslims do not share this view, but many are manipulated by extremists into joining their cause. George W. Bush displayed his lack of cultural appreciation and ignorance in his famous speech after 911, when he talked of a 'Crusade...a war on terror'. This was not heard favourably by the Muslim world, many of whom believe the Crusades are still in effect on some level today, hear such a statement from the world's biggest superpower, and 'world policeman', and Christian nation (debatable if you view the Constitution). We surely should expect more professionalism from our politicians that such ignorant and incompetent outbursts, which cause huge damage to international relations and probably indirectly increased the death toll of fighters on all sides in the Iraqi conflict. We are still experiencing the hangover of 'religious' violence today, and appreciating that will help to some extent to bring together warring peoples and increase religious tolerance and mutual cultural respect. 

The Protestant Reformation

Martin Luther (1483-1546), the founder of Lutheranism and arguably the founder of Protestantism also, started his campaign against the Catholic Church by writing a paper on why 'indulgences' (pardons that were sold to Catholics that were signed by the Pope and which claimed to forgive all one's sins) were wrong, which struck a chord with Germans at the time. He was not really looking however to reform the Catholic Church (or join the Orthodox Church instead), but sought to fight the Catholic Church and reject it. He did not see that one needed a mediator between himself and God, one's relationship being a personal one. He went ahead and translated the Bible into German, which was previously only available in Latin and translated and read out to congregations by Priests. He also controversially called the Roman Catholic Pope the Antichrist. He was excommunicated from the Catholic Church.


Ironically his legacy was not one of increased spiritual insight and understanding, but to a large extent one of bloodshed and division. Many centuries of conflict between Protestants and Catholics unfolded which still persists to this day in places like Northern Ireland. Protestantism was persecuted in many countries before it took hold. For example, in France, in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of August 1572, Catholics (mainly ordinary people) annihilated between 30,000 and 100,000 Huguenots across France in an act of 'cleansing spiritual rot' from their communities that might result in adverse judgement from God and going to Hell.


During the Protestant Reformation, many newly formed Protestant countries persecuted and massacred the Catholics. This was partly fueled by religious zeal, Protestants believing Catholics to be servants of the Antichrist, and by killing Catholics one was doing God's work and even perhaps going to heaven; a little like Catholic Crusaders before them felt that by butchering Muslims and Orthodox Christians they were doing the same. The Protestant Reformation in England was only instigated by Henry VIII for sexual reasons, in that he wanted a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and to marry Ann-Boleyn, so she could bear him a son, whom he later had beheaded anyway. Henry did not take the news from Rome well that he could not divorce, so decided to make himself the head of the Church of England. He had little interest in Lutheranism before this, and in fact strongly opposed Luther's ideas and was vehemently Catholic. However, he liked to get his own way, and went on to persecute Catholics in England, having many executed who refused to convert to Protestantism, and raiding the wealth of the Catholic Church in England (which was often used for the service of the community, e.g. maintaining libraries etc.) for his own benefit. Even today, many extremist Protestant Priests still insist that the Pope is the Antichrist and resent Catholic dogma, but seem strangely unrepentent about their own form of religious persecution that was thrust upon Catholics only a few hundred years ago. Luther was not to know what would happen as a result of what he started, but it can be said that whilst there were many positive aspects to the Protestant Reformation, there were equally many disasterous aspects that are still being felt today with anti-Catholic feeling and prejudice in many West European countries. Some estimate that one million people were slaughtered during this time.


Christianity and Colonialism

The Protestant Reformation arguably also lead to secularism and free market capitalism, which one may regard as being a good thing or not! Today Christianity is associated with the West and with capitalism, but this is a very Western Centric way of looking at Christianity. Of course, traditionally, Christianity, whilst initially a Middle Eastern religion, with Middle Eastern protagonists, spread outwards to North East Africa, but also further north, to the Gentiles, into Europe. Here it remained the predominant religion of both Eastern and Western Europe. Christianity was thus seen by many as the 'white European's religion' for the next in its first 1800 years. During that time , the majority of it at least in Western Europe being Catholic, was spent homogenising the faith and stamping out variants and different types of Christian faiths, or indeed other faiths, including anything resembling witchcraft, Gnosticism, the Cathars and so on; and fighting Islamic forces (at various times - being more a territorial issue than a religious issue). The Knights Templar even fell victim to this themselves, although mainly for political and economical reasons (they were too wealthy and powerful). Whilst earlier there had been a Catholic vs Orthodox struggle, it later turned into a Protestant vs Catholic struggle.

During the colonial era, Western Europeans, when setting up new colonies, set about trying to convert the native populations they encountered in India, Africa and Central and South America to their own denomination of Christianity. However this was not just Christianity, it was a Western European interpretation of it. Jesus and Mary had always been seen as being 'white'. And much of the healing and driving out of spirits had disappeared from European Christianity. The colonial powers sought to exploit and control the local populations, but also sought to control their minds and souls too, by converting them to Christianity. The Colonial invaders saw their subjects often with disdain, being culturally inferior and as pagan heathens, knowing what was best for them. In Western Africa, nearly 30 million were sold as slaves (by local 'black' rulers and Muslim traders). In Latin America, entire populations were nearly wiped out by disease that the Spanish and Portugese invaders brought with them. Not too dissimilar in concept to today's Western Nations and indeed the United Nations interfering in the national problems of developing countries and indeed in the Middle East.

The colonial powers sought to displace indigenous culture, replacing it with their own, and try to make the locals more European - including forcing Christianity on local populations. This was however not very successful a strategy until the local populations were able to take Christianity and make it their own, i.e. assimilating it into their own culture and to some extent their old pagan (or existing) religious and cultural traditions (Christianisation). The figures of Jesus and Mary were no longer white faces, but were made to represent the local indigenous peoples. In Africa, many of the indigenous peoples did not take up European style Christianity as it had little relevance to them, and they felt that it was fake or theoretical in some sense, i.e. if you cannot touch it, feel it, taste it or see it, it is not real. Therefore the God of the Europeans was not real. It was only really when indigenous priests spread the message of God, having an understanding of indigenous pagan traditions, culture and religion, that they were able to communicate the faith to people in a way that they could relate to and understand. Pagan Africans believed in spirits and healing, and this is why charismatic Christian denominations like Pentecostalism has spread so widely. In fact, one in four Christians are Pentecostal and/or Charismatic. And now 1/3 of the world's population is Christian. But not as many of us know it. Those ethnocentric Christians who like quiet and orderly Church services where people are not behaving too enthusiastically may have started to become worried and feel 'threatened'. For a long time they felt they were the proprietors of Christianity, but that is no longer the case.

Whilst this overall trend may have many good points, including increased passion in religion, vitality and 'power', more experience of the Holy Sprit, i.e. a more intimate relationship with faith, it may also have some negative characteristics (or positive depending on your perspective), including intolerance towards homosexuals and other religions, liberalism, freedom of interpretation of the Bible and the personal relationship with God, belief in the Bible being the literal word of God (i.e. creationism and a somewhat 'anti-scientific' bias, or at least only endorsing science that does not contradict the Bible), etc. How opponents of this view could argue that Europeans have only become more secular and liberal in their outlook because their faith has lost much of its meaning and power and they are looking for ways of supplementing it because it is a hollow shell of its former self and if they were truly religious, then they would not be so concerned with such matters and would focus more on God.

I am not certain of the origin of American Evangelical Christianity, as to whether it is homegrown or whether it has actually been imported from South America or Africa and 'Americanised' into the 'white causasian' communities. This has however been exported to Europe in recent years. Evangelicals are often looked on with some distaste by traditional European Christians, as being uncontrolled and hysterical, rejecting traditional hymns in favour of modern compositions, acoustic guitar based 'worship music', gospel influences, and indeed the speaking in tongues, people falling over and even animal noises.. However, traditional Protestant and Catholic Christians could be viewed as missing a large part of the message of the Bible about the Holy Spirit, and their services being excessively dull, restrainted and emotionally and spiritually constipated.

Now ironically we have a situation where Europe is no longer the main home of Christianity. Logic would dictate that the Middle East should be the stronghold of Christianity, but it never really was. Clearly some nations were Christian (from after the time of Christ) until they were overrun by Muslim invaders, but they were more the exception than the rule. But now we have a situation where Latin America, Asia and in particular Africa, are actually where the Christianity is growing the fastest, and is being re-exported back to Europe. There are more Anglicans in Africa than there are in Western Europe. Therefore it is only logical that these Anglicans should expert more and more influence on the Anglican church as a whole. African Christians view themselves as representing the original Christianity, and Europe as having lost it's way, and looking to convert Europe back to proper Christianity! This is something the colonial rulers of the past perhaps had never counted on happening!

However, as mentioned above, not all Christian nations outside of Europe had Christianity thrust upon them. This is a very European-centric perspective. Syria was a Christian nation for many years. Indeed, Lebanon still is. Egypt and Ethiopia were also Christian nations, from the middle of the first Century AD, ironically whilst Rome was still party to pagan rulers. The Orthodox Church is said to predate the Roman Catholic Church, and is considered the first Christian Church - the Catholic Church being a later evolution of it, which the Orthodox churches never fully assimilated with, resulting in the formal Great Schism in the 1054. It should be noted that Orthodoxy has not been responsible for the crimes against humanity to the same (if any) extent that Catholicism and Protestantism have been in historical terms, for misguided, divisive and insecure reasons.


The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is the official name of the largest Christian church in Egypt. Egypt is named as the place in the New Testament that the Holy family sought refuge after fleeing from Judea. The Egyptian Church is more than 19 centuries old. Egypt is frequently referenced in the Old Testament.


The first Christians in Egypt were mostly Alexandrian Jews (e.g. Theophilus). The church was founded by Saint Mark the Evangelist, believed to be the apostle, the author of the Gospel of Mark, and a companion of Saint Peter. He is believed to have been the first Bishop of Alexandria and the first Pope of Alexandria. He is regarded as the founded of African Christianity and his evangelistic symbol is the lion.


The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is an Oriental Orthodox church in Ethiopia, that was formerly part of the Coptic Orthodox church until 1959, which it was granted its own Patriarch. It is one of the few pre-colonial churches of Sub-Saharan Africa, and is the largest of all Oriental Orthodox churches. It is thought to have been formed in 346 AD.



Some have observed that the Ethiopian Church is a shining example of Christianity working with the traditions of Judaism. The Ethiopian Church regards the Old Testament as as sacred as the New Testament, if not more so. Ethiopian Orthodox Christians observe many Jewish customs such as dietary customs and indeed circumcision, and some believe that Jewish practices and culture in the area predate Christ, which is not unfeasible or that unlikely given the history of the Jewish people. Perhaps the Jewish people should take note that it is possible to embrace both Judaism and Christianity together in a number of forms.


Many Afro-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans regard Ethiopia and Egyptian churches as an inspiration, as Africans choosing Christianity and not having it thrust upon them; and indeed Ethiopia which was the only nation to stand up to colonial invasion until the 2nd world war.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity differs in many respects to its Western European counterpart, Catholicism and Protestantism. One of the main differences is in approach. In Orthodoxy, one of the main principles is to spiritually become closer together, to become one with God, and more Christ-like, whereas Catholicism always held that God was intangible and could never be directly experienced by mere sinners or mortals. Eastern Orthodoxy is rich in symbolism and metaphor in its rituals, full of feeling and sensation, whereas Protestantism is rather dry and intellectually-based in comparison.


© 2006-2021 Fabian Dee