Remembering the Crusades: Myth, Image and Identity

28th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies

Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 29-30, 2008

David Perry, Paul the Martyr and Venetian Memories of the Fourth Crusade

The Translatio Corporis Beatissimi Pauli Martyris, a narrative describing the transfer of the relics of St. Paul the Martyr from Constantinople to Venice in 1222,begins with a little-noticed account of the Fourth Crusade.  The account seems to be merely a way for the author, an anonymous monk from the Venetian monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore, to explain why the monastery possessed the church in Constantinople from where the relics were taken.  While the author was primarily concerned with the tale of relic-theft, or, at least, relic-smuggling, I argue that by linking relic-transfer to the crusade he elevates the mere bureaucratic transfer of a relic into a story of miracle, dangers overcome, and economic and religious significance for Venice. His synopsis of the crusade therefore serves a vital purpose in the grander scheme of the narrative.
Furthermore, the way the author re-tells the story of the conquest of Constantinople, itself, reflects a clever interpretation of events.  He informs the reader that although the Venetians genuinely wanted to save the Holy Land, God had another purpose for them.  The Greek race, he argues, was too filled with pride. God became angry and decided to punish them, and thus He forced the crusading fleet to divert to Constantinople.  Whereas other narrators of the Fourth Crusade found themselves having to elide the failure of the crusaders to liberate Jerusalem, this Venetian author faced no such problem.  God wanted the Greeks humbled. Mission accomplished.

In this paper, I show how a medieval author interpreted this most controversial crusade in a manner that served his purposes.  His revision serves as a piece of evidence, as well, of a significant change in Venetian identity.  At the moment of the Translatio's composition, Venice was transforming into an imperial capital of a far-flung maritime empire.  Venetian ideas and propaganda about their city’s place in the Christian world developed along with the political-economic changes.  The Translatio Beatissimi Pauli offers a window in a purposeful memoralization of the crusade as a critical new piece onto Venice’s sense of self.  


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