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

Brett Whalen, Reform-Crusade-Apocalypse: Crusading Imagined by Gerhoh of Reichersberg and Joachim of Fiore

This paper will examine the place of crusading in the historical thought of two important apocalyptic thinkers of the twelfth century, Gerhoh of Reichersberg and Joachim of Fiore. Scholars have described both Gerhoh and Joachim as theorists of “reformist apocalypticism,” a view of history that saw the Roman ecclesiastical reform movement of the later eleventh and twelfth centuries as part of a climatic battle between forces of good and evil. This apocalyptic perspective equally shaped Gerhoh and Joachim’s memory of the First Crusade and their interpretation of subsequent campaigns to liberate the holy places of Jerusalem from the hands of the “infidels.” Gerhoh, who confronted the failure of the Second Crusade at Damascus, looked back to the success of the First Crusade (1095-1099) under Pope Urban II as an example of properly sanctioned violence by pious laymen operating under clerical authority. During the Second Crusade (1145-1149), by contrast, when the warriors were moved by greed and their own temporal ambitions, the expedition had floundered disastrously: a sign of Antichrist at work in Christendom and God’s just punishment of his wayward believers. Joachim, writing around the time of the Islamic recapture of Jerusalem (1187) and the inconclusive Third Crusade (1189-1192), acknowledged the triumph of the First Crusade, but believed that any armed effort to recover the holy places was a case of trying to swim upstream. The course of history was not leading toward the triumph of the crusaders. Instead, further apocalyptic tribulations were in store for the followers of the Roman church, including a resurgence of the “Saracens” and their continued oppression of Christendom. Internal, spiritual reform was the order of the day, rather than the power of the sword. Through their apocalyptic readings of the crusading movement, Gerhoh and Joachim demonstrate the complicated and contested place that the crusades occupied in the historical memory of medieval Europe, linked to a broader set of concerns about the reform of the Roman church and the meaning of history—concerns that modern observers have largely forgotten, even though crusading continues to haunt their own imaginations and ideologies.


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