09.01.10, Purkis, Crusading Spirituality

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Matthew Gabriele

The Medieval Review baj9928.0901.010


Purkis, William J.. Crusading Spirituality in the Holy Land and Iberia, c. 1095-1187. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell, 2008. Pp. 215. ISBN: 9781843833963.

Reviewed by:
Matthew Gabriele
Virginia Tech

This is a book in two parts. The first part, consisting of the opening four chapters, considers the spirituality that governed the early military expeditions to the Holy Land, following Pope Urban II's call at Clermont in November 1095 but ending before the battle of Hattin and the Latin Christians' loss of Jerusalem to Saladin. The final two chapters do something different. They focus on how the spirituality Purkis discussed in the first part translated to Iberia and how a "foundation legend" for crusading there was created (11). On the whole, this book is a valuable contribution to our understanding of eleventh- and twelfth-century spirituality and the eruption of a particular strain of Christian Holy War in the period.

After a brief introduction, in which Purkis very clearly lays out his goals, Chapters 1 and 2 look at the origins of the First Crusade by, in a sense, working backwards. The author first examines the monastic response to Urban's call in order to ask why such an expedition might have seemed so desirable to them and why others reacted so strongly against monks abandoning their cloisters. Purkis, following mainstream thought within Crusade Studies, positions the First Crusade as both a form of Jerusalem pilgrimage and a version of Christian holy war that grew out of the reform papacy's dedication to (their ideal of) the libertas of the Church (15-18). The First Crusade offered the laity an alternative to monasticism by arrogating to itself the ideal of imitatio Christi, which animated other aspects of religious reform throughout the same period. Positioning crusading spirituality like this is an important and convincing claim that helps position the study of the Crusade within a much wider field of contemporary social change. This idea of allowing access to the path of imitatio Christi was the genius of Pope Urban II. In Chapter 2, after spending some time on the rather fraught task of trying to reconstruct what Urban said at Clermont, Purkis follows through on the main idea he introduced in the previous chapter. At Clermont, the pope performed "a remarkable feat of pastoral instruction, for by instituting the sign of the cross as a badge of the crusade [he] successfully introduced into the secular world a concept that had previously only been applied to the monastic life" (32). This action of "carrying the cross" grounded contemporary understandings of the First Crusade on an imitatio Christi that was much less figurative than monasticism, allowing the laity to follow Christ, tangibly walk in His footsteps, and "worship in the place where his feet have stood" (Psalm 131:7, an oft-repeated citation in twelfth-century sources). In this way, Purkis continues, the First Crusade was conceptualized as a return to the vita apostolica and the ecclesia primitiva.

The book tries to pivot in Chapter 3, moving away from the First Crusade itself and towards its legacy. Initially, it tries to do way too much way too quickly. The section on the image of Jerusalem in the West compresses chronology in unhelpful ways, eliding rather superficial similarities in pilgrimage accounts without accounting for more substantial differences. It is questionable, for example, how much Jerome (ca. 404), Theodosius (ca. 518), and the Piacenza Pilgrim (ca. 570) can illuminate the singularity of eleventh-century Latin pilgrimage practice and devotion to Jerusalem. (I will return to this example later because, I think, it illustrates an endemic problem in the work.) The remainder of Chapter 3 is much better though, as it traces the impact that Latin possession of the Holy Land had on the Christian West. The period before 1147, a time of numerous large-scale military expeditions to the East but before the launch of the "Second Crusade," saw the West hammering out how crusading was to be conducted and how far this idea of a "secular" Christomimesis could be pushed. Slowly, thanks to the Cistercians and especially Bernard of Clairvaux, the idea of a tangible Christomimetic piety came to rest in the Templars.

Chapter 4 shows how this all happened. Purkis meticulously details how Cistercian spirituality turned crusading into something different from what it had been. By the time of Hattin and the Third Crusade, one had to join a military order to be a true heir to the First Crusade. Why did Eugenius III's Quantum praedecessores fail to invoke the same themes that sources of the First Crusade did? For Purkis, the answer is that the Cistercians--including Bernard of Clairvaux and his former pupil, Eugenius himself--were "consciously trying to create a new vocabulary for crusading" (91). For Bernard, et al., the imitatio Christi was reserved for monks and, hence, only accessible by joining a religious order. If the impulse to crusade was too strong, then it would be best to join those who could wage "twofold warfare" against both flesh and spirit--the Templars. On this point, Purkis' sensitive reading of Bernard's De laude novae militiae, especially the oft-overlooked second part of the work on the Templars' devotional lives, is utterly convincing. So, Eugenius III and his successors refined their call, keeping crusading's focus on Jerusalem but turning to a new type of example for these crusaders to follow, away from Christ Himself and towards their own ancestors.

The final two chapters of the book consider the place of Iberia in the development of crusading spirituality. Rejecting the thesis that equated pre-1095 conflict between Christians and Muslims in Iberia with the spirituality of the First Crusade, Purkis instead chronicles the "struggle" that the twelfth-century papacy faced when trying to convince the Iberian aristocracy "that it was as rewarding to fight against the Muslims of al-Andalus as it was to engage with Islam in the Holy Land" (126). Another strand of penitential warfare--divorced from pilgrimage and/or Jerusalem--was at work on the peninsula though, and in the 1120s, the papacy, certain ecclesiastics, and certain secular rulers tried to combine crusading with this earlier form of warfare by advocating the iter per Hispaniam. Here, the goal (Jerusalem) was the same as any "normal" crusade; only the route differed. It didn't really work.

Chapter 6 shows why. It begins with the Liber sancti Jacobi (also known by the name of its original manuscript, the Codex Calixtinus), likely put together ca. 1140 to bolster devotion to St. James by "linking him with crusading ideology and establishing a mythical-historical context for crusading in Iberia" (143). The miracula in the Liber sancti Jacobi construct St. James as the particular patron of the arms-bearing class, especially in their struggles against Muslims, while the Historia Turpini attempted to create a legendary past for crusading by linking St. James to Charlemagne and the Roland tradition. But note that this move significantly divorced the experience of crusading in Iberia from the Jerusalem pilgrimage tradition and gave preeminence to more local, Iberian traditions--specifically pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. This latter tradition dovetailed with contemporary Cistercian moves to emphasize the role of one's ancestors in going on crusade and gave twelfth-century Iberian Christians their own special place in the conflict between Christianity and Islam. Finally, a brief conclusion recaps Purkis' main points and offers some suggestions for further research.

Overall, William Purkis' Crusading Spirituality in the Holy Land and Iberia, c.1095-c.1187 enhances our understanding of medieval holy war, pilgrimage practice, and Latin spirituality more generally. The book is also firmly rooted in the growing sub-field of Crusade Studies. And this last point is actually, I think, the book's single largest problem. There are moments throughout where I would challenge Purkis' reading of his sources (the discussion of the authenticity of Pope Sergius IV's encyclical comes immediately to mind (45-47)), but these are the meat of the scholarly meal, as it were, and can be hashed out elsewhere. I sense that Purkis has more to say on many of these topics and look forward to hearing him, especially--and perhaps paradoxically--in light of one major point of criticism I will discuss below.

Let me explain. I mentioned above that I thought Purkis dealt rather too quickly with eleventh-century Latin pilgrimage practice. As I noted, it is questionable how much a few examples from the fifth and sixth centuries (and one of them Byzantine) really tell us about the Latin West's devotion to Jerusalem several centuries later. Yet, another important point here is that Purkis' short discussion is almost entirely dependent on books by John Wilkinson and Jonathan Sumption. [1] Both are excellent scholarly works, but they are not the only voices. They are, however, cited far too often in Crusade Studies. Glancing through the book's footnotes and bibliography, you see a lot of, among others, Marcus Bull, Giles Constable, H.E.J. Cowdrey, Colin Morris, Jonathan Phillips, and (above all) Jonathan Riley-Smith. These are all exceptional scholars and they fully deserve to be in the bibliography of any book on crusading or eleventh- and twelfth-century European society generally. But there should be other names too. Why not Anatole Frolow or Rachel Fulton on the transformation of piety and devotion to Christ's humanity before 1100? [2] Why not also Bianca Kühnel or Ora Limor on early medieval Western pilgrimage to the Holy Land? [3] Why not Celia Chazelle or Bat-Sheva Albert, who deal with both of these subjects during the Carolingian age? [4] Finally, if Purkis is specifically concerned with the transformation of spirituality, why not anything on exegesis? [5] Reading outside the increasingly narrow sub-field of Crusade Studies would fundamentally recast some of Purkis' questions, including the changing devotion to the terrestrial Jerusalem in the West, the rhetoric he links to the vita apostolica in his sources, and the novelty of the imitatio Christi in the late eleventh century.

These suggestions are particularly relevant here because, in the end, Purkis' is a big book. It breaks out of the box, rather than remaining contentedly within. Its roots are in Crusade Studies but its branches push far beyond. As he notes in his Introduction, he is working with sources not often consulted in Crusade Studies (specifically hagiography, an approach, as Purkis notes, first attempted by Marcus Bull, who is also breaking out of the box), and he is trying to draw on different historiographical approaches, using Caroline Bynum in order, I think, to allude to the work of Hayden White, Gabrielle Spiegel, and Barbara Rosenwein (9). [6] In the end, I may not agree with some of his conclusions and remain frustrated that he did not push his conclusions a bit further at times, but this book makes us rethink parts of how we understand the early crusades and how they were woven into the very fabric of twelfth-century European society. This, I think, is primarily what makes the book so provocative and well worth the time of anyone--especially those outside Crusade Studies--interested in some of the larger questions that Purkis begins to touch on.

-------- Notes

1. Specifically the sources translated in Jerusalem Pilgrims before the Crusades, trans. John Wilkinson (Warminster, U.K., 1977); as well as Jonathan Sumption, Pilgrimage: An Image of Mediaeval Religion (Totowa, NJ, 1975).

2. Anatole Frolow, La relique de la Vraie Croix: Recherches sur le développement dun culte (Paris, 1961); and Rachel Fulton, From Judgment to Passion: Devotion to Christ and the Virgin Mary, 800-1200 (New York, 2002).

3. Bianca Kühnel, From the Earthly to the Heavenly Jerusalem: Representations of the Holy City in Christian Art of the First Millennium (Rome, 1987); Ora Limor, "The Place of the End of Days: Eschatological Geography in Jerusalem," in The Real and Ideal Jerusalem in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Art: Studies in Honor of Bezalel Narkiss on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday, ed. Bianca Kühnel (Jerusalem, 1998), 13-22; and Ora Limor, "'Holy Journey': Pilgrimage and Christian Sacred Landscape," in Christians and Christianity in the Holy Land: From the Origins to the Latin Kingdoms, eds. Ora Limor and Guy G. Strousma (Turnhout, 2006), 321-53.

4. Celia Martin Chazelle, The Crucified God in the Carolingian Era: Theology and Art of Christ's Passion (Cambridge, 2001); and Bat-Sheva Albert, Le pèlerinage à lépoque carolingienne (Brussels, 1999).

5. Good starting places remain Henri de Lubac, Exégèse médiévale: Les quatre sens de l'Écriture, 4 vols. (Paris, 1959-64); Gerard E. Caspary, Politics and Exegesis: Origen and the Two Swords (Berkeley, 1979); Beryl Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1983); and Le Moyen Age et la Bible, eds. Pierre Riché and Guy Lobrichon (Paris, 1984).

6. I should note that White and Rosenwein do not appear in the notes or bibliography, as are the essays in Spiegel's The Past as Text: The Theory and Practice of Medieval Historiography (Baltimore, MD, 1997).

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Matthew Gabriele

Virginia Tech