The Medieval Review 17.10.01


Gaposchkin, M. Cecilia. Invisible Weapons: Liturgy and the Making of Crusade Ideology. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2017. pp. xxv, 349. ISBN: 978-1-5017-0515-1 (hardback).



Reviewed by:


Nic Morton
Nottingham Trent University
nicholas.morton@ntu.ac.uk

There has been a growing interest in recent years in the liturgical sources associated with crusading and the Latin East. A seminal work in this field was Dondi's The Liturgy of the Canons Regular of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (2004), although several further studies have been published subsequently both by Gaposchkin as well as others by Shagrir, John and Salvado. Cumulatively these studies have begun to demonstrate how much can be learned from medieval liturgical sources about much-debated themes including crusading ideology and spirituality as well as the hierarchies, rituals and identity of the Latin Church in the Crusader States. The present work Invisible Weapons represents a bold "next step" in this unfolding conversation, offering a broad historical panorama for the development of liturgical and para-liturgical practices and their evolving connection with crusading from the period directly before the First Crusade to the fifteenth century.

The book itself is spread across seven chapters which--very broadly--lead a reader through a phase-by-phase development in the liturgical developments connected with crusading (although this chronological progression is interspersed with several longer thematic sections). The first chapter opens with a discussion of the pool of ideas and existing liturgical rites used during the pre-First Crusade period which were subsequently amalgamated into the liturgical acts conducted during the crusade itself. These include practices surrounding pilgrimage and those concerned with warfare. Gaposchkin's discussion of the indulgences offered to pilgrims prior to 1095 is especially thought-provoking, given the centrality of the indulgence in the development of crusading ideology. This analysis places especial emphasis on the central importance of the cross within such practices and also the conspicuous influence of Jerusalem. Certainly, Gaposchkin--both in this chapter and in later sections--returns repeatedly to the importance of Jerusalem within both pre- and post-First Crusade liturgical materials and this in turn represents a notable finding, especially for scholars concerned with the question of the First Crusade's objectives (and Jerusalem's role therein).

The second chapter explores the formation of liturgical practices associated with crusading in its first decades, discussing the rites that developed to mould and guide participants' thought worlds. Here it is demonstrated that they drew heavily on pre-crusading practices, especially those associated with pilgrimage. This link between pilgrimage and crusading is raised on several occasions--an important point, given the ongoing debate over the extent to which the First Crusade should be understood as a form of pilgrimage. Gaposchkin stresses that the rites developed for crusaders represent a coalesce of previous practices to form new hybrid suitable for this new form of war. Here, as elsewhere, she engages with an impressive array of manuscript sources drawing attention to many little-known texts for the crusade. One particularly noteworthy observation offered here is the identification of a plurality of different practices associated with departing crusaders in the early decades of the movement. She thought-provokingly suggests that this may be indicative of an initial unwillingness within the Church to establish a standardised set of liturgical acts.

The next chapter moves onto the liturgies conducted by the crusaders during their expeditions. The major sources here are necessarily the chronicles and letters produced by crusaders and these are naturally well known. Even so, several important links are established between these crusading narratives and some of the less well known liturgical materials associated with crusading (or associated activities), often demonstrating the influence of the latter on the former. There is also a fascinating exploration here of the importance that rank-and-file soldiers, with no knowledge of Latin, may have attached to the liturgical practices conducted in Latin during their long campaigns. This chapter then works through the various shifts in liturgical practice manifested in later crusading campaigns during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, noting the introductions of new ideas and innovations. These include, for example, the frequent use of the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus during crusades fought in the thirteenth century.

In the next section, the discussion moves from the crusading movement to the Crusader States, looking at the liturgical practices established in Jerusalem both to commemorate the First Crusade and to engage with the unfolding challenges confronting the kingdom of Jerusalem. There is an especially fascinating analysis here of liturgical petitions which include many focusing on the themes of defeating "pagans" and supporting pilgrims during their long journeys to the east. A notable conclusion offered here is that many of these Latin Eastern liturgical sources produced following the First Crusade contain eschatological ideas concerning the fulfilment of biblical prophecies and the First Crusade's place in the long-term development of world history. Needless to say, such material strengthens the arguments for understanding the crusade as an expedition wreathed with eschatological and apocalyptic expectations. It is equally interesting--if predictable--that such material became rather more muted following the rededication of the Holy Sepulchre in 1149 (still more after 1187).

The fifth chapter returns to Western Europe to explore the liturgical commemoration of the First Crusade; an event which Gaposchkin plausibly claims brought about a new "genre of writing." This manifested itself in a broad range of liturgical celebrations and acts of remembrance. Within this discussion Gaposchkin makes the important comment that it was always the conquest of Jerusalem, rather than the siege of Antioch (which occupies far more space in the crusade narratives), that received the greatest attention. It is also demonstrated how the fall of Jerusalem was combined with the feast of the Diviso Apostolorum which fell on the same day. Towards the end of the chapter, the liturgical commemoration of later notable victories is explored, such as Louis IX's conquest of Damietta.

The final two chapters move more assertively into later centuries, demonstrating how the act of crusading accrued a multitude of liturgical rites over time whose cumulative purpose was to appeal to God for victory over their enemies. In this way, such acts became a crucial weapon of war. Such efforts can be found for most of the major crusades, although –as with so many aspects of the crusading movement--it was Pope Innocent III who conspicuously drove these developments, making liturgical supplication a central feature in his crusading policy. The idea was to unite Christendom in a combined effort--spiritual and physical--to win God's blessing in holy war.

The last chapter leaps ahead to the fifteenth century looking at the liturgical practices which were implemented amidst the rising threat from the Ottoman Turks, especially in the years surrounding the conquest of Constantinople (1453). This creates an interesting point of comparison because--as Gaposchkin points out--crusading by this stage was concerned overwhelmingly with the defence of Christendom's borders, rather than the reconquest of Jerusalem, so the liturgies associated with crusading had to adapt accordingly. Within has analysis of these documents she reveals the longstanding influence of prayers created by Pope Clement V at the start of the fourteenth century.

Consequently, this is a hardworking and exciting piece of work, drawing together many little-known sources and creating a compelling narrative for the development of the liturgical activities associated with crusading. These in turn bear upon broader areas of interest for crusade scholars, most notably the vexed issue of motivation. Certainly, this group of sources stresses the importance of 'religious' motivation for crusaders and their supporters, given that so many individuals from many different walks of life made their contributions to holy war through participation in religious rites and practices. It is also interesting to see how contemporaries viewed the liturgy as an instrument of war, intended to seek God's support and therefore every bit as relevant to military campaigning as the weapons and armour of the crusading knights.

Another of Invisible Weapons' great strengths is its accessibility. Gaposchkin has gone to considerable efforts to provide succinct introductions for the themes of crusading ideology and liturgical texts, as well as historical overviews of the main crusading campaigns. Some of these are supplied in a dedicated "preliminaries" section, but they can also be found throughout. These concise overviews have been included with an eye to undergraduate students and other non-expert readers and certainly this work should be commended in its efforts to open up its content in this way.

Overall, this is an extremely valuable study that makes an original and impressive contribution to scholarship on the crusades. It is to be hoped that it Invisible Weapons will act as a spur for future research on this rich vein of material.



Copyright (c) 2017 Nicholas Morton



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