Wednesday, March 15, 2017

“The First Crusade” and “The Church of the Holy Sephulcre”

Two lengthy essays by the Charles Rivers Editors provide a concise summary of ancient events whose effects are still felt today.

The Siege of Jerusalem 1099 is an account of the most important battle of the First Crusade. Called by Pope Urban II in 1095, t5he crusade was a two-part effort. The People’s Crusade ended disastrously (with defeat and enslavement) while the knights’ crusade ended with the capture of Jerusalem.

The essay presents what’s factually known about the crusade, why it was called, what prompted the crusaders (in both groups) to attack Jewish communities along the way, the siege of Antioch, the role played by Byzantine politics, and finally the capture of Jerusalem. Interestingly, the account notes that Jerusalem’s fall to the crusaders made little impact on Muslim writers and accounts at the time. (It also notes that before there were crusades, there had been jihads and the capture of Byzantine Empire territory by Islamic armies.)

It’s a readable, to-the-point summary of an important historical event and period.

The Church of the Holy Sephulcre by Kosta Kafarakisis subtitled “The History of Christianity in Jerusalem and the Holy City’s Most Important Church.” It describes how the church was originally built (and destroyed several times) and the critical role the church and its clergy played in the development of Christianity in the Holy Land and beyond. The church also had a large, and sometimes questionable, impact on the development of numerous heresies that arose for several hundred years after the death of Christ.

What’s fascinating is how the church survived various sieges (by the Romans on a number of occasions, the Persians, and various attacks by Islamic armies and crusaders) and how it was almost routinely destroyed and rebuilt. It’s a well-informed account, noting the nuances and complexities of church history, and how the church, its clergy, and its people survived hostile, brutal, and often murderous events.

Constructed over the place traditionally associated with the tomb of Jesus, the church has recently been investigated by archaeologists and other scientists, and the actual tomb exposed for the first time in centuries.

The Church of the Holy Sephulcre is a concise, fascinating look at one of Christianity’s most important sites and how it’s survived for almost 2,000 years.

Painting: A 19th century artist’s impression of the siege of Jerusalem in 1099.

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