INTRODUCTION There were seven major crusades fought between 1096 and 1270. These were wars waged ostensibly in order to regain Palestine, and particularly, Jerusalem, from Moslem conquerors. Besides the seven major crusades, a number of minor crusades were carried on during this time and continuing down to the beginning of the 16th century. In fact, on April 17, 1492, Columbus signed an agreement to give the profits of his venture across the ocean to the recovery of Christ's sepulchre.



A. Pilgrimages to Jerusalem were very popular and were even though of as a means of acquiring merit in heaven. However, after Palestine had been conquered by the Seljuk Turks, adherents to the Moslem religion, such pilgrimages became dangerous.

B. The Byzantine emperor, Alexius I, was losing much of his empire to the Moslem armies and desired to halt their advance and regain some of the lost territory. He appealed to Pope Urban II (1088-1099) for assistance and cited the rescue of the "holy land" as incentive.

C. Aside from Alexius' desire of relief from the Moslems, and Urban's desire to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem safe again, there seems to have been an added incentive for Urban. Responding to a plea for help from the Byzantine emperor might win his friendship and perhaps gain his influence and leverage in bringing the eastern church into subjection to the Roman pontiff.


A. The veneration of relics had been popular since the fourth century. Many who embarked on a crusade hoped to find relics, and many supposed themselves successful. Objects supposedly found included the stone on which Jacob slept, Moses' rod, the cross, fragments of Mary's garments, Stephen's head, Thomas' finger, Mary's girdle, the towel with which Jesus wiped the disciples' feet, an arm of John the Baptist, some of the blood shed by Jesus on he cross, parts of the sponge, reed, and purple robe associated with the crucifixion, the head of James, the swaddling clothes of Jesus' infancy, a tear of Jesus, and the crown of thorns. This last was sold to the king of France for 10,000 marks of silver. (In view of this sum, and having in mind the Shroud of Turin, is their any doubt that sufficient motive existed for careful construction of a fraudulent shroud?) Such relics were esteemed valuable trophies, and brought fame to the towns and convents of Europe to which they were carried. Miraculous powers, particularly gifts of healing, were associated with them.

B. Some were motivated to go to Palestine by the prospect of plunder.

C. Some, especially the Normans, were seeking to establish new fiefdoms in the east.

D. Venetians desired to open up trade routes with the east. Moslem pirates had made trade difficult.

E. One of the major incentives for many was the guarantee of eternal life as well the granting of indulgences for those who participated in the crusades. Roman Catholic doctrine teaches that there are two kinds of sin: mortal and venial. Venial sins require satisfaction, or temporal punishment, e.g., performance of some prescribed good work, an act of self-denial, or after death, time in purgatory. However, venial sins do not endanger one's eternal salvation. Mortal sins not only require temporal punishment, but also endanger one's eternal salvation. When absolution is granted by a priest, the guilt of a sin is removed but temporal punishment is still required. A penance imposed by a priest is a good work required as satisfaction for sin. However, an indulgence can be substituted for penance or time spent in purgatory. "A plenary indulgence removes all the temporal punishment due to a sin; a partial indulgence removes some or part of the temporal penalties still owed to God after he forgives our sins" (THE QUESTION AND ANSWER CATHOLIC CATECHISM, John A. Hardon, p. 278).

The theory that was developed in the 13th century to explain the practice of indulgences is this: The good works of Jesus and the saints constitute a treasury of extra merit in heaven, which can be administered by the Church to its members as satisfaction for sin. It should be emphasized that the explanation for the efficacy of Indulgences had not yet been made when they were used in the 11th and 12th centuries.

The various promises made by various popes during the crusades included eternal life to crusaders and parents of crusaders, and plenary indulgence to those who contributed in any way to the crusades, whether by going himself, sending someone in his place, or aiding in the construction of ships which would carry the crusaders.

F. Another incentive was purely monetary. Many who joined a crusade were granted exemption from debt, and freedom from taxation and the payment of interest. During the third crusade, those in England and perhaps also France, who did not join the crusade were required to pay an extra tax.

G. Criminals joined crusades in order to escape punishment for their crimes.

H. Some went merely for the love of adventure.

III. CHARACTER OF THE CRUSADERS As would be suggested by the motives cited above, although religious enthusiasm was high among the crusaders, true godliness was not.

A. The camps of the crusaders were characterized by sexual immorality, gambling and infighting. Villages in their path were subjected to pillaging and rape was not unheard of. Especially severe was the treatment received by Jews whom the crusaders encountered.

B. Such behavior characterized the later crusades more so than the earlier ones. The fourth crusade (1200-1204) is especially infamous for such behavior. Although originally, this crusade was initiated for the conquest of Jerusalem, it was redirected toward the conquest of Constantinople. That city fell, and the abominations committed against it by the crusaders insured a bitterness toward Rome that would make any reconciliation between the eastern and western churches impossible.


A. None of the goals of the crusades were accomplished. Although some concessions were made by the Moslems in regard to the safe passage of pilgrims, Jerusalem ultimately remained under Moslem control. The Byzantine empire ultimately fell to the Moslems in 1453, and Constantinople became Istanbul. Finally, rather than serving as a means to reunite the eastern and western churches, the crusades increased the animosity between the two factions.

B. Thousands of lives were lost including the lives of several thousand children who set out for the "Holy Land" in what is known as the children's crusade.

C. "Again, the Crusades gave occasion for the rapid development of the system of papal indulgences, which became a dogma of the medieval theologians. The practice, once begun by Urban II at the very outset of the movement, was extended further and further until indulgence for sins was promised not only for the warrior who took up arms against the Saracens in the East, but for those who were willing to fight against Christian heretics in Western Europe." (Schaff, HISTORY..., vol. 5, p. 291)

D. And so, in the crusades we see the inception of the Inquisition, under which any one considered a heretic was in danger of torture and even death at the hands of f the Roman Catholic Church. "From warfare against the non-believer, was not a far step to war against the heretic....The Inquisition with all its horror could never have taken such deep root but for the awakening of religious passions which marked the Crusades." (NEW SCHAFF HERZOG ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE, vol. 3, p. 317)


  1. During what two centuries did most of the major crusades take place?
  2. Why are they called crusades?
  3. What were the objectives of the crusades, as perceived by Urban II and Alexius I?
  4. Identify the people who were in control of Palestine by their religion.
  5. Are any of the so-called holy wars that have been fought since the first century actually holy?
  6. Distinguish between penance and the biblical teaching concerning repentance. (See Mt. 3:8, Acts 3:19, Lk. 17:4 and 2 Cor. 7:10)
  7. What is an indulgence?
  8. Does the Bible teach that, in any sense, we can suffer enough to make up for our own sins?
  9. Can we do, or have done for us, enough good works to make up for our sins?
  10. What connection is there between the Crusades and the Inquisition?