The Italian Almanac
Italian News - March 21
The medieval crusades had a "high and noble" goal and were not something to be apologised for, conference participants were told at a Vatican-sponsored university this weekend. The Crusaders are often seen, not only by Muslims, as bloodthirsty warriors who invaded Muslim lands and wantonly attacked worshippers of Islam. During the Catholic Church's Holy Year 2000 celebrations, the late Pope John Paul II asked Muslims for forgiveness for sins committed by Christians during the Crusades. But a conference at Rome's Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University forcefully played up a quite different view.
The crusades were "defensive wars, never aggressive", said Italian historian Roberto de Mattei, who opened the debate on Friday. Their goal was to "defend the faith and the civilisation of the Christian west against Islam", he continued, saying that the campaigns came "after the Islamic invasion of Christian lands and the devastation of Holy Sites." Prof. de Mattei pointed in particular to the destruction of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where Christians believe Jesus Christ was buried after his crucifixion and where the resurrection occurred.
This event in 1009, carried out by the armies of Caliph Hakim, was one of the things which led Pope Urban II to call for the first crusade in 1095, urging Christians to "free" the Holy Land. In 1944 Pope Pius XII gave a speech in which he appeared at least in part to justify the crusades by likening the mission of crusading knights to the task of missionaries in foreign lands.
There were eight Crusades, the first from 1095 to 1101 and the last in 1270. They inspired centuries of art and literature, right up the present day. Popular interest was aroused again recently by a major film production directed by Ridley Scott.