What were the Crusades?

The Crusades were a series of military campaigns during the time of Medieval England against the Muslims of the Middle East. In 1076, the Muslims had captured Jerusalem – the most holy of holy places for Christians. Jesus had been born in nearby Bethlehem and Jesus had spent most of his life in Jerusalem. He was crucified on Calvary Hill, also in Jerusalem. There was no more important place on Earth than Jerusalem for a true Christian which is why Christians called Jerusalem the “City of God”.

However, Jerusalem was also extremely important for the Muslims as Muhammad, the founder of the Muslim faith, had been there and there was great joy in the Muslim world when Jerusalem was captured. A beautiful dome – called the Dome of the Rock – was built on the rock where Muhammad was said to have sat and prayed. The rock was so holy that no Muslim was allowed to tread on it or touch it when visiting the Dome.

Thus the Christians fought to get Jerusalem back while the Muslims fought to keep Jerusalem. These wars were to last nearly 200 years.

A Timeline of the Crusades

Some history books do slightly vary with their dates of when the Crusades started. The problem seems to be on deciding whether the date a crusade was called for is the date it started – or whether the start date was the date the troops actually left for a crusade.

The First Crusade : 1096 to 1099
The Second Crusade : 1147 to 1149
The Third Crusade : 1189 to 1192
The Fourth Crusade : 1201 to 1204
The Fifth Crusade : 1217 to 1221
The Sixth Crusade : 1228 to 1229
The Seventh Crusade : 1248 to 1254
The Eighth Crusade : 1270

In 1212 what became known as the Children’s Crusade also occurred.

When the first crusaders set off (calling themselves ‘pilgrims’), they wore large red cloth crosses, hence the subsequent naming of ‘crusade’, originally derived from the latin word ‘crux’. The term ‘crusades’ never surfaced until a French historic text (L’Histoire des Croisades) was published in the 17th Century.

As pilgrims, the original crusaders saw themselves as undertaking an armed mission or pilgrimage, and the ‘taking of the crux’ all the way to Jerusalem symbolised their vows that would only be fulfilled upon reaching their destination.