Raphael Baptism Constantine
Baptism of Constantine

In 312 AD, Constantine, a caesar of the Western Roman Empire conquered all of the Rome. The Emperor became a church member and churches came to be under the authority of the Roman Emperor. Constantine created a new capital called the Constantinople on the ruins of the ancient town of Byzantium. The Roman Empire and its newly adopted faith of Christianity became two separate entities with the eastern half speaking Greek and the western half Latin. In the west, invading Germanic tribes descended upon Europe in the 4th and 5th centuries: little was left of Rome or its armies.

Roman Empire 125 de
Distribution of Germanic

Europe itself was a mess. Magyars came from the east, and from the north, the Vikings came with their gilded dragon tales. As they were very few powerful states, a mosaic of small feudal kingdoms ruled by belligerent overlords and a new power structure began to rise: the Papacy. Now, the dark ages descended upon Europe.



Henry IV the Holy Roman Emperor waiting for 3 days in Canossa
Henry IV the Holy Roman Emperor waiting for 3 days in Canossa with his wife and child

For bitter cold January days in 1077, a man in the coarse woolen tunic of a repentant sinner was kneeling down for 3 days with barefoot in the snow outside the Pope’s castle located in north Italy at Canosa. He was the Roman emperor Henry the 4th, the most powerful monarch in the western world.

Two strong-willed and powerful men, a Pope and an Emperor had reached an impasse over who had the right to appoint bishops. The Pope Gregory the 7th excommunicated the Emperor Henry and now the emperor begged forgiveness from the Pope to go about his business of being Emperor. The Pope granted him and Henry was able to return to his throne. Thus, the Pope was above all secular authorities and had a superior authority.

THE CRUSADES (1095–1291)

The year was 1095, Europe was torn by constant warring between lords, which neither the church or state could resolve. Then the new Pope Urban II came up with an idea, that would have a totally unexpected effect across Europe, the Crusades. The Pope called for the rescue of Jerusalem from its Muslim rulers. Throughout Europe the response was overwhelming.

Map of crusades to Eastern Mediterranean and Tunisia



In the Spring of 1096, a total 50,000 armies that mostly consisted of commoners began marching towards Constantinople, the gateway to Jerusalem. On their way to the city, a tragedy happened; thousands of European Jews were slaughtered but more damage was done with little planning and less in the way of supplies. The Crusades plundered; some of their armies were simply destroyed along the way by angry townspeople. The remaining armies successfully crossed Europe and reached Constantinople, but they had been massacred by the Turks. The very first Crusade was unmitigated and immediately disowned by the Pope.


Combat deuxième croisade
A battle of the Second Crusade

In 1096, during the second Crusades, there were true knights. However, once they got beyond Constantinople, they found themselves surrounded by an enemy in an alien land. Their Crusade became a trial of starvation, humiliation, and death.

In July 1099, nearly three years after they had begun, the second crusades forced their way into Jerusalem. One crusader, Raymond of Toulouse, wrote “for some of our men it was more merciful to cut off the heads of their enemies, others tortured them longer by casting them into flames. Piles of heads, hands, and feet were seen in the streets of the city. Men rode and bloodied up to their knees and bridle reins.”

The year is 1202, Jerusalem had been lost to the Muslims. Pope Innocent III, who was eager to retake the city, called for another crusade, but after a hundred years of ceaseless crusading, Europe was tired and far fewer knights responded.

Siege of Constantinople (1204)

The disgraceful episodes of the Crusades left an enormous impact on Europe. They unified Europeans for the first time, the Europeans’ identity began to emerge and had become a major world power. They established new systems in trade and increased the wealth of the church: the Duomo in Siena, Italy, San Marco in Venice, Our Lady of Notre Dame in Paris, France, and Santiago de Compostela in Spain. These majestical cathedrals that are taking wings amid the soaring spires were built during the period. But they left hatred and antagonism behind Christians.


Heresy, the very word that brings with it the images of evil. But those who strongly opposed the Roman Catholic Church, and embraced simplicity along with poverty came to be called heretics. Pope Innocent III was determined to root the heretics out. The Pope’s commission armies sought and destroyed the heresy wherever they found it. It was a campaign that pitted France against France and Christians against Christians, which gave them one choice: recant or die.  In 1231, Pope Gregory IX created the papal Inquisition, where Christianity’s long night of horror was about to begin.

Burning of the Waldensians
Burning of the Waldensians


There were some periods in which Spain was the most tolerant country in western Europe, where Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived together. People intermarried, people did not feel as if they were Muslim, Christian or Jewish. It was also the only country where Islamic communities remained in western Europe. But Isabella wanted a unified Spain, not just in government, but in Christianity.

An auto-da-fé of the Spanish Inquisition and the execution o Wellcome V0041892
Though not subject to the Inquisition, Jews who refused to convert or leave Spain were called heretics and could be burned to death on a stake

The Jews were required to convert or leave Spain, thousands of Jews sailed off leaving forever the country that had been their homeland for generations but those who remained and converted became the victims for the inquisition. Within a decade, Muslims were also forced to make the same difficult choice of conversion or deportation. This is the Spanish Inquisition. The Spanish Inquisition was recorded as the worst Inquisition that lasted for more than 200 years, resulting in some 32,000 executions. By the early 16th century, Spain was united under a single church, the Catholic Church.

Scene from an Inquisition by Goya
The Spanish Inquisition was still in force in the late eighteenth century, but much reduced in power.


While the Inquisition seemed to have exhausted itself at this point in the west, the eastern church began to decline; the eastern empire was shrinking in the face of Islamic advance. In 1453, Turkish Mehmed II assaulted and captured Constantinople and, under his rule, the Christians were subjugated, becoming second-class citizens.

Zonaro GatesofConst
The entry of Sultan Mehmed II into Constantinople

Accordingly, Constantinople, the second capital of Rome and the Eastern church, now ceased to be the heart of one of the greatest Christian traditions and history was about to go into a new period. Columbus was first heading to the East across the Atlantic, and some intellectuals including artists, scholars, and scientists were making the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity: the Renaissance.

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