Crusader Conquest:
The Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem

Since the days of Helena and the Bordeaux Pilgrim (4th century AD), devout European Christians set out for the holy places of Palestine seeking salvation. In 536 AD the city came under Muslim control following conquest by Caliph Umar I. Yet thousands of pilgrims trekked eastward by land to perform what had become a Christian duty. Their only penalty was the payment of a poll tax, to which Muslims were exempt. Although 10th century Jerusalem came under the authority of the Fatimid caliph of Cairo, Muslims and Christians coexisted peacefully, sharing the city because tolerance for other "peoples of the Book" had been made part of the Islamic code.

But, early in the 11th century AD, the fierce Selçuk (the Turkish "" is pronounced "ch") Turks swarmed into the territories of their fellow Muslims, the Abbasids of Baghdad and the Fatimids. Relatively recent converts to Islam, the Selçuks were fanatics. By 1055 AD they controlled Persia, Iraq and Armenia and they had begun to overrun Byzantine Asia Minor, forcibly cutting pilgrim routes to the Holy Land. In 1077 AD they wrested Jerusalem from the Fatimids and promptly suppressed Christian worship in the city, against the Fatimid code of protecting the rights of nonbelievers (in Islam). Reports of Muslim atrocities began circulating in the West where it seemed as if the mad caliph al-Hakim had risen from the dead. Urgent appeals for aid were sent by the Patriarch of Jerusalem and the emperor Alexius Comnemus in Constantinople. The "infidels" (meaning "unbelievers," from the Latin infidelis, unfaithful) were at the gates of their cities and Christiandom might not survive their fall.

At the Council of Clermont, France, in November 1095, Pope Urban II spoke of the need to help the Christian East and to stop the desecration of the holy places. In a fiery speech, punctuated throughout with cries of Dieu le vult ("God wills it!"), he appealed for volunteers to set out for Jerusalem. Those who embarked on this armed pilgrimage were promised remission of sins. The response was overwhelming. Thousands literally took up the cross, wearing red cloth crosses sewn on their tunics to indicate their service as soldiers of Christ. Even before the main army of knights could be assembled, bands of poorly armed and inexperienced pilgrims — some 300,000 idealists, simple folk and criminals — set out for Constantinople under the leadership of Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless. They had little notion of what they faced and even less of how to equip themselves, but there was no controlling their explosion of fervor. At a pace of nearly 18 miles a day the unruly vanguard seethed across Europe. Along the way they fed like locusts off the land, fighting other Christians who defended their goods and crops. They also practiced their war against the Muslims by killing thousands of Jews in the Rhineland. As Edward Gibbon stated in his book, "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," they were "the most stupid and savage refuse of the people, who mingled with their devotion a brutal license of rapine, prostitution and drunkenness." Many members of what was called the "People's Crusade" perished on their way east, and the rest were destroyed by Muslims when they crossed into Asia Minor.

The main Crusader* army, mostly French and Norman knights under baronial leadership — Godfrey of Bouillon, Baldwin of Flanders, Raymond of Toulouse, Robert of Normandy, Bohemond of Taranto, and others — converged by various routes on Constantinople and proceeded on a long, arduous march through Asia Minor. In June of 1098, they captured Antioch (where, according to Acts 11:26, the term "Christian" was first used) and moved on toward Jerusalem. At the start, more than half a million people embarked on this unparalleled odyssey; by the time the Crusader force climbed the last rise of high ground north of the Holy City, it was left with just over a mere 33,000 souls.

* From the Latin crux or "cross," in reference to Jesus' injunction in Matthew 10:38: "and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me."

On Friday, July 15, 1099 AD, after a five-week siege, Jerusalem fell when the Crusaders overran the walls and stormed into the city. The city's Moslem inhabitants were massacred: "The slaughter was terrible. The blood of the conquered ran down the street (the decumanus, the city's main east-west street; what is now David Street and its extension, Chain Street) until men splashed in blood as they rode." One knight grimly recalled, "No one has ever seen or heard of such a slaughter of pagans. Almost the whole city was full of their dead bodies." At nightfall, "sobbing for excess of joy," the Crusaders came to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher from their "treading of the winepress" (an allusion to the massacre of the inhabitants until a stream of blood flowed down David Street to the Holy Sepulcher), "and put their bloodstained hands together in prayer." The surviving Jews retreated to their synagogues but were burned alive inside its locked doors.

The aftermath of the First Crusade

The profound tragedy of the conquest was the fact that, unbeknownst to the Crusaders, it was not the Turks from whom they had seized the city, but the more tolerant Egyptian Fatimids — so named because they claimed descent from Fatima, Mohammed's daughter — who had retaken the city from the Selçuks the previous year. With the sole exception of Hakim "the Mad," (1008 AD) the Fatimids had strictly observed the policy of toleration toward Christians. It was the recently ousted Turks who had abused the law and sparked Pope Urban's appeal.

By the end of the campaign, four Crusader states had been formed along the Syrian and Palestinian coasts: the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch, the County of Tripoli, and the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The pious Godfrey of Bouillon was elected ruler of the city, but he chose the simple title "Defender of the Holy Sepulcher," disdaining the title of king. Upon his death of a fever a year later, Baldwin of Flanders was chosen to replace him. However, he showed no reluctance in accepting the royal title. The great orders of knights — the Hospitalers, Teutonic Knights and Templars — were founded at his time and they set up hospitals and hospices for care of the many Christian pilgrims who came to pay homage at the Christian holy sites.

As earlier conquerors had done, the Crusaders set their mark on Jerusalem. Both Muslims and Jews were barred from the Holy City, now the capital of the Crusader kingdom, officially called the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. The central Christian shrine, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was reconstructed. But it was rivaled as a center of attraction by the Dome of the Rock which was converted from Muslim shrine to Christian church, with a golden cross placed atop the dome. The Crusaders reconsecrated the Haram esh-Sharif (Temple Mount) to Christ, and pilgrims, knights and monks were drawn to Templum Domini ("Temple of the Lord") as the Dome was now called. They mistakenly identified it as the very sanctuary around whose precincts Jesus had conducted his ministry more than a thousand years earlier. Even the depression in the great rock within that Moslem tradition identified as the footprint of Mohammed was now said to be that of Jesus. Wherever possible, the Crusaders blotted out any traces of Moslem associations; inscriptions were covered by paintings of Jesus and mosaics depicting events in the scriptures.

The Crusaders also misidentified the al-Aqsa Mosque at the southern end of the Temple Mount as the Templum Solomonis — the palace of David's son and Israel's most illustrious king. After all it was in the area where his palace had actually been located, so they converted it into a residence for the new ruler of Jerusalem. However, it proved unsuitable for the purpose and, in 1128 it was turned over to an group of knights-monks, who then became known as the Order of Knights Templar. In their armor and white mantles emblazoned with a red cross, the Templars became one of the wealthiest and most powerful autonomous organizations in history and the octagonal form of the Dome of the Rock influenced the design of their "temple churches" in France, Germany, Spain and England...

Sites and archaeological finds related to the Crusader era

With the bodies of the slain still rotting in the city streets the Crusaders began restoration of the city as a Christian pilgrimage site. It was a building program the likes of which had not seen since the time of Herod. At this time the layout of Jerusalem was basically that Hadrian's Aelia Capitolina, with four main gates. In the northwest quarter (now the Muslim Quarter) where Baldwin had settled Syrian Christians to boost the scanty population that remained in the city, the Crusaders built various churches, including the Church of St. Anne next the ancient Pool of Bethesda.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

The Crusaders' most challenging and enduring achievement was the renovation of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, completed on the fiftieth anniversary of the city's conquest in 1149. The bell-tower (left in photo) was added around 1170.

One expects the central shrine of Christianity, like its Muslim counterpart, the Dome of the Rock, to stand out in majestic isolation. But today's church lies almost hidden within the Christian Quarter, only its two domes rising above the surrounding buildings that cling to it like barnacles. Unlike the great cathedrals of Europe it is a complex and bewildering marriage of architectural styles, from the early medieval to the 19th century AD. But this architectural jumble is the result of its tortured history rather than the plan of architects. It has been destroyed and rebuilt almost as many times at the city in which it resides. Consequently, the holiest place in the Christian world is beautiful in its parts, but difficult to consider as a whole. Part of its complexity rests in its purpose: the church physically encloses what most Christians believe was the last hours of Jesus of Nazareth's life.


On entering the church, immediately to the right, a steep staircase of 19 well-worn steps ascends to both the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox chapels of the Crucifixion. In effect, you are climbing up the hill of Golgotha to the site of Jesus' death. After returning to the main level by the "Stone of Unction," the stone slab commemorating the anointing of Jesus' body before burial, you proceed to a rotunda surrounding a building within a building.

The curiously ugly olive wood structure within the rotunda, known as the "edicule" (Latin, "little house"), has gone through a number of incarnations. From research we know that there have been four successive edicules, each larger than it predecessor, enclosing what was left of the supposed tomb where Jesus was buried. The first was erected by Constantine in 325-326 AD as part of his original monumental structure. The church was destroyed in 614 AD by the Persians, and rebuilt by Abbot Modestus in 626, then destroyed again in 1009 AD by the Egyptian caliph al-Hakim Bi-Amr Allah. A new church and a second edicule were built in the early 11th century; the third incarnation of the edicule was constructed in 1555 AD. After much of the rotunda and basilica were badly damaged by a fire in 1808, the fourth, and current, edicule was built between 1809-1810. It still stands, although it had to be reinforced with a scaffold of steel girders in 1947 and is badly in need of repair.

That restoration will not take place, however, until the six religious communities that hold rights to space within the Church can agree on how to proceed. Under an agreement called the Status Quo of the Holy Places, issued in 1757 by the Ottoman Turks (who then controlled Jerusalem), and reaffirmed in 1852, the Greek Orthodox, the Roman Catholics and the Armenian Orthodox own the floor of the rotunda (on which the edicule sits) and the tomb itself in common. The three smallest sects, with the fewest possessions and the least power, are the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox, the Syrian-Jacobite Orthodox and the Ethiopian Orthodox. Of all the communities, the Ethiopian is the poorest, controlling two chapels, including one that sits on the roof of the Chapel of St. Helena, near the Ninth Station of the Cross. According to archaeologist Martin Biddle of Oxford University, who has spent the past decade surveying the church and the edicule: "The restoration has been a slow process, because they all represent different nationalities, different artistic traditions, different theological traditions, and so forth. But they have managed to agree on the restoration of the whole church except for the tomb and the floor around it, so my guess is that they are going to agree eventually. But it is not going to be a particularly quick process, unless, of course, it falls down, in which case something will have to be done immediately."

The "Status Quo" and the ladder over the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

In every photograph of the main entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, an old wooden ladder is seen resting on a ledge (right) below the window over the now sealed right-hand doorway built by the Crusaders in the 12th century AD. Why is it there? To whom does it belong?

According to one anonymous source, in accordance with the Status Quo — the firman or edict issued by the Ottoman sultan in 1757, and reaffirmed in 1852, defining the rights of the six religious orders within the church complex — the two windows above entrance belong to the Armenians who have the right to clean and repair them. However, the cornice on which the ladder rests belongs to the Greek Orthodox. At some point, the Armenians placed the ladder for the purpose of working on the windows, and the Greeks protested that it was resting on their cornice. The Armenians refused to remove the ladder and it has remained there ever since.

Another source states that the ladder was first introduced at a time when the Ottomans taxed Christian clergy every time they left and entered the church. The clergy who served the church reacted by setting up living quarters within the church so they would have to leave it as little as possible. The Armenians, who had possession of the window and the ledge, used the ladder to climb outside for fresh air and sunshine, the ledge serving as a balcony. Apparently, they also grew fresh vegetables there at some point.

It is further pointed out that the Armenians use the balcony where the ladder rests during festival ceremonies that take place in the courtyard, such as the washing of the feet at Easter (old black and white photos show this).

In the book, "Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem," author Aviva Bar-Am writes, "Note the ladder under one of the second story windows. It was used over a century ago for hauling up food to Armenian monks locked in the church by the Turks. With the statu[s] quo still in force, the ladder seems destined to remain there forever!"

In any case, there seems to be a consensus that the ladder has no religious significance, that it belongs to the Armenians and that it is there because of the Status Quo!

Chapel of St. Helena

Perhaps the most satisfying part of a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the journey downstairs to the Chapel of St. Helena. The chapel offers relatively quiet relief from the cacophony of sounds and less than worshipful atmosphere on the main floor. On the way down the steps, you'll see hundreds of crosses dug into the stone by medieval Christian pilgrims (right) who often risked both life and fortune for a few moments at this shrine. Just as the Dome of the Rock touches the soul with its classic design and serene beauty, these Crusader crosses proclaim the passionate faith which both butchered and rebuilt Jerusalem.

St. Mary of the Germans

In the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, on the northern side of the steps leading to the Western Wall, are the original walls of the 12th century AD Crusader church, St. Mary of the Germans. It was part of a complex that included a pilgrims' hospice (no longer in existence) and a hospital, and was built by the Knights Hospitalers and run by the order's German members. This was done in response to the influx of German-speaking pilgrims who did not speak French, the everyday language of the Crusaders, or Latin, the official tongue of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. The quasi-autonomy enjoyed the German-speaking knights ceased when the Muslims recaptured Jerusalem in 1187 AD, but in 1190 AD, it stimulated the founding of an independent, German-only, military order, the Teutonic Knights. The church and hospital revived when the city once more under Christian rule from 1229-1244 AD. Today the church, which is entered through its original portal, is roofless, (left) but the walls survive to a considerable height. When archaeologist first unearth the remains, the ultra-orthodox Jewish community demanded they be destroyed because they objected to the existence of a church on a major route to the Western Wall.


A short distance south of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, on a large square that was once the forum/marketplace of Roman Aelia Capitolina, is an area known as the Muristan, derived from the Persian word for "hospital." From the 9th century AD it was the site of a hospice for pilgrims from Latin-speaking countries built by Charlemagne, with permission from the caliph Haroun el-Rashid. Partially destroyed by the mad caliph al-Hakim in 1099, it was restored in the 11th century AD by wealthy merchants from Amalfi, Italy. They also built three churches here: St. Mary Minor (for women), St. Mary of the Latins (for men) and St. John the Baptist (for the poor). St. John the Baptist still stands and is the oldest church in Jerusalem; it was here that the Crusader order, the Knights Hospitalers or Hospital of St. John, was founded. They made the Muristan their headquarters and later built their own huge hospital where a reported 2,000 people could receive care at one time. However, by the 16th century AD the Muristan had fallen into disrepair, and Suleiman the Magnificent used its stones to rebuild the Jerusalem city walls.

Right, the Muristan, just south of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher; on the left is the landmark bell tower of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer; right is the Mora Fountain.

Today most traces of the original buildings have disappeared. The Muristan is now characterized by quiet lanes converging at the ornate Mora Fountain in the main square. At the corner of Muristan Road and Suq el-Dabbagha is the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. It was constructed in 1898 for the German Kaiser Wilhelm II, over the remains of the 11th century AD church of St. Mary of the Latins built by the Amalfi merchants. An even earlier 5th century AD church is thought to have existed here. The attractive cloister (right), inside the adjacent Lutheran hospice, has two levels of galleries and dates from the 13th-14th centuries AD. As our tour group discovered in November 1999, it makes a wonderful setting for coffee and fellowship following a Sunday worship service in the adjacent 12th century Crusader chapel. The most interesting part of the church is the bell tower. After climbing 177 steps you are rewarded with great panoramas of the Old City, including the Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Immediately south of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer is another reminder of Crusader-era Jerusalem: a courtyard with a monument (left) reading.

"Here in the Muristan was situated the first hospital of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries." It is surrounded by a high fence with white Maltese Crosses, the distinctive emblem of the order, later known as the Knights of Malta.

Solomon's Stables

Consistent with other misidentifications, the Crusaders identified the great vaulted area beneath the southeast corner of the Temple Mount as "Solomon's Stables." The name was pure fantasy; this room did not exist in Solomon's day. It was built in the 1st century BC by Herod the Great to compensate for the difference in height between the Temple Mount and the Kidron Valley below so that he could construct the huge, 35-acre plaza surrounding the Temple. The southeastern corner, for instance, has a retaining wall almost 150 feet high with at least 100 feet of rubble fill inside. The two halls comprising Solomon's Stables are nearly 5000 square feet in area and the ceiling is supported by eighty-eight pillars in twelve parallel rows with thirteen aisles between them. Holes and notches in the pillars used for tying up the horses, and troughs situated close to the northern wall, indicate that the Knights Templar, who where headquartered in the al-Aksa Mosque at the southern end of the Temple platform, used this area to stable their own horses.

In 1997, the waqf, the Muslim administrative body responsible for the Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount, decided to dig up the southeastern area of the Temple Mount and convert Solomon's Stables into a huge worship center called the Musalla Marwan or Marwani Mosque. Many archeologists widely criticized the project saying it would undermine the stability of the Temple Mount's southern retaining wall and damage archaeological relics. The soil removed from the dig was dumped near the Mount of Olives. A number of archeologists thoroughly sifted the soil checking for archaeological remains, and have accused the waqf of digging up the area to destroy evidence of any Jewish presence on the Temple Mount prior to Islam.

The Cardo

During the Crusader period, the Cardo Maximus, Jerusalem's main north-south street, was converted into a covered market. The northern section (right), beneath the modern buildings of the Jewish Quarter , has been preserved as an arcade of exclusive shops and boutiques. All the vaulting above is original. Along with the modern shops, archaeological remains from various periods are displayed and identified. Well-like viewing ports (one is seen in the center of the photo) in the middle of the street allow you to look down to excavations revealing fragments of the city's defensive walls dating from the First Temple period, about 700 BC.

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