Ecclesiastical Knights: The Military Orders in Castile, 1150-1330

Ecclesiastical Knights: The Military Orders in Castile, 1150-1330

Ecclesiastical Knights: The Military Orders in Castile, 1150-1330

Ecclesiastical Knights: The Military Orders in Castile, 1150-1330

Synopsis

"Warrior monks"-the misnomer for the Iberian military orders that emerged on the frontiers of Europe in the twelfth century-have long fascinated general readers and professional historians alike. Proposing "ecclesiastical knights" as a more accurate name and conceptual model-warriors animated by ideals and spiritual currents endorsed by the church hierarchy-author Sam Zeno Conedera presents a groundbreaking study of how these orders brought the seemingly incongruous combination of monastic devotion and the practice of warfare into a single way of life.

Providing a detailed study of the military-religious vocation as it was lived out in the Orders of Santiago, Calatrava, and Alcantara in Leon-Castile during the first century, Ecclesiastical Knights provides a valuable window into medieval Iberia. Filling a gap in the historiography of the medieval military orders, Conedera defines, categorizes, and explains these orders, from their foundations until their spiritual decline in the early fourteenth century, arguing that that the best way to understand their spirituality is as a particular kind of consecrated knighthood.

Because these Iberian military orders were belligerents in the Reconquest, Ecclesiastical Knights informs important discussions about the relations between Western Christianity and Islam in the Middle Ages. Conedera examines how the military orders fit into the religious landscape of medieval Europe through the prism of knighthood, and how their unique conceptual character informed the orders and spiritual self-perception.

The religious observances of all three orders were remarkably alike, except that the Cistercian-affiliated orders were more demanding and their members could not marry. Santiago, Calatrava, and Alcantara shared the same essential mission and purpose: the defense and expansion of Christendom understood as an act of charity, expressed primarily through fighting and secondarily through the care of the sick and the ransoming of captives. Their prayers were simple and their penances were aimed at knightly vices and the preservation of military discipline. Above all, the orders valued obedience. They never drank from the deep wellsprings of monasticism, nor were they ever meant to.

Offering an entirely fresh perspective on two difficult and closely related problems concerning the military orders-namely, definition and spirituality-author Sam Zeno Conedera illuminates the religious life of the orders, previously eclipsed by their military activities.

Excerpt

One day, while I was doing research for this book, my eyes fell upon these lines from Maurice Keen’s classic work on chivalry:

In the crusading context, the military orders—the Temple, the Hospital
and the Teutonic and Spanish orders—came to be just that, the strong
right arm of the militant church. Their organisation, as reflected in their
rules of life, represented a real fusion of ecclesiastical (as opposed to sim
ply Christian) and martial ideals.

The passage put an idea in my head, an idea that has taken some time to work out. What follows is the fruit of my labors.

Ecclesiastical Knights is a spirituality study. the military orders, which emerged on the frontiers of Europe in the twelfth century, have long fascinated general readers and professional historians alike. Some of this fascination is tied up with occult mythology, the manifestations of which are legion in print and film. Worthier of attention, though, is the seemingly incongruous combination of monastic devotion and the practice of warfare into a single form of religious life. Defining, categorizing, and explaining this way of life is a major problem for the historiography of the military orders, one that Riley-Smith has called “the elephant in the room.” I propose a new name and a new conceptual model for understanding the Iberian military orders, one that better captures how they combined the exercise of arms and the monastic tradition into a single way of life. I hope that this model helps move the scholarly discussion beyond the label “warrior monks.” But a name or a model alone serves little to illuminate the spirituality of the military orders, which was lived in flesh and blood and the heat of the day. I undertake a detailed study of the military-religious vocation as it was lived out in the Orders of Santiago, Calatrava, and Alcántara in LeónCastile during the first century and a half of their existence.

I would like to thank the people who have helped bring this project to fruition, beginning with Teo Ruiz, Patrick Geary, Kevin Terraciano, and John Dagenais, my professors at ucla. Carlos de Ayala Martínez and Francisco García Serrano provided invaluable assistance and advice while I was in Madrid, and Helen J. Nicholson’s painstaking attention to numerous . . .

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