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Muslims as Pagan Idolaters in Chronicles of the First Crusade

Image of the First Crusade

Muslims as Pagan Idolaters in Chronicles of the First Crusade

By John V. Tolan

Western Views of Islam in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, eds. Michael Frasetto and David Blanks (New York: St. Martin’s Press 1999)

Image of the First Crusade

Introduction: In the Chronicles of the Archbishops of Salzburg we find the story of Archbishop Thiemo, who died in the crusade of 1101. Thiemo, we are told, along with Duke Welf of Bavaria, led a group of Bavarians and Swabians toward Jerusalem (already under Christian rule). As they approached the holy city, these crusaders were surrounded and defeated “by an innumerable multitude of gentiles (ethnici).” These pagans were led by three brothers from Corosan “who in their ferocity were more tyrannical and in their cult more pagan than [the Roman Emperor] Decius” – an emperor best known for his brutal persecution of Christians. These “pagans” were angered by the recent victory of the crusaders and eager to wreak vengeance on Christian pilgrims.

They led Thiemo and other pilgrims away into slavery. One day their king discovered that Thiemo had been trained as a goldsmith, so he asked him to repair a golden idol Theimo asked for a hammer and approached the idol. He addressed the demon inhabiting the idol, ordering it in the name of God to leave the statue. When the demon uttered blasphemies, Thiemo smashed the idol with his hammer. This led to his martyrdom: he was thrown into prison, brought out the next day, put on an ass, whipped, and brought to an arena before the throngs; there the king accused him of sacrilege. Thiemo replied that the idols were not gods but demons, and preached that the king should desist from the worship of Saturn, Jove, and the obscene Priapus. The king responded by ordering that all Theimo’s fingers be cut off, as well as those of his followers, and that their limbs then be lopped off. As the king drank the martyrs’ blood, Thiemo commended his soul unto God, and the crowd saw a choir of angels descend to take up the souls of the martyrs. Nearby, we are told, was an idol named Machmit, whom the pagan were won’t to consult as an oracle. A demon began to speak through Machmit, saying that this had been a great victory for the Christians, “whose glory grows against us daily.” He warned the pagans not to attempt to stop the Christians from celebrating the saint’s funeral. Thiemo was buried in a church and miracles ensued: he healed the blind, deaf, lepers, and possessed, both among Christians and among pagans. Woe to those who attempt to violate his sanctuary: they face immediate death. For this reason, we are told, the pagans held Saint Thiemo in respect and did not pester any of his pilgrims.

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