This morning I finished an excellent book lent to me by Margery. It is Thomas Asbridge’s history of ‘The Crusades’, subtitled ‘The War for The Holy Land’. The research has been immense; the all-embracing viewpoint is unbiased; the writing flows, and consequently this thick tome is entertaining and gripping. Simon & Schuster’s edition is illustrated with enlightening maps and photographs. It is a shame that the quality of the paper is such that it will soon discolour, but that has probably been an economic consideration.
I have learned much from this work about a two hundred year conflict of which I previously knew very little. I knew Richard the Lionheart led the third crusade and that he only spent one year of his reign in England. I didn’t know that he was a Frenchman from Aquitaine, with difficulties to attend to there, and consequently wasn’t actually in the East for all the other nine years, nor that he shared the crusading leadership with the French king. I had no idea how many crusades there were, nor that it took so long to end the struggle. Asbridge unravels the complexity of the protagonists in the struggle, and is intelligible to the layman. He does have a tendency to disparage what he sees as the simplicity of other modern historians. Maybe he has earned the right.
The author demonstrates how, albeit undoubtedly genuine, religious fervour was used for material gains, and as an excuse for pursuing personal ambition. He shows how this forgotten period of the past has been revived in the memories of those in both the East and the West, by leaders in whose interests it has been to do so. Throughout history, of course, ruthless men and women have harnessed religious zeal as an excuse for perpetrating persecution and execrable torment of others. Christianity may well be losing ground to Islam, but as long as people truly believe and follow their faiths, allowing others to have theirs, does it really matter? If there is only one true religion there must be an awful lot of misguided people in the world.
The Melisende psalter:
is ‘one of the rarest and most beautiful treasures to survive from the crusading era’. It has a greater significance for Asbridge ‘for [its] construction and decoration seem to speak of an artistic culture in which Latin, Greek, eastern Christian and even Islamic styles have intermingled’. On this project at least, adherents of different faiths had been able to cooperate.
President George W. Bush infamously used the word ‘crusade’ after 9/11, but, to me, it seems that the West’s current fervour has more to do with secular ideology than with religious faith. Democracy is the new Deus.
The preceding part of today’s post was written this morning. As she often does, without knowing what I had just produced, Jackie read out an extract from BBC News. This concerned the death of Noel Harrison, Olympic athlete, actor, and singer. Using her laptop she had been led to his blog site on which he had listed his ‘pet peeves’. One of these was: ‘Religious extremism in all forms, whether Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, or any other dangerous narrow-minded bigoted “our way is the only way” belief of members of the human race’.
Before setting off for various visits this afternoon, I read Jonathon Ree’s introduction to Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘Thus Spoke Tharathustra’.
Jackie drove us to Elizabeth’s where we collected the unsold items from The Firs Open Studio; then the three of us travelled in Elizabeth’s car to Visit Margery and Paul. I returned the Crusades history and delivered eleven cards and two framed photographs for their forthcoming Private View. I had been asked for ten cards but slipped in another one because I thought it very Margery. This was ‘The Bridesmaid’. Margery also asked for another picture for the exhibition. It has to be this one, so off Jackie and I went to Hobbycraft to buy the materials for a frame which we will put together tomorrow. Madeleine’s niece was a bridesmaid at her wedding to Tony in 1970. At the end of the day she was out on her feet, her eyes like black currants kept open by sheer willpower.
Our next stop was at Mum’s where we had a usual reminiscence session, in the course of which she was able to locate the next photograph in the ‘through the ages’ series. Number 29 was taken so close to number 28 that I was confused because the location had to be different, yet some of the personnel were the same. Chris and I were in the foreground, Roy Wilson behind me, and Audrey to my left. Mum sat on the far left from the viewer’s perspective, and her parents on deck chairs in the background. But it didn’t look like Carshalton. So where was it? It was in my grandparents’ garden in Durham, presumably just before the street party. Audrey and Roy had spent a summer holiday there before returning home for the great event. Today Mum described scratching around for the material to make the outfits my brother and I wore for the occasion.
On our way home from West End we realised that it just wasn’t acceptable to be so close to Eastern Nights at Thornhill and not dine there, so we turned around and did just that. Rain had clattered on Mum’s conservatory roof, but had been short-lived. By the time our food arrived, lightning was bringing daylight to the night sky and glitter to the streams of water bouncing off the cars parked outside. We had the usual enjoyable fare, Bangla, and Cobra.