Graduate Research Grant Report: ‘Prayer Warriors: Crusading Piety in Rome and the Papal States, (1187-1291)’

Richard Allington
Ph.D. Candidate
History Department, Saint Louis University

Richard Allington
Richard Allington

The American Catholic Historical Association Graduate Student Summer Research Grant I received allowed me to complete the manuscript research necessary for the completion of my doctoral dissertation, “Prayer Warriors,” which explores the expansion of crusading spirituality and its transposition to local causes in the thirteenth-century Papal States. In the aftermath of the catastrophic defeat of the crusader army at Hattin in 1187, the new pope Gregory VIII attempted to regain the initiative for Christianity by radically expanding participation in the crusading movement. He prescribed a variety of spiritual and liturgical activities through which Christians unable to fight or travel to the Holy Land could still support campaigns to recover the Holy Land. This program of spiritual crusading, which was maintained and promoted by many of his successors included special fasts, processions, and the addition of new prayers to Mass. These rituals extended the influence of crusading spirituality to new areas of society as well as the warrior nobles, who had dominated the first century of crusading.

This same period also witnessed the re-emergence of papal political power in central Italy. My dissertation uses liturgical and ceremonial evidence to examine the ways in which spiritual crusading shaped the lived religious experiences of this society and how crusading piety was extended to support the political fortunes of the Papal States. Common practices of crusading spirituality connected communities across regional and social boundaries through crusading rituals that united crusaders at home and abroad. Spiritual crusading brought ordinary people in contact with medieval perceptions of Islam and created new dynamics of division and exclusion at home in Italy, where long-standing Islamic communities and Christian enemies of papal temporal power became identified with enemies of Christianity in the Levant.

This research requires extensive on-site manuscript research. The history of the medieval Papal States has generally been viewed through the lens of papal political authority and papal-imperial conflict. At the same time, studies on crusading liturgies and the development of crusading spirituality have focused on France, England, and the Rhineland. My dissertation therefore breaks ground by applying the new trend of examining the religious motivations and practices of the crusaders to central Italy. This approach means that the vast majority of liturgical sources I needed to consult were unedited manuscripts. Over the course of the previous academic year I have completed extensive manuscript research in Rome and central Italy, which revealed that crusading devotions were an increasingly important part of liturgical practice during the thirteenth century. This development was demonstrated by the inclusion of the rituals prescribed by the popes in missals and sacramentaries, but also by the presence of other prayers used to pray for the crusaders, chosen by individual communities, who shaped local practice according to their own preferences.

The complicated political history of Italy, especially central Italy, however, means that many manuscripts vital to my research have been moved to archives outside the country. The support I received from the ACHA enabled me to travel to a number of different American archives this summer and examine Italian manuscripts housed in these collections, thereby significantly expanding the manuscript research I can draw upon when writing my dissertation this coming year.

I was able to examine manuscripts held in three American collections, the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, the Newberry Library in Chicago, and the J. Paul Getty Library in Los Angeles. Because I was able to complete my research in American libraries earlier than planned, I was able to also use some of my award from the ACHA along with another grant to fund a similar trip to view Italian manuscripts held in English libraries in Oxford and London. The manuscripts I consulted included sacramentaries, which contain all the material for a priest to say Mass, as well as graduales, breviaries, and bibles. Bibles and breviaries comprise an especially fascinating part of my research because they can reveal individual devotional practices as well as the spread of official devotions. One early Franciscan breviary in the Newberry collection, Ms 24 (23817) contained an interpolated life of Louis IX, revealing the continued interest in crusading saints and their exploits among communities of Italian friars. The accounts of Louis’ crusading exploits would have inspired them to continue to provide spiritual support for crusading campaigns in the Levant.

I made one particularly exciting find in a sacramentary from Ravenna, now part of the Walters Art Collection. The prayers for the crusades employed in this source include versicles are relatively standard for thirteenth-century crusading prayers, but they also include one from Psalm 120, which has not been observed in other studies of crusading liturgies, but which I have also located incorporated in crusading rituals performed by the important Benedictine houses in Norcia and Subiaco. It’s inclusion here suggests ways in which Italian and Benedictine communities were adapting official liturgies to best suit their own understandings of spiritual crusading.

The research I conducted this summer supported by the ACHA enabled me to significantly enlarge the manuscript research underpinning my dissertation. It confirmed and strengthened many of the conclusions I had reached as a result of my earlier research, but also deepened the complexity of my findings, revealing new ways in which crusading spirituality was disseminated to local devotional practice at home. This period of study has enabled me to complete the research necessary for my dissertation and devote the upcoming year to writing my dissertation. The ACHA summer research grant was therefore invaluable for the completion of my dissertation in a timely manner. With its support I was able to consult important manuscripts in archives many miles apart, access to which would otherwise have been almost impossible to reach considering the time and expense required. I am deeply grateful to the ACHA for their generous support of my research.