History related to Christianity and Islam
The mountain pass at Roncesvalles was also used by the armies of Charlemagne in 778 when they fought the Moors, albeit with limited success. Even the armies of Napoleon, who sought to expand his empire to the south, crossed here in 1808.
The same pass was also used when the Spanish Aragonite armies under King Peter II crossed here to France in 1213. Peter sympathized with the Cathars and for a while actively supported them in their struggle against the French crusading armies which, instigated by the Pope, were ordered to deal with the ‘heretics’. Unfortunately King Peter was killed quite early in battle and his army retreated over the Pyrenees. The loss of their protector had far-reaching consequences for the Cathars.
If fate had favoured Peter, the outcome of the crusade against the Cathars might have been different and south of France with Languedoc might still be a separate state, maybe with its own religion, language and culture.
Prior to King Peter’s times, the Moorish armies had crossed the Pyrenees on their quest to invade Gaul and no doubt they had the intention to continue their drive through Europe. Initially they were successful. They invaded Languedoc and Roussillon and took possession of the cities Avignon, Narbonne and others. When the Moors besieged Toulouse in 721, Odo the Great, Duke of Aquitaine, eventually defeated them. The Moorish armies, however, were replenished and in 732 they overpowered Odo, conquered Bordeaux and many more towns.
Eventually Charles Martel, grandfather of Charlemagne, came to the rescue and in October 732 his forces surprised the Moorish army close to Tours by their courage, strength and tenacity. During the previous years Martel had foreseen the danger from the East and the threat to Christianity. He had enlarged, trained and invigorated his fighting force in a professional way and was now ready and able to face any further Muslim advancements. Historians believe that a lost battle would have meant the surrender of Europe to Islam. If the Moors had succeeded, we would probably now be visiting mosques and study the Quran.
The remainder of the Muslim armies returned to Spain after the defeat in October 732 and never again crossed the Pyrenees with hostile intentions.
Referring again to the transfer of knowledge from the Middle East in the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church with its monopoly of the written word also had great scholarly clerics in their midst, but their focus was of religious nature. Nevertheless, monks and monasteries were not oblivious of the new developments and some participated in intellectual pursuits and translations of ancient texts into Latin. Monasteries were repositories of Christian writings and it was only natural that in time they also gathered Classical and Eastern documents and, apart from being powerful in religious matters and in the affairs of Europe, the clergy also became increasingly involved in academic subjects.Their tendency to secrecy and protection of knowledge in their seclusion, however, hindered progress in emerging secular societies and it is probably fair to say that the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church restricted the intellectual development of Europe for centuries.This changed around the12th century, when scholarship in secular society finally blossomed and academic life spread. Social, political and economic transformation was spurred on during the first ‘Renaissance’ in the later Middle Ages. Translating Greek and Arabic works and further augmenting the ancient knowledge that had reached Europe’s shores became more important in circles other than the Roman Catholic Church. Latin Classics and Roman law were revived and Greek science and philosophy with its Arabic component were taught in the first European universities. This was also the period in which austere Romanesque architecture was replaced by elegant and more airy Gothic buildings, which have similarities to Arabic building styles.
In the 14th century the Italian Renaissance witnessed an explosion of events. The revival of the classical Roman spirit and the spread of secular enlightenment in arts and science flourished and, with the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, the cost-effective ‘mass’ distribution of the written word with its vast contents enabled a wider spread of information, which finally and irrevocably changed Europe. During this change the Catholic Church lost supremacy and its importance as the bearer of knowledge and protector of intellect sharply declined.
During the turbulent eras of the Reformation at the outset of the 16th century and the French revolution at the end of the 18th century monasteries were plundered and many were destroyed. In the process their material riches were exposed and so was their possession of academic treasures and valuable documents. Many priceless and irreplaceable holdings were lost in these violent times.
Enough of history, it is time for me to be on my way and commence my new Camino venture.