Martin of León – Crusade preacher between the Iberian Peninsula and the Holy Land

Alexander Marx, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg

Zusammenfassung: Dieser kurze Beitrag umreißt die Perspektive und Ergebnisse meines gegenwärtigen Forschungsprojekts (finanziert durch den FWF [J 4576-G]), das sich dem Augustiner Chorherren Martin von Léon widmet. Das Projekt beschäftigt sich vor allem mit Martins Tätigkeit als Kreuzzugsprediger, besonders im Dritten Kreuzzug (1187-92), sowie seiner Zugehörigkeit zum Netzwerk der entstehenden Universität von Paris. Sein umfassendes Werk, besonders sein Liber Sermonum (ca. 1300 Seiten), erlaubt eine eingehende Untersuchung seines Bildungshintergrundes, seiner Predigtagenda und seiner Kreuzzugsideen. Dies zeigt wie ein Protagonist von iberischer Herkunft in diverse signifikante Phänomene über die iberische Halbinsel hinaus involviert war.

Abstract: This short essay outlines the scope and results of my current research project, funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) [J 4576-G], and devoted to the Augustinian canon Martin of Léon. The project focusses on Martin’s role as a crusade preacher, specifically in the Third Crusade (1187-92), as well as his belonging to the network of the emerging university of Paris. His vast oeuvre, in particular his Liber Sermonum (c.1300 pages), permits ample examination of his educational background, preaching agenda, and crusade ideas, showing how a protagonist of Iberian origin was involved in several significant phenomena beyond the Peninsula.

Martin of León (c.1130-1203) ended his life as an Augustinian canon in San Isidoro in León – this says his Vita, penned by Lucas of Tuy (d.1249), and this shaped hitherto the modern perception of this figure when finding consideration occasionally among scholars. However, the Vita remains silent on what Martin did before the 1190s (save for three chapters on his childhood) – this is a remarkable gap for a text that claims to be a Saint’s Life. My research investigates this suspicious lacuna, and Martin’s own vast work of more than 1700 pages can tell us much about his activities and whereabouts, critically his main opus, the Liber Sermonum, counting c.1300 pages, an immense compendium of preaching material for several purposes. This work significantly sheds new light on several phenomena, including the crusade movement, Iberia’s involvement in it, preaching efforts before the Friars, and Martin’s educational background in the university of Paris. It seems likely that Martin spent the bulk of his life outside the Peninsula (probably the c.40 years that the Vita omits); his work betrays an education clearly indebted to Paris; he harvests especially the Glossa Ordinaria and Peter Lombard’s works, making it likely that he was Peter’s student in the 1150s. The Liber Sermonum betrays also much interest in the crusades and Jerusalem, announcing already in its prologue that it has the goal of providing material for preaching against four groups: pagans (understand Muslims); heretics; Jews; and philosophers (understand Scholasticism). The purpose of crusade preaching is thus made explicit; it forms an essential purpose of this vast work. However, since this figure was moving between the Peninsula and other parts of Europe (according to the Vita: Paris, Tours, Southern France, Canterbury, Rome, Constantinople, and the Holy Land), it remains a subject of ongoing research in which contexts and arenas Martin preached the crusade (and other matters), and what his work may tell us about the overall concept of crusading and its pertinence to the Iberian Peninsula.

            The remainder of this essay will outline the argument and scope of four articles that this project has yielded (which are either on the way or in preparation):

            (1) A first article compared Martin with other preachers of the Third Crusade (1187-92), the expedition that was probably Martin’s prime concern. It unearthed numerous parallels in ideas and imagery that substantiate Martin’s belonging to the Parisian network and that he preached this expedition alongside his colleagues (according to the Vita, at the time in Italy, where also other important preachers were sojourning), before he himself joined some crusade contingent (the Vita tells us that he was in the Holy Land at the time, for a period of two years, and serving the Knights Hospitaller). The article delivers a case study of Martin’s Sermo 22, a sermon text for Maundy Thursday, and its place in the preaching of the Third Crusade.

            (2) A second article tackles a specific branch of Paris masters, the so-called reformers, that upheld a suspicious attitude towards the new scholastic methods of the time and their use of ancient philosophy. Also Martin belongs to this branch: already his prologue announces the goal of spurning the teachings of philosophers. This article examines Martin as a case study, discussing how and why he rejects these new approaches, and how this attitude intersects with his crusade preaching, specifically via identifying philosophers with heretics. His ample concern with these new approaches substantiates his involvement in the Parisian milieu.

            (3) A third article scrutinizes the Vita, analyzing its purpose and the image it constructs of Martin, while comparing it with the insights that the Liber Sermonum provides. This article argues that Lucas of Tuy had an interest to establish a specifically Iberian or Leonese saint; this is why he omits more than half of Martin’s life – Martin was not in the Iberian Peninsula in these decades. Otherwise, the comparison of Vita and Liber Sermonum nicely corroborates Martin’s activities: for example, the Vita tells us that he encountered heretics in Southern France in the early 1190s (before entering the monastery in León), while the Liber Sermonum betrays ample interest in the issue of heretics, devoting one section specifically to the Cathars. Likewise, Martin’s ambitions are corroborated by several papal letters of the time that call for crusading in Iberia, parallel to the Eastern expeditions (especially Clement III’s letters in 1188).

            (4) A fourth article will incorporate the project’s final results, remaining currently still work-in-progress: Martin’s Liber Sermonum is an exceptional work in structure and length; it cannot be identified with any established genre, even though its paratext says throughout that this is preaching material (its title, its prologue, and its organization according to the liturgical calendar entitling sections as if they were sermons for specific feasts). However, many of these ‘sermon texts’ are way too lengthy for being just sermons ready for use and, thus, the question of these texts’ nature arises. This article investigates this question, reaching some conclusions about the purpose of the Liber Sermonum, the historical context in which it needs to be placed, its bold testimony for late twelfth century preaching, preceding the Friars in many efforts, and finally Martin’s ambitions to implement Parisian methods and ideas of crusading on the Iberian Peninsula, thus foreshadowing what several papal legates would attempt in subsequent decades.

            Martin’s work provides intriguing insights into the world of the late twelfth century, its ample concern with crusading and popular preaching, and the involvement of the Iberian Peninsula in these matters. Even though remaining perhaps marginal to the overall efforts of the Latin West, Martin’s case shows how a cleric of Iberian origin departed for Paris like so many others did from several European regions, then got quite around as a preacher, being involved in several significant phenomena, and finally ended up again at home, bringing his vast Liber Sermonum with him (its only copy was penned in San Isidoro around 1200), a fact that suggests that it was Martin’s explicit intention to implement this preaching material eventually for purposes in León, crusading and otherwise. His Vita tells us, for example, that he was involved in the destruction of the Jewish castle in León in 1196, while the Liber Sermonum holds extensive anti-Jewish material. This project established thus Martin as both a diligent crusade preacher and an important protagonist of the Iberian Peninsula, at a time when much was under development in both areas. His case study shows how worthwhile it is to move beyond classic historiographical sources and to consider the vast surviving sermon material of the Middle Ages (around 140 000 texts between 1150 and 1350 alone): the Liber Sermonumbetrays in an excellent way how such sources can provide vital but hitherto overlooked insights into several historical phenomena.

Photo: Saladin entreißt dem fliehenden König Guido von Lusignan das Heilige Kreuz, in: Chronica Maiora, URL:] (11.01.2023).

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