By Liam Pardo FCRH’22
Guillaume Adam, better known by his English name William Adam or William of Adam, or by what he called himself and as he was addressed, Guillelmo Ade, was a French Dominican who traveled throughout southern and eastern Europe, Ethiopia, India, and Persia, where he spent much of his time in service to the Church.[i] It is unknown when he was born, but he lived during the first half of the fourteenth century, dying between 1338 and 1340. Although most of the major Crusades were long over, the idea of taking back the Holy Land and Jerusalem, under Islamic rule at the time, was still a topic of discussion throughout the Church. William was a staunch advocate of another Crusade, and his travels throughout the East, especially in Persia and the Byzantine Empire, greatly influenced his ideas about a potential future conflict in the region. Williams states in one of the works attributed to him, titled De modo Serracenos extirpandi or How to Defeat the Saracens, that “Among other members of my order who go to the nations of the inﬁdels to preach the faith, I have seen many lands, traveled through many provinces, and experienced the ways of many peoples, and often such laments have ﬁlled my ears, often they have moved me to bitter inner heartfelt tears.”[ii] (The term “Saracen” was used by medieval European Christian writers to refer to Arab Muslims, and is common in Crusader literature.) In this text, William writes about how to root out the Muslims from the Holy Land and even focuses on the capture of Constantinople as a necessary measure to achieve on the way to Jerusalem.[iii]
William of Adam’s treatise, translated by Giles Constable, reads more like a call to arms than a how-to manual, as its name suggests. William is incredibly passionate about this endeavor, especially its connection to Jerusalem. He states:
The voice of the church weeping with Rachel, the voice of the oppressed Christian people, the voice of those trapped in servitude to the Saracens, the voice of the land consecrated by the blood of Christ fill the world and resound with frequent, bitter, and loud laments. The church cries to the heavens, and there is no one to hear that her splendid sons have been taken. Her children are led into captivity before the face of the oppressor (Lamentations 1:5), and there is no peace for them on account of the affliction and extent of servitude…
Lastly, the Holy Land cries that strangers devour it before our face (Isaiah 1:7); it keeps a Sabbath in the enemy’s land (Leviticus 26:35) and remains without its due inhabitant (Jeremiah 4:7). It is crossed and occupied by uncircumcised and impure people, who pollute the temple and trample on holy things. It is inhabited by men who have shed like water the blood of their own Christian sons in the surroundings of Jerusalem.[iv]
In the first portion of this passage, William alludes to the matriarch Rachel, associated in medieval Christian literature with the Church. Rachel’s weeping refers to a passage in Jeremiah 31:15, in which Rachel weeps on behalf of the exiled Children of Israel who leave Jerusalem for Babylon: “Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”[v] In William’s text, Rachel weeps not for the Jews but for the Christians, who have lost sovereignty over Jerusalem. In the second half of this passage, William characterizes the Muslim rulers of Jerusalem as intruders in the Holy Land, claiming that they have desecrated it and all the holy things that it holds. He is also upset at the Christian rulers, whom he regards as a problem in the region because they sent Christians to die without true reason or a well-thought-out plan. William may have written this treatise not only to promote another Crusade but also in order to prevent unnecessary Christian deaths should another Crusade occur. During this time, the Egyptian Mamluks had control over the region, and William was one of the first writers to highlight the importance of the Indian Ocean and the trade routes connecting the Near East and Egypt to Asia, both for purposes of commerce and war. He suggests that a blockade would be needed in order to cut off the Mamluks from this important trade network.
Although these wars and plans never came to fruition, William had a successful career. He became a bishop of the archdiocese Sultanieh, which included a large portion of western Asia, Smyrna in Asia Minor, and Antivari, now known as Bar in Montenegro. With his experience in these regions, one could say that William would have been considered one of the leading thinkers of his day on the topic of whether and how Europe could launch another Crusade.
William of Adam wrote other works in genres apart from his Crusader thinking. For example, he is thought to have authored MS 29, an indulgence pertaining to Tarentaise, a valley in France, dated to 1335 and 1337. This manuscript is currently housed in Fordham’s Special Collections.[vi] While the indulgence is not from Jerusalem, one can see the importance of the city in William’s earlier writings. Michael Sanders and David Howe did extensive work on MS 29, and this essay expands upon their findings and contextualizes it within William of Adam’s broader world, including Jerusalem.
Indulgences are one of the most criticized aspects of the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages, and many disliked them even then. The major use of indulgences is what persuaded Martin Luther to write his 95 Theses and pin them to the door of the Wittenberg Church. But, what are indulgences? The official definition from the Roman Catholic Church, canon 992, states that “An indulgence is the remission before God of temporal punishment for sins whose guilt is already forgiven, which a properly disposed member of the Christian faithful gains under certain and defined conditions by the assistance of the Church which as minister of redemption dispenses and applies authoritatively the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.” Anne Bysted explains that there are three specific parts of this definition that help describe what an indulgence is.[vii] Firstly, an indulgence is a remission of temporal punishment, meaning that it does not remiss one of eternal punishment in Hell or the guilt of sin, which can lead to eternal punishment. One would need to go to confession before one dies in order to absolve yourself. Secondly, an indulgence is a remission before God, since the Church has a “treasury” of the merits of God and the saints, so one pays for an indulgence in order to receive those goods. Lastly, indulgences are remissions of penances, but not the sacrament of penance. In order to receive an indulgence, one needs to have gone to confession and had their sins absolved beforehand.
Even though the morality and ethics of indulgences are questionable, the organization that made it work was large and influential. Indulgences characterized the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages, and especially during the Crusades, one of the bloodier times in medieval Europe and the Near East. Apart from fighting for God, indulgences were used in order to make people fight during the Crusades. Fighting and/or dying during battle, or in later Crusades, sending money or supplies to Crusaders, were considered automatic indulgences that allowed the soldier or patron to go to heaven without fear of repercussion. Although the official Church has not confirmed that Crusaders who died were martyrs, to some like Jacques de Vitry, a medieval bishop of Acre during the early 13th century, it was an indulgence that Crusaders’ sins would be absolved and they would go straight to heaven if they “picked up the cross” and died.[viii] Crusaders had temporal and spiritual privileges that helped persuade them to go on a Crusade, and indulgences were there to confirm that their spiritual life was safe and that their property would be secure while going to war.[ix] Many Crusade indulgences were influential to the indulgence system and impacted how they could be used in the future, showing that even though Jerusalem and the Holy Land were incredibly far away, they were important enough to protect and die for.
Figure 1: MS 29. Notice the colorful illustrations and detailed penmanship of this indulgence. The response by the archbishop can be seen at the bottom.
Not all indulgences, however, were connected with the Crusades. MS 29 is a specific genre of indulgence called the collective indulgence that became increasingly popular. Collective indulgences were different from regular indulgences in one major way – they implemented multiple bishops in their creation in order to bypass certain rules about how many indulgences a single bishop could give. For example, there is evidence of a papal indulgence from the Church of Bethlehem, only a few miles away from Jerusalem, that would remiss one of sin for 40 days. This indulgence was issued at a time when the Church of Bethlehem needed money and land from England in the mid-13th century. The indulgence allowed “enjoined penance to anyone who aided them or sought to join their fraternity.”[x] Although this indulgence from Bethlehem was not a collective one, it highlights one of the main reasons why collective indulgences and indulgences in general were used – they were profitable. Since bishops had a limit for the amount of indulgences they would sell, they were limited in how much money they could make. By working with other bishops, they could bypass this rule and group their indulgences together, thereby selling more than they would be able to sell on their own. Sanders and Howe state: “They wanted financial support from the papacy for their dioceses or personal projects. Collective indulgences, or rather the fees garnered from them, were one of the ways they collected money.”[xi] This was especially true in poorer dioceses.
In this specific indulgence, William of Adam writes to James, the archbishop of Tarentaise, an area nestled within the French alps. With 16 other bishops, he asks “We, bishops, desire that the chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Blaise, which is in a village of the sacred diocese of Tarentaise, will be venerated frequently with fitting honors and perpetually by the faithful of Christ; by all who are truly sorry and have confessed; by all who go to the said chapel for the sake of devotion, prayer, or pilgrimage…” The bishops then say that in the chapel they will celebrate a multitude of feasts and holidays and that the people who worship there will take wonderful care of the chapel and what is inside of it. To those that succeed in this task, William writes, “we, by the mercy of the omnipotent God and the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul whose authority has been entrusted to each of us, each mercifully grant 40 days of indulgences from penances imposed upon them, provided that the will of the bishop of Tarentaise approves and consents to it. In witness of these things, we have ordered that the present letters be fortified with the affixing of our seals.” Note how he writes “each mercifully grant.” This is evidence of the loophole in effect, that each of the 16 bishops can give their allotted 40 days of indulgences to this one project, for a total of 640 days! The archbishop of Tarentaise responded two years later, in 1337; his response appears on the bottom of the paper in a different color and handwriting. Giving his seal as well, he accepts the conditions stated in the indulgences and grants the bishops the ability to sell them. According to Sanders and Howe, the remnant of strings at the bottom of the manuscript may have held the seals that the bishops provided in order to give the indulgence credibility and authenticity.[xii]
Figure 2: A focused view of the leftover strings and the puncture marks that used to hold the seals.
Figure 3: A magnified view of the illustration of Saint Blaise. Note the marks of the first draft of the bishop bishop behind the finished depiction of the saint.
MS 29 is more than just a collective indulgence, however. It is an illustrated collective indulgence. It features large lettering at the beginning of each major word, illustrated drawings of people and saints, and beautiful penmanship. Most likely, this indulgence was hung up and displayed, since there are puncture marks in the corners, to show that the bishops were given permission to sell indulgences. The upper left-hand corner features the depictions of people, angels, and prominently a beheaded bishop, who is believed to be Saint Blaise, one of the patron saints of the region. If you look closely at the illustration of Saint Blaise, one can see an older, original version of the drawing in pencil behind the illustrated one. It is thought that a scribe simply did not like the way he was drawing the saint or he made a mistake, so he stopped and started over. Seeing this reminds us that people living during this time were human beings, and that not all artifacts have to be the remnant of a perfect piece; making mistakes is part of being human and this small detail highlights that very well.
William of Adam was well versed in the customs and ideas of his day. He was fascinated by the crusading culture and wrote extensively on the subject, highlighting ways that Europeans may be able to win control over Jerusalem were they to go to war again. Although Jerusalem was not the subject of this collective indulgence, its author most certainly had experience both in the region and with the people of the city. This indulgence, however, most likely never left France until modernity. From what is known about the provenance, since the beginning of the 20th century it was in New York, switching hands between Jesuit institutions until it reached Fordham University in the 1980s. Since then, it has been in the collections of the university, kept in a climate-controlled room to make sure it is safe and secure. On a worldwide scale, this piece is miniscule, but it is still an incredibly important manuscript that allows us to understand what the average business dealings of the church were during the 14th century, especially with people who are not necessarily known a global scale, but nonetheless important in their local contexts.
Liam Pardo is a junior History major and Medieval Studies minor. He is an avid fisherman who loves hiking to find new spots, all while enjoying the plant life along the way.
This blog post was originally written for Prof. Sarit Kattan Gribetz’s “Medieval Jerusalem: Jewish Christian, Muslim Perspectives” course; the indulgence manuscript and this essay will be featured in an upcoming exhibition at Fordham’s Walsh Library.
Ade, Guilelmus. How to Defeat the Saracens: Tractatus Quomodo Sarraceni Sunt Expugnandi. Translated by Giles Constable. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012.
Bysted, Ane. Ane Bysted, 2005, www.anebysted.dk/English.html.
Bysted, Ane. The Crusade Indulgence: Spiritual Rewards and the Theology of the Crusades, c. 1095-1216. Leiden: Brill, 2015.
Carr, Mike. “Benedict XII and the Crusades.” In Pope Benedict XII (1334-1342): The Guardian of Orthodoxy, edited by Irene Bueno. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018. Pp. 217–240. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv513csm.13. Accessed 3 Dec. 2020.
“Chapter IV. Indulgences.” Code of Canon Law – IntraText, www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/_P3I.HTM.
Richard, J. “Adam, Guillaume,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/4, pp. 447-448; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/adam-guillaume-14th-century-traveler
Sanders, Michael, and David Howe. “An Indulgence with William of Adam, Archbishop of Antivari and Author of How to Defeat the Saracens.” The Crusader States. www.crusaderstates.org/indulgence-commentary.html. Vincent, N. “Goffredo de Prefetti and the Church of Bethlehem in England.” The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 49.2 (1998): 213-235. doi:10.1017/S0022046998006319
[i] Ade and Constable, How to Defeat the Saracens, 1; Richard, “Adam, Guillaume.”
[ii] Ade and Constable, How to Defeat the Saracens, 25.
[iii] Richard, “Adam, Guillaume.”
[iv] Ade and Constable, How to Defeat the Saracens, 23.
[vi] Sanders and Howe, “An Indulgence with William of Adam.”
[vii] Bysted, The Crusade Indulgence, 11.
[viii] Bysted, The Crusade Indulgence, 149.
[ix] Bysted, The Crusade Indulgence, 156.
[x] Vincent, “Goffredo de Prefetti,” 220.
[xi] Sanders and Howe, “An Indulgence with William of Adam.”
[xii] Sanders and Howe, “An Indulgence with William of Adam.”