Confraternity of Belchite
The Confraternity of Belchite was an "experimental" community of knights founded in 1122 by Alfonso the Battler, king of Aragon and Navarre, and lasting until shortly after 1136. Members could enlist permanently or for a set time, vowing "never to live at peace with the pagans but to devote all their days to molesting and fighting them". When the Emperor Alfonso VII confirmed the charter of the confraternity, he specified that it existed "for the defence of Christians and the oppression of Saracens". A Christian organisation dedicated to a holy war against Muslims (reconquista), its impetus and development coincide with that of the international military orders and it introduced the concept of an indulgence proportional to length of service.
In 1117 Alfonso the Battler conquered the town of Belchite, about twenty-two miles southeast of his main target, the city of Zaragoza, which surrendered on 18 December 1118. The following years were spent consolidating these gains, and it was not until 1122 that Alfonso established a confraternity of knights in Belchite. He may have "envisioned international crusading movement based on military orders", as Peter Schickl suggested and Alfonso's will may attest. The foundation charter of the confraternity does not survive, but that of the similar Order of Monreal, founded by Alfonso in 1128, does. We know that the foundation charter of Belchite was witnessed by the most powerful bishops from throughout Spain: Bernard de Sedirac, Oleguer Bonestruga, Diego Gelmírez and Guy de Lescar.
José Lacarra (1971) speculated that the confraternity was merged into the Templar organisation, but there is no evidence of its continuance beyond 1136. More probably it had collapsed by the time of Alfonso the Battler's will (1134), leaving its confirmation charter of 1136 as a political ploy in the haggling over the succession in Aragon. In 1143 a settlement was reached in which Raymond Berengar IV of Barcelona gave the castle at Belchite to the Templars "according as [they could] best come to terms" with its lord, Lope Sanz (Sánchez), who was the princeps and rector of the confraternity in 1136.
The confraternity was to have its headquarters either at Belchite or any other suitable fortress in the frontier beyond Zaragoza. It was granted all booty it could seize from the Muslims and exempted from the quinta, the fifth of the booty traditionally owed to the sovereign. It was permitted to colonise any depopulated lands, but all its property was held per deum (of God) and inde deo serviant (for serving God). It elected its own leader, titled princeps or rector, and it employed two merchants exempted from all customs and tolls. Furthermore, the members were permitted to judge cases brought by outsiders against any member.
On 4 October 1136 a synod convened by Alfonso VII sat in Burgos and, at his request, granted an indulgence for those lent support to Belchite. Present were three archbishops—Raymond de Sauvetât, Diego Gelmírez, Paio Mendes—twenty bishops, nine abbots and the Papal legate Guido Pisano. The support that qualified could be permanent or temporary membership, or a donation, and the indulgence applied everybody both lay and religious. The equating of reconquista with crusade was based on the idea of opening a route to Jerusalem through Spain and North Africa. Likewise the Confraternity of Belchite is explicitly compared to the Hospitallers and the Templars, and the indulgence to that granted for the 1113–15 Balearic Islands expedition and the 1118–20 conquest of Zaragoza:
Let he who wishes to serve God [in Belchite] for a year gain the same remission as if he went to Jerusalem. . . If any knight or anyone else, living or dead, should leave his horse or arms for the service of God [in Belchite], let him have the same indulgence as he who has bequeathed them to the Hospital of Jerusalem or the Temple. . . Therefore, dearest brothers, make haste toward the great joy of this indulgence with an eager spirit[.] [B]y the same indulgence the tomb of the Lord [sepulcrum Domini] was delivered from captivity, as were Mallorca and Zaragoza and other places, and likewise, by the favour of God, the road to Jerusalem [iter Hierosolymitanum] from this region [pars] will be opened [aperietur] and the Church of God, which is held there as a slave in captivity, will be liberated.
Much of the language of the indulgence is borrowed from the speech made by Diego Gelmírez at the Council of Compostela (1125), the only other instance of such an indulgence being issued by a Spanish ecclesiastic and not by a pope in the twelfth century. This strongly suggests that Diego was influential in writing up the indulgence of 1136.
Influence of the ribāṭEdit
It seems highly probable that from these rábitos developed, both in Spain and among the Christians in the East, the idea of the military orders, so distinguished for their valour and the outstanding services which they rendered to Christianity. Both institutions were very similar.
In his work on Spanish historiography (1954), Américo Castro also "proposes that the medieval Christian military orders of fighting religious men were modeled on the Islamic ribāṭ." His proposal was rejected for lack of positive evidence by Joseph O'Callaghan (1959), before being taken up by Thomas Glick and Oriol Pi-Sunyer as a textbook example medieval acculturation through stimulus- or idea-diffusion:
Many an alien institution which is basically attractive may be unacceptable in its original form. But it may act as a stimulus to a reinvention within the confines of the recipient culture of a similar institution consonant with the values of the recipient. The ribāṭ was attractive to the Christians and fulfilled a social and military need but was unacceptable owing to Spanish religious values. For the Christians it would have been thoroughly repugnant to take on the trappings of that very religion whose extermination was life's highest goal. Nevertheless we may posit that the Islamic concept acted as a stimulus towards the reinvention of the ribāṭ in completely Christian guise. In such a case, moreover, the anthropologist would expect precisely not to find that document institutional continuity upon which the medievalists so depend.
Elena Lourie argues that the notion of temporary service, so alien to Christian idea of vocation, yet central to the nucleus of the rule of Belchite of 1122 (preserved in the re-issue of 1136, with changes) could only have come from the Islamic ribāṭ. Already the confirmation charter of 1136 shows a shift in emphasis towards the permanent members, and the difference in rank between permanent and temporary members of the Templars shows, Lourie argues, that the one is further from any Islamic source and closer to Christian monastic tradition. Belchite is a "half-way house" between municipal fraternities, the monastic orders and the ribāṭ. She goes on to quote the objection of O'Callaghan why "[i]f the ribāṭ with its complement of warrior-ascetics existed in Spain for centuries ... the first Spanish military order [the Order of Calatrava] was not founded before 1158?" According to Jesuit historian Robert Ignatius Burns, borrowing from a position of strength, which the Christians of Iberia attained only by the mid-eleventh century, is preferred to borrowing from weakness.
- Lourie, "The Confraternity [and] the Ribat", 166 n. 31: Ipsi autem confratres nunquam cum paganis pacem habeant, sed omnibus diebus eos perturbare ac expugnare studeant. The knights were only permitted to make peace with Muslims who submitted to Christian rule and lived as mudéjares.
- Fletcher, "Reconquest and Crusade", 45–46.
- Kantorowicz, "Pro Patria Mori", 478: ad Christianorum defensionem et Sarracenorum oppressionem.
- Lourie, "The Confraternity [and] the Ribat", 168.
- O'Banion, "Spanish Route", 389.
- He bequeathed his realms to the Hospitallers and Templars, a bequest ignored by the territorial magnates after his death.
- O'Banion, "Spanish Route", 388.
- Lourie, "The Confraternity [and] the Ribat", 166 n. 30.
- Forey, The Templars, 17.
- Lourie, "The Confraternity [and] the Ribat", 174.
- Forey, The Templars, 67 n. 43.
- Lourie, "The Confraternity [and] the Ribat", 168 n. 37.
- O'Banion, "Spanish Route", 389. The last part of the quotation in Latin is: Ad tantum igitur remissionis gaudium, fratres karissimi, alacri animo properate, dominici precepti memores: Qui sequitur me, non ambulat in tenebrris, et: que perdiderit animam suam propter me, in uitam eternam custodit eam, et: qui non tollit crucem suam et sequitur me, non est me dignus. Simili autem remissione sepulcrum Domini de captivitate ereptus est et Mairoica et Cesaraugusta et alie, et similiter Deo annuente iter Jherosolimitanum ab hac parte aperietur et Ecclesia dei, que adhuc sub captiuitate ancilla tenetur, libera efficietur.
- O'Banion, "Spanish Route", 389–90. The bracketed Latin expressions in the above quotation are also found in Diego's speech as preserved in the Historia compostellana (quoted in O'Banion, 387): Et quemadmodum milites Christi et fideles sanctae Ecclesiae filii iter Hierosolymitanum multo labore et multi sanguinis effusione aperuerunt, ita et nos Christi milites efficiamur, et ejus hostibus debellatis pessimis Saracenis, iter quod per Hispaniae partes brevius et multo minus laboriosum est, ad idem Domini sepulcrum, ipsius subveniente gratia aperiamus.
- J. A. Conde, Historia de la dominación de los Árabes en España, 3 vols. (Madrid: 1820–21), 1.619, n. 1, translated in O'Callaghan, "The Order of Calatrava", 159, quoted Lourie, "The Confraternity [and] the Ribat", 160.
- Glick and Pi-Sunyer, "Acculturation", 152.
- Lourie, "The Confraternity [and] the Ribat", passim.
- Lourie, "The Confraternity [and] the Ribat", 175 n. 59.
- Brodman, James W., trans. "Indulgences for the Confraternity of Belchite (1136)." American Academy of Research Historians of Medieval Spain (2005). Online
- Castro, Américo. The Structure of Spanish History. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954.
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