With the fall of the Roman Empire under the pressure of invading Germanic tribes, Western Europe broke into many smaller kingdoms, each with its own mounted professional soldiers called knights. At times these men were quite ferocious destroying crops robbing and mistreating the peasants. So the Church and monasteries became involved in teaching these men a code of behavior or chivalry.

In time the making of a knight became a formalized ceremony. We read from French history as follows: "When he reached manhood he prepared himself for receiving knighthood. Clad in robes whose color symbolized purity and devotion, he spent an allotted time in fasting and prayer; next, after confession and absolution, and having partaken of the sacrament ,[Communion] his sword was blessed, and he was instructed by the priest in the duties of a true knight. Then having put on his armor and taken the vow of chivalry, he knelt in the presence of his friends before some prince or warrior of renown, who, striking him lightly on the shoulder with the flat of his sword said, 'In the name of God, St. Michael, and St. George, I make thee knight; be valiant, bold, and loyal.'" (Google Books: The Leading Facts of French History by D.H. Montgomery, p. 57) It is interesting to note that the saints who bear witness to the knight are St. Michael, a warrior leading angel who drove Satan from heaven and St. George (c. 275-281), who became a martyr, usually depicted on a horse slaying a dragon. He was a soldier of the Greek spreaking Anatolia in the Roman Empire. Thus the knight is faced with the example of physical and spiritual strength to imitate.

"Even prior to the Crusades... an anticipation of this attitude is found in the custom called the "Truce of God". It was then that the clergy seized upon the opportunity offered by these truces to exact from the rough warriors of feudal times a religious vow to use their weapons chiefly for the protection of the weak and defenseless, especially women and orphans, and of churches. Chivalry, in the new sense, rested on a vow; it was this vow which dignified the soldier, elevated him in his own esteem, and raised him almost to the level of the monk in medieval society. As if in return for this vow, the Church ordained a special blessing for the knight in the ceremony called in the Pontificate Romanum, "Benedictio novi militis." (Catholic Encyclopedia: Chivalry)

The first crusade involved many European nights in the taking of Jerusalem from the Muslims in 1099 AD. "Sometime between 1110 and 1120, in the aftermath of the First Crusade, a small group of knights vowed to devote their lives to the protection of pilgrims in the Holy Land. They were called the 'Order of the Poor Knights of Christ.' The King of Jerusalem, Baldwin II, granted them the use of a captured mosque built on Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the site of the ancient Temple of Solomon. From this they became known as the Knights Templar. Under the patronage of St. Bernard of Clairvaux the Order received papal sanction and legitimacy. The Knights Templar were granted permission by the pope to wear a distinctive white robe with a red cross." They took the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and were quartered in the captures Al-aqsa Mosque on the Temple mount which in effect became a monastery with armaments and horse stables.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux in an exhortation to the Knights Templars tells them to live like monks being obedient, without wife and children and without private property. In times when they are not fighting, they should spend their time mending clothes and armor. Keep away, he tells them, from gambling, the cruel sport of falconry, mimes, magicians, romancers and the spectacle of the joust. He gives purpose to their lives by stating:

"Christ's knights can fight their Lord's fight in safety, fearless of sin in slaughter of their adversaries and fearless of danger at their own deaths, since death suffered or dealt out on Christ's behalf holds no crime and merits great glory. Hence one gains for Christ, and then gains Christ Himself, who most willingly accepts the death of an adversary for the ends of vengeance and then even more willingly offers Himself to a knight for the end of consolation. ...."(Bernard of Clairvaux: De Laude Novae Militiae)

 

Between the 11th to the 12th Centuries chivalry became romantic. A knight's leisure was spent in hunting, music and exercising the "science" of gallantry and poetry. Courtly love was an idealized relationship between a knight and a lady which spurred the night to great deeds done for the love of his lady. For example, in the film "A Knight's Tale" lady Jocelyn demands that her "Knight" allowed himself to be defeated during the jousting tournament to show that he loved her more than his pride. This attitude was not only limited to knights because it played its part in Dante's (1265-1321) love for Beatrice. Dante quoting Homer said that Beatrice looked like the daughter of a god. "And although her image, which was always in my mind, gave Love the confidence to lord it over me, her influence was so good that she never allowed Love to rule over me without the faithful advice of my reason ...." (Dante Alighieri, New Life, Hesperus Press Limited, London, 2003, p. 4) And in the Paradiso he wrote of Beatrice,

"Of all that I have looked on with these eyes
Thy goodness and thy power have fitted me
The holiness and grace to recognize."
(Dante: Paradiso, Canto 31, v.82)

Coutly love although ennobling led at times to exaggerated worship of the lady and at times to adultery. A question has come to my mind, "Was there a relationship between courtly love and the Christian love of Mary?"

3. Mary and Courtly Love