11 February 2004

The Arabophile Holy Roman Emperor Enters Jerusalem, 1229

Frederick II was one of the most energetic medieval monarchs, and he remains one of the best remembered. His ambitions operated powerfully in the intellectual and cultural spheres as well as in the political, where he spent a lifetime carving out and defending his combined German, Norman, and Sicilian claims, most often against the papacy....

The man who had been crowned Holy Roman Emperor ..., in 1220, spoke and read Arabic, and he was so familiar with both the philosophical and the religious traditions of the Muslims that he had astonished and perplexed witnesses of his 1229 entry into Jerusalem. In that year the excommunicated Frederick, who was militantly at odds with the pope, had entered the Holy City. Sovereignty over Jerusalem had been contested, violently, ever since Christians arrived with the First Crusade, more than a century before, and Frederick was there to establish his own complex claims and to be crowned king, which he managed to do, even while excommunicated, in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. He seemed to the local Muslims a rather different species of Christian from the Franks who preceded him, and dozens of anecdotes were later recounted about this leader of a Crusader army whose first deed in the city was to restore the public call to prayer that had been suppressed by previous Christian sovereigns: "When the time came for the midday prayer and the muezzin's cry rang out, all his [Frederick's] pages and valets rose, as well as his tutor, a Sicilian with whom he was reading Aristotle's Logic in all its chapters, and they offered the canonic prayer, for they were all Muslims.... It was clear from what he said that he was a materialist and that his Christianity was simply a game to him."
SOURCE: The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain (Back Bay Books, 2002), by María Rosa Menocal, who dedicates her book "for un hombre sincero de donde crece la palma, my father, the intrepid Enrique Menocal, who has lived in lifelong exile from his own land of the palm trees"

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