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Conedera, Ecclesiastical Knights: The Military Orders in Castile, 1150-1330 (Domínguez)

  • 16 Mar 2017 12:28 PM
    Message # 4671208
    Janna Bianchini (Administrator)

    Sam Zeno Conedera, SJ, Ecclesiastical Knights: The Military Orders in Castile, 1150-1330 (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015), 280 pp., 8 ill.  ISBN 9780823265954.

    Reviewed by Frank A. Domínguez

    The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    Ecclesiastical Knights is not a study of the history, composition, or activities of the Spanish military orders à la Carlos de Ayala Martínez, Malcolm Barber, Alan Demurger, Alan Forey, Derek Lomax, Anthony Lutrell, Joseph O'Callaghan, or Enrique Rodríguez Picavea. Instead, it examines the way knights of Santiago, Calatrava, and Alcántara treated their spiritual and military vocations with the hope of arriving at a synthesis, heretofore unavailable, of the spiritual facet of the orders. The goal of the book is evident in its chapter divisions.

    After an introductory assessment of the scholarship on the military orders and a discussion of the reasons why Conedera prefers the term "ecclesiastical knights" over "warrior knights" or "warrior monks," he devotes chapter 1 ("Foundations," 19-50) to their historical roots in the Templars and Hospitallers. The rest of the chapters more clearly point to the goals of the study.

    Chapter 2 ("Interior Castle: The Order's Religious Observance," 51-83) is concerned with the adaptation of the monastic structures to the communal arrangements made by ecclesiastical knights. In other words, were they a lay "militia" more than an "ordo"? The chapter summarizes the recruitment practices of the orders, the  categories of their members, and their vows, routines, patron saints, and liturgical and institutional customs. This examination of the religious life builds a case for the slow overshadowing of the ethos of monasticism by the ideology of knighthood. In all of these areas, Conedera finds change. The vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience receive attention, particularly the first two, which clashed with the emerging ideology of the nobility concerning property and which led to a relaxation of the vow of chastity in orders like Santiago.

    Chapter 3 ("Mission in the World," 84-111) examines how the orders' principal role of fighting was coordinated with their spiritual activities, since they were mostly tasked with holding border fortresses to aid in the repopulation of territory. Conedera does this by examining what their foundational documents have to say about their task, namely, that they were responsible for the defense and expansion of Christianity, love of one's neighbor through the sacrifice of a knight's life on behalf of others, and their conversion into "milites Christi." These three tasks colored the charters of donation, which consider properties and goods given to the knights in a similar light as aiding in their cause, as well as the letters commending the service of "fratres ad terminum," who were rewarded with indulgences. However, these lofty ideals, which included a prohibition against fighting other Christians, fell by the way as time advanced. The Orders then found themselves fighting against Christians to advance the political gains of one or another side.

    Part of the mission of the Orders involved the care and protection of the sick and weak. Their hospitals, beyond providing for the comfort of their patients, took more care of their spiritual than of their bodily needs. Santiago, however, saw the rescuing and care of captives as integral to the Order's objectives. It built ransoming hospitals with the sole purpose of taking care of those Christians who were captured and then released. Non-knights participated in this activity through donations, which were partially destined for the rescuing of captives, and created a confraternity of supporters (or "familiares") united by several practices: "the donor's offering of himself to the order, his body for burial, and his soul for participation in the brother's prayers; the donation of some goods or properties to the community; and the order's acknowledgment of the donor's new status" (105). Conedera finds that these activities went into a slump in the thirteenth century. The slump coincided with a halt in the Reconquest, with the increased aristocratization of the orders, and with a decline in donations.

    Chapter 4 ("Brothers in Arms: The Orders’ Relation with One Another," 112-140) examines twelve pacts or "hermandades" issued by the three orders, in which they express their common goals. These pacts, Conedera says, still have much to reveal about their bonds of spirituality by answering questions like, "why the pacts were formed, what they stipulated, and how they were put into effect" (113). They put down on paper an ideal of behavior that was often not followed, but which shaped the self-image of an order's members and the image that others in society had of them. The chapter begins with a definition of what is an "hermandad" and its origins in religious institutions. An "hermandad" belongs to one of two categories according to Teofilo Ruiz, the particular and collective.

    The particular pacts associate individuals with churches or monasteries, and can be equated with the "familiaritas" that Conedera has treated in Chapter 3. The collective are pacts of mutual aid, known as "hermandades," between two or more religious institutions. These latter pacts divide their content between spiritual benefits derived by the signing institutions (good works and intercessory prayers) and temporal benefits such as the hospitality, lodging and sustenance given to travellers between them. These types of pacts predate the establishment of the orders, but are adopted by them (with some variation) once they are established. Conedera characterizes the main concerns of these surviving "hermandad" documents that are related to the orders as covering "joint action in battle and equal division of its spoils; the extension of hospitality to one another, backed up in some cases by considerable penalties for failure to do so; joint negotiation of relations with other groups ... and procedures of the resolution of disputes" (127).

    One thing that distinguishes the pacts of the orders, however, is their temporal projection around action. Conedera examines this involvement with the world in sections that study the pacts' impact on military collaboration, dispute resolution, legal assistance in lay or canon courts, transfer of members from one order to another, and systemic conflict resolution, and he concludes that it is very difficult to extract definite inferences from the surviving evidence.

    Conedera also concludes by saying that some of the differences between the three orders are due to the Cistercian origins and affiliation of Calatrava and Alcántara but finds that:

    the religious observances of all three orders were remarkably alike, except that the Cistercian-affiliated orders were more demanding, and their members could not marry. Their prayers were simple and their penances were aimed at knightly vices and the preservation of military discipline. Above all, the orders valued obedience. They never drank from the deep wellsprings of monasticism, nor were they ever meant to. The hegemony of the nonordained military brethren, so anomalous in Catholic religious orders, owed to the priority of the exercise of arms as an organizing principle. (141-142)

    The ecclesiastical orders never wavered from their mission and purpose: "the defense and expansion of Christendom understood as an act of charity, expressed primarily through fighting and secondarily through the care of the sick and the ransoming of captives" (142).

    We have been in need of a study of "the military-religious vocation as it was lived out in the Orders of Santiago, Calatrava, and Alcántara ... during the first century and a half of their existence" (ix), particularly one that sifts through the extant documentation and archival material.  Conedera is to be congratulated. However, Ecclesiastical Knights does not look deeply into developments in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that are due to the increasing intervention of the monarchy in the affairs of the orders. That should be another volume.

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