Providing Insight into the history of the Christian Church
Rabban Sauma Part 12
This is the last of a dozen episodes on Rabban Sauma.Having met with all the dignitaries his embassy on Arghun’s behalf required, Sauma was anxious to return home. The delay caused by the Roman Cardinals failure to appoint a new Pope had lengthened his stay beyond what he’d anticipated. Although no record of it is given, Arghun may have urged Sauma to return by a specific date. So he packed up and started the journey back to Persia. It was April 1288.And remember, accompanying him was the French king Philip’s ambassador who bore a personal letter from the King to Arghun. The one Sauma carried was an official correspondence.His route was the same as the one he took West. The only change was his trip to Veroli SW of Rome. The Cathedral of St. Andrew was an attraction he decided to include on his way home. It wasn’t much of a detour. What’s interesting about his stay in Veroli was his inclusion with several Roman church officials in the issuing of indulgences. These indulgences, usually issued in the Name of Christ, were rendered under the auspices of God the Father, indicating a nod on the part of the Catholics to The Rabban’s Nestorian emphasis. The Vatican museum has some of these indulgences granted by Sauma. They bear his seal showing a figure with a halo, left hand on chest and right holding a star. It bears the text, “Bar Sauma—Tartar—From the Orient” Tartar being the common word of Europeans for the Mongols.After Veroli, Sauma took ship and arrived back in Persia in Sept; a journey of five months. He was immediately ushered into the Ilkhan’s presence. He handed off the various gifts and correspondences he’d been given to pass along to Arghun. He then gave his report, a full account of his time in the West.Arghun was pleased that the kings of England and France were on board for an alliance against the Mamluks. Though the Pope hadn’t pledged to the alliance, he’d made clear his desire for closer relations. Stoked at that prospect, Arghun looked with great favor on the Rabban. He expressed his dismay at the hardships Sauma had endured on his journey and promised to take care of him for the rest of his life. He pledged to build the Rabban a church near the palace where he could retire to a life of quiet service of God. Sauma asked that Arghun send for his old friend Mar Yaballaha, head of the Nestorian Church, to come to court to receive the gifts and letters Western leaders had sent him. While there, he could consecrate the land for the new church. The summons was duly sent.Arghun had a special tent-church constructed in anticipation of Mar Yaballaha’s arrival. When the Catholicos did, a three-day banquet was thrown with Arghun himself serving both Sauma and the Nestorian Patriarch. He commanded the people of his realm to offer regular prayers for the health of both the Rabban and Catholicos. The favor he showered on the Nestorians led to a greater boldness on their part across Persia. In 1289, Arghun appointed a Jewish physician as his vizier or prime minister and turned over a good part of the governance of the realm to his capable leadership. With both Christianity and Judaism on the rise, unease among Muslims began to roil.Arghun remained hopeful of the alliance with the West against the Mamluks. He sent a letter by way of a Genoese merchant to Kings Edward & Philip, calling for them to make good on their promise of joining in a campaign to remove the Muslims from the Holy Land. He told them the Mongols would be attacking Damascus in January 1291. They were to attack the Mamluk headquarters in Egypt. They’d then meet in Jerusalem, where Arghun would help them conquer the City, and once secured, turn it over to Europeans control. Both Philip & Edward replied. While Philip’s letter is lost to us, Edward’s remains. He commended the Ilkhan for his zeal in wanting to rid the infidels from the Holy Land, but England wasn’t able to mount a Crusade apart from Papal blessing, which Edward
Rabban Sauma Part 11
This is the 11th episode in the story of Rabban Sauma, and we’re closing in on the conclusion.After a month-long tour of the holy sites in and around Paris, Sauma had a final audience with King Philip. He meant it to be the crowning achievement in the royal treatment he’d lavished on the Chinese ambassador.It was held in the upper chapel of Saint-Chapelle where the just completed stained glass windows filled the room with light, giving the room its nick-name – The Jewel Box. Being newly installed, the colors were vibrant. The windows tell a Biblical history of the world. The room also holds statues of the 12 Apostles and vivid paintings that all combine to literally dazzle the eye. But it was the relics the room held that would have most impressed the Rabban. Philip carefully opened an ornate box holding, what was reputed to be, Jesus’ crown of thorns. Another reliquary held a piece of wood from the cross.While several of Paris’ relics were indeed brought back from the Holy Land after the first Crusade, these two had been secured by Philip’s grandfather St. Louis in Constantinople 40 yrs before. Saint-Chapelle was built as simply a large reliquary to hold their reliquaries.Sauma’s account of viewing these precious relics reports the King told him they’d been secured during the First Crusade IN Jerusalem. Either Sauma misunderstood, or Philip intentionally misled him. Philip wanted to encourage the Rabban in his appeal for a new Crusade. It’s likely Philip fudged the facts so as to give Sauma the impression the French greatly honored the idea of a campaign to retake the Holy Land, even though he had no intention of making an imminent call for one. His behavior throughout the Rabban’s visit suggests he wanted to curry the favor of the Mongol Ilkhans. Furthering that impression was the envoy and letter he sent with Sauma when he eventually returned to Persia. Before leaving Paris. Philip loaded him with lavish gifts, which the pious and humble monk lumps under the heading, “lavish gifts” in his account.So, armed by the assumption he’d secured the French King’s commitment to a Crusade in alliance with the Mongols in Persia against the Muslim Mamluks, Sauma headed west to see if he could recruit the English King Edward I. It was fortunate that Edward just so happened to be near at hand, visiting his lands in Gascony, a region on the west coast of France just north of Spain. After a 3 week journey, Sauma arrived in Bordeaux in the Fall of 1287.Whereas the Parisians had plenty warning of the arrival of the Far Eastern Ambassador from the exotic Mongols and went all out in their celebration of greeting, the people of Bordeaux were surprised. “Who are you and why are you here,” they asked? When word was brought to King Edward, he sought to make amends for the poor way such an august figure had been greeted. Sauma smoothed over the rough start to his embassy among the English by giving Edward the gifts Ilkhan Arghun sent and letters of greeting from he and the Nestorian Catholicus Mar Yaballaha. Edward received them with marked appreciation, but it was when Rabban Sauma proposed an alliance with the Mongols against the Mamluks that he became most animated. “A new Crusade to liberate Jerusalem and bring aid to the beleaguered Outremer? Why that sounds stellar!” was his enthusiastic reaction. Only 6 months earlier, he’d vowed to take the cross. This seemed a glow of divine favor on his pledge, an affirmation of God’s delight in him.While Edward intended to immediately embark on the adventure, events back home conspired to stall that plan. Wales rebelled, again; and entanglements on the Continent in the fractious politics and schemes of Europe hijacked his resources and attention.But all of that was yet future; near future to be sure, but not yet. As far as Sauma was concerned, he had the support of both the Kings of England and France in the proposed alliance with the Mongol Ilkhans in Persia in
Rabban Sauma Part 10
This is episode 10 in the on-going epic saga of the Chinese Marco Polo – Rabban Sauma.Realizing he couldn’t get anything done in Rome since there was no Pope, and that the dozen cardinals charged with the task of selecting him were competing for the post, Sauma decided to take his request for a military alliance between Christian Europe and Mongol Persia against the Muslims Mamluks in the Middle East, directly to the Kings of France and England.Leaving Rome, he stopped in Genoa on his way to North. Since Genoa had for some years maintained a thriving trade with the Ilkhanate, that is the Mongols in Persia, Sauma had every reason to expect a warm welcome. He wasn’t disappointed. It didn’t hurt that one of the interpreters who’d accompanied him from Persia was a native-born Genoese merchant.Genoa was at the height of its prosperity when Sauma visited, boasting a population of 70,000, one of the largest in Europe. Its merchants were savvy negotiators who’d been able to arrange deals not only around the Mediterranean but reaching into the Far East. While other Italian City-States like Naples and Venice set up lucrative trade routes with select partners, Genoa was able to walk a tight-rope of diplomacy across dozens of partners who were otherwise in conflict with each other. Because of their wide-ranging connections, many realms of thought and practice combined to influence the intellectual life of Genoa. It was a truly cosmopolitan city whose routine wasn’t knocked off kilter by the arrival of an Embassy form the Far East.While the commerce of Genoa was well established, its government was another matter. Genoa seemed unable to find a political system that satisfied the city’s need for longer than a decade. At the time of Sauma’s visit, the city’s ruler was called a Captain of the People, or Citizens. He rallied the population of Genoa to officially welcome Sauma’s party. Sauma was confused; not able to understand how such a large city wasn’t ruled by a king. Knowing how far-reaching Genoa’s trade was, Sauma wondered if it might even have been better ruled by an Emperor.Once settled into the accommodations made available to him, Sauma plotted his next moves. If it occurred to him to ask the Genoese to join an alliance against the Mamluks, he quickly put it aside. The Genoese would not be drawn into a war with a force that dominated the entire Eastern Med. In fact, forging treaties was what they were known for. When they went to war, it was with their rival Italian City-States, all for the golden prize of increasing trade with everyone else. And Genoa was at that time gearing up for a campaign against their major rival Venice, which it would soon best.So, after visiting the religious sites in an near Genoa, Sauma once again packed up and headed north toward France.Sauma’s hope of help from the French was keen. After all King Louis IX, known to history as St. Louis, had played a major role in 2 Crusades to liberate the Middle East from the Muslim presence. But his son, Philip III, known as Philip the Bold, had been more concerned with securing his control of France and her neighbors. His son, Philip IV, known as Philip the Fair and later as The Iron King, had only been on the throne for 2 yrs when Sauma arrived in Paris. Barely 20 yrs of age, everyone wondered if he’d reprise the career of his famous grandfather or his more mundane father. It seemed a most propitious time for the Rabban’s embassy, as setting out on a new Crusade to liberate the Holy Land from the Mamluks would appeal to the energy and ambitions of a young ruler seeking to make his mark.Arriving at the French border in August of 1287, Sauma’s party was greeted by a large force sent by the King to escort him to Paris. They entered the City at the end of September to much pomp & circumstance. Sauma was then ushered to palatial digs provided by King Philip. And it was time for a break for the Chinese Monk-ambassador.The trip fr
Rabban Sauma Part 9
This is Episode 9 in the on-going epic tale of Rabban Sauma.Finally, Sauma has arrived in Europe. After two months aboard ship, his party arrives in Naples. Which is unusual because the trip from Constantinople ought to have taken less than a month. Here again, it’s Sauma’s account that seems to be lacking detail. Being a commercial vessel, most likely they’d used the route to further their business, so had put into port along the way for days at a time.Sauma took some time in Naples to recover from the long voyage before setting out for Rome. While there, staying at a mansion provided by the ruling family of Anjou, Sauma witnessed from the roof, the Battle of the Counts on June 23rd in the Bay of Naples. This was part of the larger War of the Sicilian Vespers between the Houses of Aragon and Anjou. Sauma says the Anjou lost 12,000 men. What surprised him was the care given by both sides to avoid harming non-combatants. Familiar with the Mongol method of war, Sauma assumed no distinction between civilians and soldiers in battle. He was deeply impressed by the caution exercised in the fighting to avoid civilian casualties.Naples had proven to be unsafe due to the conflict, so Sauma decided it was best to leave, even before having a chance to visit the city’s religious sites. An unusual move for him since that was his personal primary motivation. His unease may have been due to the sketchy political situation he sensed taking place around him. Better to ‘git’ while the ‘gitting’ was good.So they packed up and headed for Rome.The trip across Italy was yet another surprise for the Chinese monk. There was simply little landscape without some kind of settlement. Whether that was a solitary farm, hamlet, village, town, or city, the road led across a land that was, to Sauma’s thinking, filled with people. This was in sharp contrast with the territory he’d spent the previous decade in. It was possible to travel for days in Central Asia and not see another soul nor evidence of settlement. The path he now took went up and down hills, but after the towering peaks he’d traversed earlier in his pilgrimage, they were but bumps in the road.As he approached Rome, he rehearsed his speech to the Pope, asking for him to call a Crusade of Europe’s’ monarch against the Muslim Mamluks that would coincide with a Mongol attack from the East. But word was carried to Sauma that Pope Honorius IV had died in early April. Instead of being disheartened, Sauma increased his pace, hoping to be among the first to speak to the new Pope.But it was not to be. The twelve cardinals charged with the task of selecting the pope couldn’t reach a decision, largely because several of them wanted to wear Peter’s ring.Arriving in the City, he sent word to the Cardinals of his presence, requesting an audience. Surprisingly, they invited him into that sacred place where the pope is chosen, the papal palace next to the Church of Santa Sabina. No one else was allowed into their deliberations but their closest assistant. So this was an uncommon honor. Even so, Sauma was briefed on proper etiquette when meeting the Cardinals. He made a good impression and proved a welcome distraction from the grinding machinations of the would-be popes. Their task proved so stressful, half of the Cardinals died before the end of that Summer.After initial introductions and realizing how far the Rabban had traveled, the Cardinals expressed their dismay and concern for his health. They assumed it would take weeks for him to recover his strength and urged him to rest. He assured them his stay in Naples had been sufficient and that he had pressing, indeed, supremely urgent matters to share with the Pope. In this way, he hoped to impress on them the need to be quick to find Honorius’s replacement.But they would not be hurried. They insisted he get more rest and pondered what his arrival and embassy might mean for the future of Europe and the Church. How might S
Rabban Sauma Part 8
This is episode 8 in the remarkable tale of a Chinese Marco Polo named Rabban Sauma.Well, it’s taken us 7 episodes to get to the point of Sauma’s story that’s set him as a historical figure we even know about. If it weren’t for what follows, even though he’s already lived a genuinely epic life, he’d be little more than a footnote to his companion Marcos’ story. For it was Marcos, not Sauma who became the Catholicos, the reigning patriarch of the entire Nestorian Church, under the name of Mar Yaballaha III.But it’s what happens next that moves Sauma into the ranks of history’s greatest tales.Having been commissioned and provisioned by the Mongol Ilkhan Arghun in Persia to head west with an embassy to the Christian rulers of Europe to enter an alliance against the Muslim Mamluks holding the Middle East, Rabban Sauma set out in early 1287.This section of his travels was nothing like his earlier trek from China to Persia, fraught as that had been with trackless deserts and precipitous peaks. The geography was far more easily traversed, and the population more dense, so there was little worry for provisions along the way. One thing that was similar to the earlier journey was the numerous bandits and petty warlords, then the pirates that sailed the Black and Mediterranean Seas.Accompanying him were a couple European merchants who’d been conducting business in the East and could act as translators. Mostly like due to the editing of Sauma’s Syrian translator, described in the last episode, the route he took from Persia to the Black Sea is omitted from the account. He most likely took the main caravan route that passed through Mosul in Mesopotamia and ended at Trebizond.Because this route was well travelled by an ever-burgeoning column of merchants, caravanserais were established every 20 miles. These were large camps were caravans could replenish and night. Each caravanserai had a large central court surrounded by a curtained area, open to the sky, for various functions, like, sleeping, bathing, and prayers. Larger, more established caravanserais had mosques, churches, or conversely, brothels. Caravanserais provided protection from local bandits as well as entertainment in the form of jugglers, dancers, and storytellers. A good number of Arabic folk tales center on the life of the caravanserais. Merchants, guides, and camel grooms passed along information about local conditions to one another, as well as news from the wider world.At Trebizond, Sauma’s party entered a ship to sail over the Black Sea. The ship must have been a large one as it held 300 passengers. Sauma reports it was overcrowded, lacked adequate provisions and had no accommodations for sleeping. Sauma made the best of the time by giving lectures on the tenets of his faith which the other passengers and crew found interesting. Fortunately, the trip was both uneventful and short. No storms or pirates troubled them. A few days after launching from Trebizond, they landed at Constantinople.Now in the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Sauma followed the pattern he’d keep for the rest of his adventure in the West. He immediately sought contact with the ruler. He sent two assistants to the palace notifying officials there of the arrival of an embassy from the Mongol Court of Persia. Of course, these assistants weren’t the first to bear news to Emperor Andronicus II of the arrival of someone of importance from the East. The Byzantine Empire was, after all, Byzantine; the Emperor had eyes and ears everywhere. That’s why Sauma was careful to make sure he reached out to Andronicus quickly. Lest the Emperor begin to wonder why he was there. Now notified of Sauma’s desire for an audience, officials were sent from court to issue a formal invitation.Sauma was greeted with pomp and ceremony. He was received in the Great Palace, then undergoing repairs after the Venetian occupation of Constantinople the indignities they inflicted on the City. Followin
Rabban Sauma Part 7
This is the 7th episode in the on-going saga of Rabban Sauma.Last episode ended with the Mongol Ilkhan Arghun in Persia surrounded by enemies. He had a powerful ally in the Great Khan Khubilai, but Persia and China were too far apart and Khubilai was already locked into his own troubles in his contest with his cousin Khaidu.Arghun had risen to the Ilkhanate in Persia by supplanting his nemesis Ahmad, a pro-Muslim ruler who’d been removed & executed after a short reign. Arghun worried Ahmad’s allies, the Muslim Mamluks to the West would embark on a campaign to conquer Persia. But as he looked for allies, the offerings were slim. Khubilai was not help. Only one option remained; Christian Europe. The same realms the Mongol Machine had just a few decades before almost overwhelmed. Would Christian Europe set aside that recent horror to ally with the Ilkhanate in a new Crusade to purge the Middle East of the Muslim threat? Well, that’s the plan Arghun settled on. For Europeans, the Mongols were deemed as great a threat as the Mamluks. Maybe more so. So, in a nod to the old saw, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Arghun hoped maybe an alliance could be forged between Persia and the crusading states of Europe.But, who to send with the proposal? This is where we open chapter 2 on Rabban Sauma’s amazing epic.We open that chapter with some background on the political situation in Persia & Europe.Arghun wasn’t the first Ilkhan to propose a treaty with Christian Europe against the Mamluks. In 1265, Abakha sent an embassy to the Pope requesting an alliance. Since the Mamluks were pressing hard to wipe out the last of the Outremer; the Crusaders states in the Middle East, Abakha assumed they’d gladly want assistance in the fight. But Europe was weary of crusading. Much ado had been made over the previous 200 yrs with little lasting result. Indeed, the success of the First Crusade was followed on by tragedy after tragedy. In addition to that weariness, the European kingdoms weren’t exactly getting along. Just in Italy, the Pope was faced with hostility between the many city-states, with the conflict between Venice and Genoa dominating the Mediterranean.A further intrigue inserted at this time was the relationship between Charles of Anjou and the Pope. Brother of the French King St. Louis IX, Charles was quite ambitious. He secured the Pope’s blessing to become the King of Naples and Sicily. His goal was to dominate the Byzantine Empire so as to control trade in the Eastern Med. He saw the Mongols in Persia as a threat to that ambition because the Ilkhan Abakha had married a Byzantine princess. Charles let the Pope know he wasn’t to entertain any overtures from the Mongols for an alliance. Both Kings Edward of England & Louis of France wanted to stage a Crusade. But the turmoil in Europe stalled their plans.They managed to pull a Crusade together in 1270, but Charles once again deftly managed to take charge of the venture. He changed the goal of the Crusade from the Holy Land to Tunis in North Africa, a land he wanted to conquer in his bid for naval hegemony. When the Tunisians sued for peace and promised to pay tribute, Charles declared the campaign a success. Edward was stunned and sailed his forces to Acre on the coast of Palestine. He then sent an embassy to the Ilkhan Abakha, asking for an alliance against the Mamluks in Syria. But wouldn’t you know it? It just so happened that the Chagatai Mongols on Persia’s Eastern border had invaded and Abakha was now engaged there. He had no troops to send to Edward’s aide. Even though Edward was without allies and had a relatively small force, he carried on his campaign for a year that wore both sides out. The Mamluks agreed to a truce that safeguarded the Outremer for 10 yrs.Edward went home, and things settled down for a while, only to spin up again a few yrs later when a new Pope, Gregory X, came to Peter’s chair. He’d lived for a time in Acre and
I listen to this on my way to and from work. I would never get the chance to dive into this much history without this podcast. Thanks so much for all your hard work. I hope this stays around for years to come hopefully teaching younger and younger generations. I do wish however that the audio was better. Some episodes I have to turn it all the way up and I still barely hear it. Other episodes are better, but I still have to turn the volume up high.
I was in search of this exact sort of podcast, and I’ve found it! Short, succinct, easy to listen to, and very informative. Thanks for your work.
Pastor Ralston tries to be objective, and his podcast is rich in facts of history. That’s why I’m giving him 2 stars instead of 1. Unfortunately, Ralston can’t rid himself of his Protestant/evangelical glasses, which color almost everything he says.
That in and of itself would not be such a harsh condemnation - most podcasts about church history will be biased to some degree. But Ralston’s background rears its head in ways so flagrant, it will cause anyone with a passing knowledge of the Catholic Church to cringe.
Sometimes this involves passing off a disputed theological point as fact, or framing controversial interpretations about the Church fathers as history. Sometimes it involves misrepresenting the arguments of a theologian like Thomas Aquinas, or attributing malicious motives to a figure from Church history without addressing the full context of their actions, or their own theological self-understanding. Either way there’s an obvious slant through and through.