Sunday, March 25, 2007

Crusading trivia I: Livonia as Our Lady's dowry

I am brushing up my knowledge of the Crusades, in part by reading Jonathon Riley-Smith's The Crusades: A Short History (1987). It's quite a fine summary, with enough detail and analysis to satisfy a pro like me. Those who have never read much on the Crusades might like the briefer book by Thomas F. Madden, The New Concise History of the Crusades.

Riley-Smith has lots of interesting little things that you might not find even in a bigger book. One tantalizing fact is that the 13th century German crusaders who fought to conquer and convert Livonia (roughly, today's Latvia) were able to justify their "permanent crusade" in that area by claiming it as Our Lady's dowry, just as Palestine was Christ's patrimony.

If anyone can tell me how these people connected the Virgin Mary with Livonia, I'd love to hear it. My nearest Latvian relative was only vaguely aware of the Marian claim through folksong references to "Mary's land and Mary's people." Using a few Latvian words I was able to find not very much on the Web, just an untranslated political platform for a party called "Mary's Land;" the site didn't have any Marian imagery or specifically religious references.

I'd also love to have a picture of Our Lady of Riga. Best I can do at the moment is the image above of Rigas Dom, the cathedral in Riga.

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Blogger DaceV said...

Hi, Steve,
Judging by Henry's Chronicle, it was likely Livonia's third bishop, Albert, who was responsible for naming Livonia (approx. present day Latvia and Estonia) the land of the Mother. Early in the crusade Albert dedicated his church in Riga (the Domcathedral) to the Blessed Virgin, so there is probably a dedication to Mary that is there almost from the beginning of the Crusade.

There is a passage in the Chronicle that has Bishop Albert speaking to Pope Innocent III at the Fourth Lateran Council reporting on his successes to date at converting the heathens but asking him to "not to abandon "Livonia, the land of the Mother ... for the Son loves his Mother and, as He would not care to lose His own land, so, too, He would not care to endanger His Mother's Land". Albert leaves Rome with "renewed authority to preach" and "to enlist for the remission of their sins pilgrims ..." (Brundage, 152).

The rhetoric notwithstanding, it is the ability to grant indulgences that is probably key to the question of Livonia being named the Land of the Mother or Blessed Virgin. Juri Kivimae believes this was largely a political move to raise the profile of the Baltic Crusade because it was consistently overshadowed by the crusade to the Holy Land and Albert found it difficult to recruit pilgrims and resources for his crusade. Another thing to notice is that while there are very few references to Mary in the beginning of the Chronicle, they increase in frequency as the narrative proceeds.

It's an interesting question because the idea of Livonia as "Mary's Land" or "Ma'ras zeme" is one that has persisted and entered Latvian oral tradition. It is my sense though that by the 20th century, it was mainly the Lattgallians who called their province "Mara's zeme" because of their Catholicism, while most of the rest of the country had become Lutheran, although it was I think in use in Catholic parishes outside Latgale as well.

Regards, Dace Veinberga

5:23 PM  

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