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Christianity among the Mongols

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HulaguAndDokuzKathun

Hulagu with his Christian queen Doquz Khatun.

File:Stone 1-1-.jpg

Overall, the Mongols were highly tolerant of most religions, and typically sponsored several at the same time.[1] Though in modern times the Mongols are primarily Buddhist, during the time of the Mongol Empire they had a substantial number of Christians, many of whom were in positions of considerable power.[2] Many Mongols had been proselytized by Christian Nestorians from the Assyrian Church of the East, since about the 7th century.[3] When Genghis Khan, as the young Temüjin, swore allegiance with his men at the Baljuna Covenant, there were representatives of nine tribes among the 20 men. Temüjin was a shamanist, and the others included "several Christians, three Muslims, and several Buddhists."[4]

Background

The Mongols had been proselytised by Christian Nestorians since about the 7th century and many of them were Christians.[5][6][7] Many Mongol tribes, such as the Kerait,[8] the Naiman, the Merkit, the Öngüd,[9] and to a large extent the Kara Khitan, were Nestorian Christian.[10] Under Mongka, the main religious influence was that of the Nestorians.[11] Overall, Mongols were highly tolerant of most religions, and typically sponsored several at the same time.

Some of the major Christian figures among the Mongols were: Sorghaghtani Beki, daughter in law of Genghis Khan, and mother of the Great Khans Möngke, Kublai, Hulagu and Ariq Boke, who were also married to Christian princesses;[12] Sorghaqtani, wife of Tului;[13] Doquz Khatun, wife of Hulagu and mother of the ruler Abaqa;[14] Kutuktai, the principal Empress of Mongka;[15] the Mongolian Khan Sartaq;[16] the Naiman Kitbuqa,[17] general of Mongol forces in the Levant, who fought in alliance with Christians. Marital alliances with Western powers also occurred, as in the 1265 marriage of ethnic Greek and Orthodox Christian Maria Palaiologina, daughter of Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus, with Abaqa. An Ongud Mongol was the highest authority (Patriarch) of the Nestorian church from 1281 to 1317 under the name Mar Yaballaha III.[18]

Genghis Khan

Gengis Khan, himself a shamanist, had many Christians among his relatives

Gengis Khan himself was a Shamanist, but was tolerant of other faiths. His sons were married to Christian princesses, of the Kerait clan, who held considerable influence at his court. The Nestorian Christians of Central Asia were generally highly favorable to him.[12]

Rabban Bar Sauma testified to the importance of Christianity among the Mongols, during his visit in Rome in 1287:

"Know ye, O our Fathers, that many of our Fathers (Nestorian missionaries since the 7th century) have gone into the countries of the Mongols, and Turks, and Chinese and have taught them the Gospel, and at the present time there are many Mongols who are Christians. For many of the sons of the Mongol kings and queens have been baptized and confess Christ. And they have established churches in their military camps, and they pay honour to the Christians, and there are among them many who are believers."
Travel of Rabban Bar Sauma [19]

The Mongol expansion throughout the Asian continent from around 1215 to 1360 helped bring political stability and re-establish the Silk Road (via Karakorum). The 13th century saw attempts at a Franco-Mongol alliance with exchange of ambassadors and even some limited military collaboration in the Holy Land. The Christian Chinese Mongol Rabban Bar Sauma visited the courts of Europe in 1287-1288.

Other Mongols, such as the ruler of the Golden Horde Berke were on the contrary highly favourable to Islam, leading to conflicts between Mongol clans, as in the Berke-Hulagu war.

Practice

NestorianTombstoneIssykKul1312

Nestorian tombstone with inscriptions in Uyghur, found in Issyk Kul, dated 1312.

As the Mongols had a primarily nomadic culture, their practice of Christianity was different from what might have been recognized by most Western Christians. The Mongols had no churches or monasteries, but claimed a set of beliefs that descended from the Apostle Thomas, which relied on wandering monks. Further, their style was based more on practice than belief. The primary interest in Christianity for many, was the story that Jesus had healed the sick, and survived death, so the practice of Christianity became interwoven with the care of the sick. Jesus was considered to be a powerful shaman. The Mongols also adapted the Christian cross to their own belief system, making it sacred because it pointed to the four directions of the world. They had varied readings of the Scriptures, especially feeling an affinity to the wandering Hebrew tribes. Christianity also allowed the eating of meat (different from the vegetarianism of the Buddhists). And of particular interest to the hard-drinking Mongols, they enjoyed that the consuming of alcohol was a required part of church services.[20] Another attraction was that the name Jesus, sounded like Yesu, the Mongol number "9". It was a sacred number to the Mongols, and was also the name of Genghis Khan's father, Yesugei.[21]

Kerait, Naiman and Merkit Christian clans

The Kerait clan of the Mongols were converted to Nestorianism, a sect of Christianity, early in the 11th century. Other tribes evangelized entirely or to a great extent during the 10th and 11th centuries were the Naiman and the Merkit.

WangKhan

Depiction of the Kerait ruler "Wang Khan" ("King and Khan")[22] Toghrul as "Prester John" in "Le Livre des Merveilles", 15th century.

An account of the conversion of the Kerait is given by the 13th century Jacobite historian, Gregory Bar Hebraeus. Bar Hebraeus documented a 1009 letter by bishop Abdisho of Merv to the catholicos John VI which announced the conversion of the Keraits to Christianity.[23] According to Hebraeus, in early 11th century, a Kerait king lost his way while hunting in the high mountains. When he had abandoned all hope, a saint appeared in a vision and said, "If you will believe in Christ, I will lead you lest you perish." He returned home safely. When he met Christian merchants, he remembered the vision and asked them about their faith. At their suggestion, he sent a message to the Metropolitan of Merv for priests and deacons to baptize him and his tribe. As a result of the mission that followed, the king and 20000 of his people were baptized.[24][25]

The legend of Prester John, otherwise set in India or Ethiopia, was also brought in connection with the Nestorian rulers of the Kerait. In some versions of the legend, Prester John was explicitly identified with Toghrul.

The Kara-Khitan Khanate also had a large proportion of Nestorian Christians, mingled with Muslims.

First Catholic ambassadors to the East

As early as 1223, Franciscans visited the prince of Damascus and the Caliph of Baghdad.[26] In 1240, nine Dominicans led by Guichard of Cremone are known to have arrived in Tiflis by the orders of Pope Gregory IX. They lived for five years in the Georgian realm, in contact or in close proximity with the Mongols.[27] Various letters were exchanged in 1245-1246 between the Pope and the Prince of Homs, the prince of Karak and the Sultan of Egypt.[26]

In 1245, Pope Innocent IV sent a series of four missions to the Mongols. The first mission to the Mongols was led by André de Longjumeau (he had already been sent to Constantinople by Saint Louis to acquired the Crown of thorns from Baldwin II in 1328.[28]). His travels are known by the reports of Mathew Paris. The second mission was led by Ascelin of Cremone (March 1245). He was accompanied by Simon de Saint-Quentin (who wrote the account of the mission in ‘’Historia Tartarorum’’), two unknown men (Alberic and Alexander), and the Domincan monk Guichard of Cremone, who had been living for five years in Tiflis.[29] The third mission is known by a Papal letter dated March 5, 1245. It was led by Lawrence of Portugal. The fourth mission, led John of Plano Carpini left Lyon on April 16, 1245.

Catholic missions to Mongol China

NoccoloAndMaffeoPoloWithGregoryX

Niccolo and Maffeo Polo remitting a letter from Kubilai to Pope Gregory X in 1271.

In 1271, the Marco Polo brothers brought an invitation from Kublai Khan to the pope imploring him that a hundred teachers of science and religion be sent to reinforce the Nestorian Christianity already present in his vast empire. The great Mongol leader concluded:

So shall I be baptized, and when I am baptized, all my barons and lords will be baptized, and their subjects will receive baptism and so there will be more Christians here than in your own countries”.[{{fullurl:{{wikipedia:FULLPAGENAME}}}}#endnote_AFM]

This came to nought due to the hostility of influential Nestorians within the largely Mongol court. When in 1253 the Franciscan William of Rubruck arrived at Karakorum, the western Mongol capital, and sought permission to serve its people in the name of Christ, he was forbidden to engage in missionary work or remain in the country, and he had to return home.[{{fullurl:{{wikipedia:FULLPAGENAME}}}}#endnote_AFM]

Fortunately, the Eastern Court under the more immediate rule of Kublai Khan was eager to secure Western assistance in its rule over the Chinese. In 1289, Pope Nicholas IV sent the Franciscan John of Monte Corvino to China by way of India, thereby passing Karakorum. Although the great khan had already died by the time John arrived (1294), the court at Khanbaliq received him graciously and encouraged him to settle there. John was China’s first Roman Catholic missionary, and he was significantly successful. He laboured largely in the Mongol tongue, translated the New testament and Psalms, built a central church, and within a few years (by 1305) could report six thousand baptized converts. He also established a lay training school of 150 students. But the work was not easy. Although often opposed by the Nestorians who had over the years increasingly filtered back into China’s cities, the Franciscan mission continued to grow. Other priests joined him and centers were established in the coastal provinces of Kiangsu (Yangchow), Chekiang (Hangchow) and Fukien (Zaitun).

Odoryk z Pordenone

Odoric of Pordenone.

One of John’s most vigorous younger missionaries was Odorico da Pordenone (1265-1331), who arrived in Khanbaliq by way of India in 1326 and whose subsequent sixteen years of unremitting journeys throughout China, preaching the gospel in the vernacular, resulted in over twenty thousand converts.[{{fullurl:{{wikipedia:FULLPAGENAME}}}}#endnote_AFM] (Some scholars reported that by 1381 the total number of communicants exceeded a hundred thousand[{{fullurl:{{wikipedia:FULLPAGENAME}}}}#endnote_AFM]).

Following the death of Monte Corvino, an embassy to the French Pope Benedict XII in Avignon was sent by Toghun Temür, the last Mongol emperor in China (Yuan dynasty), in 1336. The embassy was led by a Genoese in the service of the Mongol emperor, Andrea di Nascio, and accompanied by another Genoese, Andalò di Savignone.[30] These letters from the Mongol ruler represented that they had been eight years (since Monte Corvino's death) without a spiritual guide, and earnestly desired one. The pope replied to the letters, and appointed four ecclesiastics as his legates to the khan's court. In 1338, a total of 50 ecclesiastics were sent by the Pope to Peking, among them John of Marignolli. In 1353 John returned to Avignon, and delivered a letter from the great khan to Pope Innocent VI.

In the mid-14th century, the Chinese rose up and drove out the Mongols from China however, thereby launching the Ming Dynasty (1368). By 1369 all Christians, whether Roman Catholic or Syro-Oriental, were expelled by the Ming Dynasty. With the end of Mongol rule in the 14th century, Christianity almost disappeared in mainland Asia.

Alliance with Western Christians

Hulagu 1

Hulagu conquered Muslim Syria, together with Armenian and Frankish allies.

Some military collaboration with Western Christian powers took place in 1259-1260 when the Franks under the ruler of Antioch Bohemond VI and his father-in-law Hetoum I allied with the Mongols under Hulagu. Hulagu was generally favourable to Christianity, and was himself the son of a Christian woman. The Mongols together with the Northern Franks of Antioch and the Armenian Christians conquered Muslim Syria, taking together the city of Aleppo, and later Damascus together with the Christian Mongol general Kitbuqa:[24]

"The king of Armenia and the Prince of Antioch went to the military camp of the Tatars, and they all went off to take Damascus".
Le Templier de Tyr[31]

Various instances of military cooperations with the Crusaders, as well as numerous exchanges with the Pope would continue until around 1320.

Influence of Catholic Christianity

Around the year 1300, there were numerous Dominican and Franciscan convents in the empire of the Il-Khan. About ten cities had such institutions: Tabriz, Maragha, Sultaniye, Tifflis, Erzurum and a few others. In order to coordinate their action, the Pope established an archibishop in the new capital of Sultaniye in 1318 in the person of Francon de Pérouse, assisted by six bishops, replaced in 1330 by archibishop Jean de Cor.[32] Numerous Dominican missionaries to the Ilkhanate are known, such as Jacques d'Arles-sur-Tech, or Ricoldo of Montecroce. There was a bishop in the Ilkhanate capital of Maragha, who was at one time the Dominican Barthelemy of Bologna.

During the end of the 13th century, the Nestorians under Mongol rule also took numerous steps to unite with the Latin church. The Nestorian monk Rabban bar Sauma was sent to the Pope and to Western courts to explain the situation of the Nestorian faith in the East, and to offer an alliance with the Mongol Ilkhanate. Dominicans were also sent to the Ilkhanid Persian realm in order to further organize contacts and prozelitize Roman Catholicism.

In 1302, the Nestorian Catholicos Mar Yahballaha III sent a profession of faith to Pope, thereby formilizing his conversion to Roman Catholicism. His move was however strongly opposed by the local Nestorian clergy, as he recognized in a 1304 letter to the Pope.[33] These efforts would end with the waning of Mongol power in Persia, its progressive adoption of Islam, and its disappearance as a political power in the 14th century.

In his letters to the Mongol ruler in 1321 and 1322, the Pope still expressed his hope that the Mongol ruler would convert to Christianity. Between 500 to 1000 converts in each city were numbered by Jean of Sultaniye.[34]

Christianity in Mongol China

File:Beato Giovanni da Montecorvino.jpg

In 1271, the Marco Polo brothers brought an invitation from Kublai Khan to the pope imploring him that a hundred teachers of science and religion be sent to reinforce the Nestorian Christianity already present in his vast empire.

In 1289, Pope Nicholas IV sent the Franciscan John of Monte Corvino to China by way of India, thus bypassing Karakorum. Although the great khan had already died by the time John arrived (1294), the court at Khanbaliq received him graciously and encouraged him to settle there. John was China’s first Roman Catholic missionary, and he was significantly successful. He laboured largely in the Mongol tongue, translated the New testament and Psalms, built a central church, and within a few years (by 1305) could report six thousand baptized converts.

But the Mission was of relatively short duration. Two massive political catastrophes also hastened the extinction of this second wave of missionaries to China. Firstly, the Black Death during the latter half of the fourteenth century in Europe so depleted Franciscan houses that they were unable to sustain the mission to China. Secondly, the Yuan Dynasty began to decline. In 1362 the last Catholic bishop of Quanzhou, Giacomo da Firenze, was killed by the Han Chinese who seized control of the city. The Chinese rose up and drove out the Mongols, thereby launching the Ming Dynasty (1368). By 1369 all Christians, whether Roman Catholic or Syro-Oriental, were expelled by the Ming Dynasty founded by the Han Chinese.

In 1370, following the ousting of the Mongols from China, and the establishment of the Chinese Ming dynasty, a new mission was sent by the Pope to China formed by the Parisian theologian Guillaume du Pré as the new archibishop and 50 Franciscans. This mission however disappeared without news, apparently eliminated.[35]

See also

References

  1. E-Aspac
  2. Foltz "Religions of the Silk Road"
  3. Weatherford, p. 28
  4. Weatherford, p. 58
  5. "The Silk Road", Francis Wood, p.118 "William of Ribruk was shocked to discover that there were, indeed, Christians at the Mongol court, but that they were schismatic Nestorians (...) Nestorians had long been active along the Silk Road. Their existence in Tang China is testified by the "Nestorian monument", a stela still to be seen in the forest of Stelae in Xi'an"
  6. Foltz "Religions of the Silk Road", p.90-150
  7. For existensive detail and the testimony of Rabban Bar Sauma, see "The Monks of Kublai Khan Emperor of China", Sir E. A. Wallis Budge. Online
  8. "The Keraits, who were a semi-nomadic people of Turkish origin, inhabited the country round the Orkhon river in modern Outer Mongolia. Early in the eleventh century their ruler had been converted to Nestorian Christianity, together with most of his subjects; and the conversion brought the Keraits into touch with the Uighur Turks, amongst whom were many Nestorians", Runciman, p.238
  9. For these four tribes: Roux, p.39-40
  10. "In 1196, Gengis Khan succeeded in the unification under his authority of all the Mongol tribes, some of which had been converted to Nestorian Christianity" "Les Croisades, origines et conséquences", p.74
  11. Under Mongka "The chief religious influence was that of the Nestorian Christians, to whom Mongka showed especial favour in memory of his mother Sorghaqtani, who had always remained loyal to her faith" Runciman, p.296
  12. 12.0 12.1 Runciman, p.246
  13. "Sorghaqtani, a Kerait by birth and, like all her race, a devout Nestorian Christian", Runciman, p.293
  14. "This remarkable lady was a Kerait princess, the granddaughter of Toghrul Khan and cousin, therefore of Hulagu's mother. She was a passionate Nestorian, who made no secret of her dislike of Islam and her eagerness to help Christians of every sect", Runciman, p.299
  15. "His [Mongka's] principal Empress, Kutuktai, and many other of his wives also were Nestorians", Runciman, p.296
  16. "Early in 1253 a report reached Acre that one of the Mongol princes, Sartaq, son of Batu, had been converted to Christianity", Runciman, p.280. See Alexander Nevsky for details.
  17. "Kitbuqa, as a Christian himself, made no secret of his sympathies", Runciman, p.308
  18. Grousset, p.698
  19. "The Monks of Kublai Khan Emperor of China", Sir E. A. Wallis Budge
  20. Weatherford, p. 29. "Jesus was considered an important and powerful shaman, and the cross was sacred as the symbol of the four directions of the world. As a pastoral people, the steppe tribes felt very comfortable with the pastoral customs and beliefs of the ancient Hebrew tribes as illustrated in the Bible. Perhaps above all, the Christians ate meat, unlike the vegetarian Buddhists; and in contrast to the abstemious Muslims, the Christians not only enjoyed drinking alcohol, but they even prescribed it as a mandatory part of their worship service."
  21. Weatherford, p. 135
  22. Roux, p.107
  23. Roux, L'Asie Centrale, p.241
  24. 24.0 24.1 Grousset, p. 581.
  25. Moffett, A History of Christianity in Asia pp. 400-401.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Roux, “Les explorateurs”, p.95
  27. Roux, “Les Explorateurs”, p.97
  28. Roux, p.96
  29. Roux, “Les explorateurs”, p.97
  30. Jackson, p.314
  31. Grousset, p. 586.
  32. Roux, ‘’Histoire de l’Empire Mongol’’, p.439
  33. Luisetto, p.99-100
  34. Roux, p.440
  35. Roux, p.469

Literature

  • "Histoire des Croisades III, 1188-1291", Rene Grousset, editions Perrin, ISBN 226202569
  • Encyclopedia Iranica, Article on Franco-Persian relations
  • "The Monks of Kublai Khan Emperor of China", Sir E. A. Wallis Budge. Online
  • "The history and Life of Rabban Bar Sauma", translated from the Syriac by Sir E. A. Wallis Budge Online
  • Foltz, Richard (2000). "Religions of the Silk Road : overland trade and cultural exchange from antiquity to the fifteenth century". New York: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 0-312-23338-8.
  • Roux, Jean-Paul, Histoire de l'Empire Mongol, Fayard, ISBN 2213031649
  • Weatherford, Jack (2004). Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0-609-80964-4.
  • Luisetto, Frédéric, "Arméniens et autres Chrétiens d'Orient sous la domination Mongole", Geuthner, 2007, ISBN 9782705337919
  • Mahé, Jean-Pierre, "L'Arménie à l'épreuve des siècles", Decouvertes Gallimard, 2005, ISBN 9782070314096

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