Martin of León (c.1130-1203)

A Spanish crusade preacher in the late twelfth century

This project investigates a hitherto overlooked figure, the Augustinian canon Martin of León (c.1130-1203), who penned an enormous oeuvre bearing the title Liber Sermonum (c.1700 pages in its edition in the Patrologia Latina); it survived in a single manuscript from León, composed around 1200: Ms. San Isidoro 11. Having worked on the preaching of the Third Crusade (1187-92) during my PhD, examining altogether nine preachers, I used frequently the digitized version of the Patrologia Latina, given that it holds many of their works, especially their sermon collections. Searching for different crusade-related motifs and biblical references, I repeatedly got hits in an author named Martinus Legionensis (published in the vols. 208 and 209), and at some point, I started wondering who this person is and why nobody has considered his texts as to activities of crusading and crusade mobilization. Since his work was definitely too vast for covering it in my PhD thesis, this developed eventually into an own Postdoc project, graciously funded by the FWF, which continues and deepens the pathways pursued in my PhD. This concerns specifically the preaching and providential conception of the Third Crusade, investigating how Martin of León fits into the overall mobilization efforts, including his personal and intertextual relations with other preachers of this important expedition. Besides examining Martin’s own ideas and activities, this permitted also to ponder further on some essential methodological issues, in particular the fact that ‘crusade sermon’ is not a native genre of the Middle Ages. Sermon texts appear usually under the headings of liturgical feasts and they often adhere to a rather equivocal model nature, wherefore determining such a text’s pertinence to crusading activities is a challenging endeavor. The case study of Martin’s texts proved fruitful for shedding new light on this issue: these results very much informed the final shape of my monograph devoted to the preaching of the Third Crusade. However, since Martin’s work unveiled itself as a very rich resource, this not only helped with the monograph but also yielded three articles.

The project pursues two essential objectives:

(a) The first objective concerns illuminating Martin’s biography, especially as to his educational background; this investigation unearthed that Martin was a Paris master (most likely a student of Peter Lombard), who belonged to the same network as the other preachers of the Third Crusade and probably spent more time in Paris than on the Iberian Peninsula in his life. These results contested thus the established notion of a Leonese saint, an image that is still dominating the perception of this figure, especially in the region of León. Furthermore, his biography places him intriguingly in-between two major crusade arenas: the Holy Land and the Iberian Peninsula. Whereas Iberia seems to be his native region as well as his home in his last c.10 years, both his own texts and his Vita (penned by Lucas of Tuy, probably in the 1220s) anchor Martin in the Eastern endeavor, specifically in the Third Crusade. His own work expresses much interest in the Holy Land and the situation after Jerusalem’s loss in 1187 (the trigger for the Third Crusade), and his Vita reports that he made a pilgrimage to Italy at Urban III’s time (1185-87), travelling thereafter to the Holy Land – a fact that makes it likely that he was a participant of the Third Crusade. A first article (now forthcoming, 2023) analyzed a specific sermon of Martin’s work (the Sermo 22, ascribed to Maundy Thursday); this text represents an elaborate reaction to Jerusalem’s loss, proposing complex and creative ways for enticing potential crusaders. However, Martin’s standing in-between the two crusade theatres of Holy Land and Iberia raises the question of his interests and priorities, including how these may have changed over the years and in interplay with current developments. This poses likewise the question of how different crusade theatres relate to each other in contemporary eyes, that is, in providential terms – these questions are the subject of another article, recently submitted to a journal (now under review, 2023).

(b) The project’s second objective concerns the nature and architecture of Martin’s work. His Liber Sermonum is quite exceptional in length and composition, whereby one detects a certain disparity between its size and its paratextual framings. Its paratext unmistakably tells us that this is preaching material: it bears the title Liber Sermonum; its prologue outlines the purpose of providing preaching material, including for the crusade (in its own words: for destroying heretics and ‘pagans’); and it is organized according to the liturgical year, ascribing texts to specific liturgical feasts. However, the entire c.1700 pages are only divided into 54 sermons and four biblical commentaries; this makes quite an average length per sermon. Whereas some texts comply well with a typical sermon’s length, others have a remarkable size, counting often around 50 pages, and the Sermo 4 (ascribed to Christmas) counts even almost 500 pages. The last stage of this project is thus devoted to examining the work’s composition, in order to reach for the first time sound conclusions about its nature and purpose, including the entanglement with crusading activities. Martin’s work seems to represent an attempt in finding new ways for providing preaching material and thus fits very well into this dynamic period, which witnessed many innovations as to preaching and its preparation in written form. The investigations concerned with this second objective are currently in preparation for another article that shall be completed by the project’s conclusion (Nov. 2023).

Finally, a few words about the project’s cornerstones shall follow: my destination abroad for this Erwin Schrödinger project was the University of Heidelberg, where I was hosted by Nikolas Jaspert, an eminent expert for both the crusades and Iberian history, wherefore he represented the perfect cooperation partner for examining an Iberian crusade preacher. The exchange with him proved fruitful and contributed very much to the project’s results, but the time in Heidelberg was also worthwhile beyond that, including cooperation with Wolf Zöller and Simon John, two crusade scholars, with whom I have formed a dynamic team. This yielded the organization of a conference concerned with the innovative subject of the crusading movement’s entanglement with exegesis, sermons, and liturgy; the results of this event are now in preparation for an edited volume. Having returned to Austria for the fellowship’s final period, the IMAFO promises to be a worthwhile place for completing this project, since it hosts several scholars working on pertinent subjects, including Iberian history, heretics, and sermon studies, while also presenting an opportunity for confronting my approaches with a different research tradition.


Alexander Marx


FWF Erwin Schrödinger Auslandsstipendium [J 4576], 06/2021-11/2023


Cooperation for the period abroad:
Nikolas Jaspert, Historisches Seminar, University of Heidelberg