by Carolyn B. Leonard
(NOTE: This is an excerpt from TO ISRAEL, WITH LOVE, second edition, now available from Amazon.com and your local bookstore. See more here: https://amzn.to/2tfPXw5
Melisende (1105–1161) was Queen of Jerusalem from AD 1131 to 1153, and she served as regent for her thirteen-yearold son from then until her death. Her coronation was held in the Church of the Sepulchre. Melisande’s father, King Baldwin II of Jerusalem, was a crusader knight, and her mother, the Armenian princess Morphia of Melitene. Baldwin arranged a marriage for Melisande to Count Fulk of Anjou.
The First Crusade took place before Melisende’s birth in the spring of AD 1097 when more than 100,000 crusaders joined forces on the eastern side of the Bosphorus. The combined army then fought its way along the coast of the Mediterranean reaching the gates of Jerusalem in June of 1099 and fighting continued until blood ran through Solomon’s Temple. The knights reported they waded in blood up to their knees and bridle reins. The crusaders took Jerusalem from the Fatimid Caliphate, opening the way for the Kingdom of Jerusalem to be the most powerful Crusader State in the Middle Ages. At the death of her father, Melisende and the Count were crowned co-rulers.
The coronation would have been a great public event, designed to cement in the minds of everyone who witnessed it the beginning of a new period of divinely sanctioned rule. Representatives came from Antioch, Tripoli, and Edessa, including bishops, abbots, and all the other churchmen of the realm.
Jerusalem must have been overflowing with visitors staying with friends, fellow religious groups, or in the many hostels. Fulk and Melisende, assisted by servants, were dressed in the royal palace in the Temple Mount complex in special robes, beautifully embroidered dalmatics—wide-sleeved tunics, open at the sides—and stoles. They would mount their festooned horses and join the royal guard for a procession to the Church of the Sepulchre for the coronation.
Queen Melisende would rule Jerusalem for more than twenty years defending the crusader states against Muslim attacks and supporting art and architecture in the Holy Land. As one of Melisande’s accomplishments, she established a convent and leper colony at Bethany, naming her sister Yvetta as mother superior. The queen chose Bethany because it was the biblical home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, great friends of Jesus Christ. The principal historian of that era, William of Tyre, said that throughout her lifetime Melisende continually bestowed gifts upon this convent at Bethany and her most loved sister.