chapter  10
34 Pages

Mission to the infidel

The Mongols’ emergence on the eastern borders of Latin Christen-dom might not have seemed to offer promising conditions for the spread of Christianity. But through their conquests vast tracts of Asia which hitherto had either lain beyond the West’s horizons, or had been under Islamic rule and hence closed to Christian proselytism, were now subject to a regime which permitted the propagation of all faiths. From the late 1240s, moreover, word spread within Western Europe that the Mongols believed in one God; that individual Mongol princes were Christians or harboured Christian sympathies; and that large numbers of Christians (mostly adherents of the ‘separated’ churches – the Nestorians, or East Syrians, and the Jacobites – but also including Greek Orthodox and Armenians) lived under Mongol rule. These circumstances drew members of the newly-founded Mendicant Orders, the Franciscans and Dominicans, into Asia in the hope of converting the Mongols and their subjects. The dissolution of the Mongol empire into rival khanates after 1261-2 in no way curtailed the opportunities for Latin missionaries. Indeed, the Ilkhans’ eagerness to obtain Western collaboration against the MamlÑk Sultanate seemed to heighten the possibility that they might embrace the Christian faith.