Dandolo on the Prow

In 1203, a massive Venetian fleet sailed into the Golden Horn intent on landing a Crusader army and taking the city of Constantinople. The Crusaders had intended to sail to Egypt but they had failed to pay the Venetians and now were doing the Venetians bidding in attempting to put the young claimant Alexius Angelus on the throne of Constantinople.

When the battle began at the sea walls, the Norman Crusaders almost faltered. The Venetian galleys hung back as the battle became a stalemate. Then from the midst of the fleet, one galley picked up speed and headed for the beach. At its prow was a nearly ninety year old blind man named Enrico Dandolo.

Dandolo had been elected doge of Venice in 1192. Before that, he had been a wealthy merchant from a good family and had even served as an envoy to Constantinople. When the representatives of the Fourth Crusade had come to Venice seeking passage, Dandolo had taken the cross himself.

Where there was money to be made, Dandolo was there and there was a lot of money to be made in a Crusade. But the endeavor had fallen apart and Venice was on the verge of bankruptcy if the Crusade was not profitable. So, Dandolo had led the Crusaders to Constantinople to aid Angelus’ claim to the throne because the bounty Angelus promised would cover Venice’s expenses and provide a bit of profit.

When the fleet faltered, Dandolo ordered his galley beached as a message to the rest of the galleys. His act would be told and retold for five hundred years in Venice. As a result of his charge, the Crusaders took the city and the course of history was altered.

Dandolo believed in Venice and making money. His zeal drove him to exceed any human limitation in pursuit of his goal.

What about us? Do we have within us a passion for anything that is strong enough to send us at full speed to the hostile beach? I fear the greatest problem among Christian leaders is that we do not believe anything passionately. We are lukewarm in everything rather than boiling in one.

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