The Crusades were armed pilgrimages to Jerusalem under the banner of the cross. They form one of the most characteristic chapters of the Middle Ages and have a romantic and sentimental, as well as a religious and military, interest. They were a sublime product of the Christian imagination, and constitute a chapter of rare interest in the history of humanity. They exhibit the muscular Christianity of the new nations of the West which were just emerging from barbarism and heathenism. They made religion subservient to war and war subservient to religion. They were a succession of tournaments between two continents and two religions, struggling for supremacy,—Europe and Asia, Christianity and Mohammedanism. Such a spectacle the world has never seen before nor since, and may never see again.295
These expeditions occupied the attention of Europe for more than two centuries, beginning with 1095. Yea, they continued to be the concern of the popes until the beginning of the sixteenth century. Columbus signed an agreement April 17, 1492, to devote the proceeds of his undertaking beyond the Western seas to the recovery of the holy sepulchre. Before his fourth and last journey to America he wrote to Alexander VI., renewing his vow to furnish troops for the rescue of that sacred locality.296 There were seven greater Crusades, the first beginning in 1095, the last terminating with the death of St. Louis, 1270. Between these dates and after 1270 there were other minor expeditions, and of these not the least worthy of attention were the tragic Crusades of the children.
The most famous men of their age were identified with these movements. Emperors and kings went at the head of the armies,—Konrad III., Frederick Barbarossa, Frederick II., Richard I. of England, Louis VII., Philip Augustus and Louis IX. of France, Andrew of Hungary. Fair women of high station accompanied their husbands or went alone to the seats of war, such as Alice of Antioch, Queen Eleanor of France, Ida of Austria, Berengaria, wife of Richard, and Margaret, queen of Louis IX. Kings’ sons shared the same risks, as Frederick of Swabia, Sigurd, and Edward, son of Henry III., accompanied by Eleanor, his wife. Priests, abbots, and higher ecclesiastics fought manfully in the ranks and at the head of troops.297 The popes stayed at home, but were tireless in their appeals to advance the holy project. With many of the best popes, as Honorius III. and Gregory X., the Crusades were their chief passion. Monks, like Peter the Hermit, St. Bernard, and Fulke of Neuilly, stirred the flames of enthusiasm by their eloquence. But if some of the best men of Europe and those most eminent in station went on the Crusades, so also did the lowest elements of European society,—thieves, murderers, perjurers, vagabonds, and scoundrels of all sorts, as Bernard bears witness.298 So it has been in all wars.
The crusading armies were designated by such titles as the army "of the cross," "of Christ," "of the Lord," "of the faith."299 The cross was the badge of the Crusaders and gave to them their favorite name. The Crusaders were called the soldiers of Christ300 pilgrims, peregrini, and "those signed with the cross," crucisignati or signatores. Determining to go on a crusade was called, "taking the cross" or, "taking the sign of the cross."301
Contemporaries had no doubt of the Crusades being a holy undertaking, and Guibert’s account of the First Crusade is called, "The Deeds of God, accomplished through the Franks," Gesta Dei per Francos.
Those who fell under Eastern skies or on their way to the East received the benefits of special indulgence for sins committed and were esteemed in the popular judgment as martyrs. John VIII., 872–882, pressed by the Saracens who were devastating Italy, had promised to soldiers fighting bravely against the pagans the rest of eternal life and, as far as it belonged to him to give it, absolution from sins.302 This precedent was followed by Urban II., who promised the first Crusaders marching to Jerusalem that the journey should be counted as a substitute for penance.303 Eugenius, 1146, went farther, in distinctly promising the reward of eternal life. The virtue of the reward was extended to the parents of those taking part in Crusades. Innocent III. included in the plenary indulgence those who built ships and contributed in any way, and promised to them "increase of eternal life." God, said the abbot Guibert, chronicler of the First Crusade, invented the Crusades as a new way for the laity to atone for their sins, and to merit salvation.304
The rewards were not confined to spiritual privileges. Eugenius III., in his exhortations to the Second Crusade, placed the Crusaders in the same category with clerics before the courts in the case of most offences.305 The kings of France, from 1188 to 1270 joined with the Holy See in granting to them temporal advantages, exemption from debt, freedom from taxation and the payment of interest. Complaint was frequently made by the kings of France that the Crusaders committed the most offensive crimes under cover of ecclesiastical protection. These complaints called forth from Innocent IV., 1246, and Alexander IV., 1260, instructions to the bishops not to protect such offenders. William of Tyre, in his account of the First Crusade, and probably reading into it some of the experiences of a later date, says (bk. I. 16), "Many took the cross to elude their creditors."306
If it is hard for us to unite the idea of war and bloodshed with the achievement of a purely religious purpose, it must be remembered that no such feeling prevailed in the Middle Ages. The wars of the period of Joshua and the Judges still formed a stimulating example. Chrysostom, Augustine, and other Church Fathers of the fifth century lifted up their voices against the violent destruction of heathen temples which went on in Egypt and Gaul; but whatever compunction might have been felt for the wanton slaying of Saracens by Christian armies in an attitude of aggression, the compunction was not felt when the Saracens placed themselves in the position of holding the sacred sites of Palestine.
Bernard of Clairvaux said, pagans must not be slain if they may by other means be prevented from oppressing the faithful. However, it is better they should be put to death than that the rod of the wicked should rest on the lot of the righteous. The righteous fear no sin in killing the enemy of Christ. Christ’s soldier can securely kill and more safely die. When he dies, it profits him; when he slays, it profits Christ. The Christian exults in the death of the pagan because Christ is glorified thereby. But when he himself is killed, he has reached his goal.307 The conquest of Palestine by the destruction of the Saracens was considered a legal act justified by the claim which the pope had by reason of the preaching of the Apostles in that country and its conquest by the Roman empire.308
In answer to the question whether clerics might go to war, Thomas Aquinas replied in the affirmative when the prize was not worldly gain, but the defence of the Church or the poor and oppressed.309
To other testimonies to the esteem in which the Crusaders were held may be added the testimony of Matthew Paris. Summing up the events of the half-century ending with 1250, he says:310 "A great multitude of nobles left their country to fight faithfully for Christ. All of these were manifest martyrs, and their names are inscribed in indelible characters in the book of life." Women forced their husbands to take the cross.311 And women who attempted to hold their husbands back suffered evil consequences for it.312 Kings who did not go across the seas had a passion for the holy sepulchre. Edward I. commanded his son to take his heart and deposit it there, setting apart £2000 for the expedition. Robert Bruce also wanted his heart to find its last earthly resting-place in Jerusalem.
The Crusades began and ended in France. The French element was the ruling factor, from Urban II., who was a native of Châtillon, near Rheims, and Peter of Amiens, to St. Louis.313 The contemporary accounts of the Crusades are for the most part written by Frenchmen. Guibert of Nogent and other chroniclers regard them as especially the work of their countrymen. The French expression, outre-mer, was used for the goal of the Crusades.314 The movement spread through all Europe from Hungary to Scotland. Spain alone forms an exception. She was engaged in a crusade of her own against the Moors; and the crusades against the Saracens in the Holy Land and the Moors in Spain were equally commended by an oecumenical council, the First Lateran (can. 13). The Moors were finally expelled from Granada under Ferdinand and Isabella, and then, unwearied, Spain entered upon a new crusade against Jews and heretics at home and the pagan Indians of Mexico and Peru. In Italy and Rome, where might have been expected the most zeal in the holy cause, there was but little enthusiasm.315
The aim of the Crusades was the conquest of the Holy Land and the defeat of Islam. Enthusiasm for Christ was the moving impulse, with which, however, were joined the lower motives of ambition, avarice, love of adventure, hope of earthly and heavenly reward. The whole chivalry of Europe, aroused by a pale-faced monk and encouraged by a Hildebrandian pope, threw itself steel-clad upon the Orient to execute the vengeance of heaven upon the insults and barbarities of Moslems heaped upon Christian pilgrims, and to rescue the grave of the Redeemer of mankind from the grasp of the followers of the False Prophet. The miraculous aid of heaven frequently intervened to help the Christians and confound the Saracens.316
The Crusaders sought the living among the dead. They mistook the visible for the invisible, confused the terrestrial and the celestial Jerusalem, and returned disillusioned.317 They learned in Jerusalem, or after ages have learned through them, that Christ is not there, that He is risen, and ascended into heaven, where He sits at the head of a spiritual kingdom. They conquered Jerusalem, 1099, and lost it, 1187; they reconquered, 1229, and lost again, 1244, the city in which Christ was crucified. False religions are not to be converted by violence, they can only be converted by the slow but sure process of moral persuasion. Hatred kindles hatred, and those who take the sword shall perish by the sword. St. Bernard learned from the failure of the Second Crusade that the struggle is a better one which is waged against the sinful lusts of the heart than was the struggle to conquer Jerusalem.
The immediate causes of the Crusades were the ill treatment of pilgrims visiting Jerusalem and the appeal of the Greek emperor, who was hard pressed by the Turks. Nor may we forget the feeling of revenge for the Mohammedans begotten in the resistance offered to their invasions of Italy and Gaul.318 In 841 they sacked St. Peter’s, and in 846 threatened Rome for the second time, and a third time under John VIII. The Normans wrested a part of Sicily from the Saracens at the battle of Cerame, 1063, took Palermo, 1072, Syracuse, 1085, and the rest of Sicily ten years later. A burning desire took hold of the Christian world to be in possession of —
"those holy fields
Over whose acres walked those blessed feet
Which fourteen hundred years ago were nail’d
For our advantage on the bitter cross."
From an early day Jerusalem was the goal of Christian pilgrimage. The mother of Constantine, Helena, according to the legend, found the cross and certainly built the church over the supposed site of the tomb in which the Lord lay. Jerome spent the last period of his life in Bethlehem, translating the Scriptures and preparing for eternity. The effect of such examples was equal to the station and fame of the pious empress and the Christian scholar. In vain did such Fathers as Gregory of Nyssa,319 Augustine, and even Jerome himself, emphasize the nearness of God to believers wherever they may be and the failure of those whose hearts are not imbued with His spirit to find Him even at Jerusalem.
The movement steadily grew. The Holy Land became to the imagination a land of wonders, filled with the divine presence of Christ. To have visited it, to have seen Jerusalem, to have bathed in the Jordan, was for a man to have about him a halo of sanctity. The accounts of returning pilgrims were listened to in convent and on the street with open-mouthed curiosity. To surmount the dangers of such a journey in a pious frame of mind was a means of expiation for sins.320 Special laws were enacted in the pilgrim’s behalf. Hospitals and other beneficent institutions were erected for their comfort along the main route and in Jerusalem.
Other circumstances gave additional impulse to the movement, such as the hope of securing relics of which Palestine and Constantinople were the chief storehouses; and the opportunity of starting a profitable trade in silk, paper, spices, and other products of the East.
These pilgrimages were not seriously interrupted by the Mohammedans after their conquest of Jerusalem by Omar in 637, until Syria and Palestine passed into the hands of the sultans of Egypt three centuries later. Under Hakim, 1010, a fierce persecution broke out against the Christian residents of Palestine and the pilgrims. It was, however, of short duration and was followed by a larger stream of pilgrims than before. The favorite route was through Rome and by the sea, a dangerous avenue, as it was infested by Saracen pirates. The conversion of the Hungarians in the tenth century opened up the route along the Danube. Barons, princes, bishops, monks followed one after the other, some of them leading large bodies of pious tourists. In 1035 Robert of Normandy went at the head of a great company of nobles. He found many waiting at the gates of Jerusalem, unable to pay the gold bezant demanded for admission, and paid it for them. In 1054 Luitbert, bishop of Cambray, is said to have led three thousand pilgrims. In 1064 Siegfried, archbishop of Mainz, was accompanied by the bishops of Utrecht, Bamberg, and Regensburg and twelve thousand pilgrims.321 In 1092 Eric, king of the Danes, made the long journey. A sudden check was put upon the pilgrimages by the Seljukian Turks, who conquered the Holy Land in 1076. A rude and savage tribe, they heaped, with the intense fanaticism of new converts, all manner of insults and injuries upon the Christians. Many were imprisoned or sold into slavery. Those who returned to Europe carried with them a tale of woe which aroused the religious feelings of all classes.
The other appeal, coming from the Greek emperors, was of less weight.322 The Eastern empire had been fast losing its hold on its Asiatic possessions. Romanus Diogenes was defeated in battle with the Turks and taken prisoner, 1071. During the rule of his successor, an emir established himself in Nicaea, the seat of the council called by the first Constantine, and extended his rule as far as the shores of the sea of Marmora. Alexius Comnenus, coming to the throne 1081, was less able to resist the advance of Islam and lost Antioch and Edessa in 1086. Thus pressed by his Asiatic foes, and seeing the very existence of his throne threatened, he applied for help to the west. He dwelt, it is true, on the desolations of Jerusalem; but it is in accordance with his imperial character to surmise that he was more concerned for the defence of his own empire than for the honor of religion.
This dual appeal met a response, not only in the religious spirit of Europe, but in the warlike instincts of chivalry; and when the time came for the chief figure in Christendom, Urban II., to lift up his voice, his words acted upon the sensitive emotions as sparks upon dry leaves.323
Three routes were chosen by the Crusaders to reach the Holy Land. The first was the overland route by way of the Danube, Constantinople, and Asia Minor. The second, adopted by Philip and Richard in the Third Crusade, was by the Mediterranean to Acre. The route of the last two Crusades, under Louis IX., was across the Mediterranean to Egypt, which was to be made the base of operations from which to reach Jerusalem.