History Of The Christian Church (1892) Philip Schaff


§ 54. The Children’s Crusades

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§ 54. The Children’s Crusades.


"The rich East blooms fragrant before us;

All Fairy-land beckons us forth,

We must follow the crane in her flight o’er the main,

From the posts and the moors of the North."

Charles Kingsley, The Saint’s Tragedy.

The most tragic of the Crusader tragedies were the crusades of the children. They were a slaughter of the innocents on a large scale, and belong to those mysteries of Providence which the future only will solve.

The crusading epidemic broke out among the children of France and Germany in 1212. Begotten in enthusiasm, which was fanned by priestly zeal, the movement ended in pitiful disaster.

The French expedition was led by Stephen, a shepherd lad of twelve, living at Cloyes near Chartres. He had a vision, so the rumor went, in which Christ appeared to him as a pilgrim and made an appeal for the rescue of the holy places. Journeying to St. Denis, the boy retailed the account of what he had seen. Other children gathered around him. The enthusiasm spread from Brittany to the Pyrenees. In vain did the king of France attempt to check the movement. The army increased to thirty thousand, girls as well as boys, adults as well as children.428  Questioned as to where they were going, they replied, "We go to God, and seek for the holy cross beyond the sea." They reached Marseilles, but the waves did not part and let them go through dryshod as they expected.429

The centres of the movement in Germany were Nicholas, a child of ten, and a second leader whose name has been lost. Cologne was the rallying point. Children of noble families enlisted. Along with the boys and girls went men and women, good and bad.

The army under the anonymous leader passed through Eastern Switzerland and across the Alps to Brindisi, whence some of the children sailed, never to be heard from again. The army of Nicholas reached Genoa in August, 1212. The children sang songs on the way, and with them has been wrongly associated the tender old German hymn:

"Fairest Lord Jesus,

Ruler of all nature,

O Thou of man and God, the son,

Thee will I cherish,

Thee will I honor,

Thou, my soul’s glory, joy, and crown."

The numbers had been reduced by hardship, death, and moral shipwreck from twenty to seven thousand. At Genoa the waters were as pitiless as they were at Marseilles. Some of the children remained in the city and became, it is said, the ancestors of distinguished families.430  The rest marched on through Italy to Brindisi, where the bishop of Brindisi refused to let them proceed farther. An uncertain report declares Innocent III. declined to grant their appeal to be released from their vow.

The fate of the French children was, if possible, still more pitiable. At Marseilles they fell a prey to two slave dealers, who for "the sake of God and without price" offered to convey them across the Mediterranean. Their names are preserved,—Hugo Ferreus and William Porcus. Seven vessels set sail. Two were shipwrecked on the little island of San Pietro off the northwestern coast of Sardinia. The rest reached the African shore, where the children were sold into slavery.

The shipwreck of the little Crusaders was commemorated by Gregory IX., in the chapel of the New Innocents, ecclesia novorum innocentium, which he built on San Pietro. Innocent III. in summoning Europe to a new crusade included in his appeal the spectacle of their sacrifice. "They put us to shame. While they rush to the recovery of the Holy Land, we sleep."431  Impossible as such a movement might seem in our calculating age, it is attested by too many good witnesses to permit its being relegated to the realm of legend,432 and the trials and death of the children of the thirteenth century will continue to be associated with the slaughter of the children of Bethlehem at the hand of Herod.

§ 55. The Fourth Crusade and the Capture of Constantinople. 1200–1204.


It would be difficult to find in history a more notable diversion of a scheme from its original purpose than the Fourth Crusade. Inaugurated to strike a blow at the power which held the Holy Land, it destroyed the Christian city of Zara and overthrew the Greek empire of Constantinople. Its goals were determined by the blind doge, Henry Dandolo of Venice. As the First Crusade resulted in the establishment of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, so the Fourth Crusade resulted in the establishment of the Latin empire of Constantinople.

Innocent III., on ascending the papal throne, threw himself with all the energy of his nature into the effort of reviving the crusading spirit. He issued letter after letter433 to the sovereigns of England, France, Hungary, and Sicily.434  He also wrote to the Byzantine emperor, urging him to resist the Saracens and subject the Greek church to its mother, Rome.435  The failure of preceding crusades was ascribed to the sins of the Crusaders. But for them, one Christian would have chased a thousand, or even ten thousand, and the enemies of the cross would have disappeared like smoke or melting wax.

For the expense of a new expedition the pope set apart one-tenth of his revenue, and he directed the cardinals to do the same. The clergy and all Christians were urged to give liberally. The goods and lands of Crusaders were to enjoy the special protection of the Holy See. Princes were instructed to compel Jewish money-lenders to remit interest due from those going on the expedition. Legates were despatched to Genoa, Pisa, and Venice to stir up zeal for the project; and these cities were forbidden to furnish to the Saracens supplies of arms, food, or other material. A cardinal was appointed to make special prayers for the Crusade, as Moses had prayed for Israel against the Amalekites.

The Cistercian abbot, Martin, preached in Germany;436 and the eloquent Fulke of Neuilly, receiving his commission from Innocent III.,437 distinguished himself by winning thousands of recruits from the nobility and populace of Burgundy, Flanders, and Normandy. Under his preaching, in 1199, Count Thibaut of Champagne,438 Louis of Blois, Baldwin of Flanders, and Simon de Montfort took the vow. So also did Villehardouin, marshal of Champagne, who accompanied the expedition, and became its spicy historian. As in the case of the First Crusade, the armament was led by nobles, and not by sovereigns.

The leaders, meeting at Soissons in 1200, sent a deputation to Venice to secure transportation for the army. Egypt was chosen as the point of landing and attack, it being held that a movement would be most apt to be successful which cut off the Saracens’ supplies at their base in the land of the Nile.439

The Venetian Grand Council agreed to provide ships for 9000 esquires, 4500 knights, 20,000 foot-soldiers, and 4500 horses, and to furnish provisions for nine months for the sum of 85,000 marks, or about $1,000,000 in present money.440  The agreement stated the design of the enterprise to be "the deliverance of the Holy Land." The doge, Henry Dandolo, who had already passed the limit of ninety years, was in spite of his age and blindness full of vigor and decision.441

The crusading forces mustered at Venice. The fleet was ready, but the Crusaders were short of funds, and able to pay only 50,000 marks of the stipulated sum. Dandolo took advantage of these straits to advance the selfish aims of Venice, and proposed, as an equivalent for the balance of the passage money, that the Crusaders aid in capturing Zara.442  The offer was accepted. Zara, the capital of Dalmatia and the chief market on the eastern coast of the Adriatic, belonged to the Christian king of Hungary. Its predatory attacks upon Venetian vessels formed the pretext for its reduction.443  The threat of papal excommunication, presented by the papal legate, did not check the preparations; and after the solemn celebration of the mass, the fleet set sail, with Dandolo as virtual commander.

The departure of four hundred and eighty gayly rigged vessels is described by several eye-witnesses444 and constitutes one of the most important scenes in the naval enterprise of the queen of the Adriatic.

Zara was taken Nov. 24, 1202, given over to plunder, and razed to the ground. No wonder Innocent wrote that Satan had been the instigator of this destructive raid upon a Christian people and excommunicated the participants in it.445

Organized to dislodge the Saracens and reduced to a filibustering expedition, the Crusade was now to be directed against Constantinople. The rightful emperor, Isaac Angelus, was languishing in prison with his eyes put out by the hand of the usurper, Alexius III., his own brother. Isaac’s son, Alexius, had visited Innocent III. and Philip of Swabia, appealing for aid in behalf of his father. Philip, claimant to the German throne, had married the prince’s sister. Greek messengers appeared at Zara to appeal to Dandolo and the Crusaders to take up Isaac’s cause. The proposal suited the ambition of Venice, which could not have wished for a more favorable opportunity to confirm her superiority over the Pisans and Genoans, which had been threatened, if not impaired, on the Bosphorus.

As a compensation, Alexius made the tempting offer of 200,000 marks silver, the maintenance for a year of an army of 10,000 against the Mohammedans, and of 500 knights for life as a guard for the Holy Land, and the submission of the Eastern Church to the pope. The doge fell in at once with the proposition, but it was met by strong voices of dissent in the ranks of the Crusaders. Innocent’s threat of continued excommunication, if the expedition was turned against Constantinople, was ignored. A few of the Crusaders, like Simon de Montfort, refused to be used for private ends and withdrew from the expedition.446

Before reaching Corfu, the fleet was joined by Alexius in person. By the end of June, 1203, it had passed through the Dardanelles and was anchored opposite the Golden Horn. After prayers and exhortations by the bishops and clergy, the Galata tower was taken. Alexius III. fled, and Isaac was restored to the throne.

The agreements made with the Venetians, the Greeks found it impossible to fulfil. Confusion reigned among them. Two disastrous conflagrations devoured large portions of the city. One started in a mosque which evoked the wrath of the Crusaders.447  The discontent with the hard terms of the agreement and the presence of the Occidentals gave Alexius Dukas, surnamed Murzuphlos from his shaggy eyebrows, opportunity to dethrone Isaac and his son and to seize the reins of government. The prince was put to death, and Isaac soon followed him to the grave.

The confusion within the palace and the failure to pay the promised reward were a sufficient excuse for the invaders to assault the city, which fell April 12, 1204.448  Unrestrained pillage and riot followed. Even the occupants of convents were not exempted from the orgies of unbridled lust. Churches and altars were despoiled as well as palaces. Chalices were turned into drinking cups. A prostitute placed in the chair of the patriarchs in St. Sophia, sang ribald songs and danced for the amusement of the soldiery.449

Innocent III., writing of the conquest of the city, says: —

"You have spared nothing that is sacred, neither age nor sex. You have given yourselves up to prostitution, to adultery, and to debauchery in the face of all the world. You have glutted your guilty passions, not only on married women, but upon women and virgins dedicated to the Saviour. You have not been content with the imperial treasures and the goods of rich and poor, but you have seized even the wealth of the Church and what belongs to it. You have pillaged the silver tables of the altars, you have broken into the sacristies and stolen the vessels."450

To the revolt at these orgies succeeding ages have added regret for the irreparable loss which literature and art suffered in the wild and protracted sack. For the first time in eight hundred years its accumulated treasures were exposed to the ravages of the spoiler, who broke up the altars in its churches, as in St. Sophia, or melted priceless pieces of bronze statuary on the streets and highways.451

Constantinople proved to be the richest of sacred storehouses, full of relics, which excited the cupidity and satisfied the superstition of the Crusaders, who found nothing inconsistent in joining devout worship and the violation of the eighth commandment in getting possession of the objects of worship.452  With a credulity which seems to have asked no questions, skulls and bones of saints, pieces of wearing apparel, and other sacred objects were easily discovered and eagerly sent to Western Europe, from the stone on which Jacob slept and Moses’ rod which was turned into a serpent, to the true cross and fragments of Mary’s garments.453  What California was to the world’s supply of gold in 1849 and the mines of the Transvaal have been to its supply of diamonds—that the capture of Constantinople was to the supply of relics for Latin Christendom. Towns and cities welcomed these relics, and convents were made famous by their possession. In 1205 bishop Nivelon of Soissons sent to Soissons the head of St. Stephen, the finger that Thomas thrust into the Saviour’s side, a thorn from the crown of thorns, a portion of the sleeveless shirt of the Virgin Mary and her girdle, a portion of the towel with which the Lord girded himself at the Last Supper, one of John the Baptist’s arms, and other antiquities scarcely less venerable. The city of Halberstadt and its bishop, Konrad, were fortunate enough to secure some of the blood shed on the cross, parts of the sponge and reed and the purple robe, the head of James the Just, and many other trophies. Sens received the crown of thorns. A tear of Christ was conveyed to Seligencourt and led to a change of its name to the Convent of the Sacred Tear.454  Amiens received John the Baptist’s head; St. Albans, England, two of St. Margaret’s fingers. The true cross was divided by the grace of the bishops among the barons. A piece was sent by Baldwin to Innocent III.

Perhaps no sacred relics were received with more outward demonstrations of honor than the true crown of thorns, which Baldwin II. transferred to the king of France for ten thousand marks of silver.455  It was given free passage by the emperor Frederick II. and was carried through Paris by the French king barefoot and in his shirt. A part of the true cross and the swaddling clothes of Bethlehem were additional acquisitions of Paris.

The Latin Empire of Constantinople, which followed the capture of the city, lasted from 1204 to 1261. Six electors representing the Venetians and six representing the Crusaders met in council and elected Baldwin of Flanders, emperors.456  He was crowned by the papal legate in St. Sophia and at once set about to introduce Latin priests and subdue the Greek Church to the pope.

The attitude of Innocent III. to this remarkable transaction of Christian soldiery exhibited at once his righteous indignation and his politic acquiescence in the new responsibility thrust upon the Apostolic see.457  He appointed the Venetian, Thomas Morosini, archbishop; and the Latin patriarchate, established with him, has been perpetuated to this day, and is an almost unbearable offence to the Greeks.458  If Innocent had followed Baldwin’s suggestions, he would have convoked an oecumenical council in Constantinople.

The last of the Latin emperors, Baldwin III., 1237–1261, spent most of his time in Western Europe making vain appeals for money. After his dethronement, in l261, by Michael Palaeologus he presents a pitiable spectacle, seeking to gain the ear of princes and ecclesiastics. For two hundred years more the Greeks had an uncertain tenure on the Bosphorus. The loss of Constantinople was bound to come sooner or later in the absence of a moral and muscular revival of the Greek people. The Latin conquest of the city was a romantic episode, and not a stage in the progress of civilization in the East; nor did it hasten the coming of the new era of letters in Western Europe. It widened the schism of the Greek and the Latin churches. The only party to reap substantial gain from the Fourth Crusade was the Venetians.459





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