Tuesday, June 7, 2011

children's crusades

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In a century where crusading was on many minds, an attempt of stone-blind faith swept across Europe. Although it is considered a small portion of what historians deem the Holy Wars, it has resembled no other event in the Worlds history. The year of 11, was marked prestigious by the dedication of thousands ambitious and innocent children. With nothing but their untainted integrity to aid them, the French and German children struggled on a conquest to unify a world of adults that was torn apart by religious pandemonium, and thus fabricated the Childrens Crusades.

During the late 1000s to the 1500s, a series of military expeditions took place. These wars, proclaimed by the Pope, swept over the Latin Christendom out of the feudal-clerical society in Europe. The Crusades were geared to regain and control Palestine. This Holy Land was extremely important to Christians because it was where Jesus Christ had lived. The church took the process a step further, claiming crusading as compensation to God for sins committed. This created an intense desire to fight for Christianity, and a motivation that retained Western Europe, causing thousands of ordinary people to join the cause. The origin of the Childrens Crusade however, can be traced to a sharp increase of religious feeling among the more indigent peasants and laymen. Mobs of children, who belonged to pastoral communities and carried the belief of recovering Jerusalem, assembled in Rhineland, without the Popes request, deeming it one of the Peoples Crusades. They theorized God would deliver the Holy City to them because they were poor and faithful. This Crusade of the young placed an elevated social demand for higher moral standards of the clergy and an end to Muslim domination of the Holy Land (Childrens Crusades 47).

In St. Denis a twelve year old shepherd boy, Stephen of Cloyes, confronted King Philip of France. The boy presented him with a letter from Christ telling him to gather a crusade (Treece 4). Philip demanded that the boy return home to his father, but Stephen disobeyed his King, claiming that in a vision God promised the Mediterranean Sea would dry up like it did for Moses and that the Gates of Heaven would only open for children who went on the conquest. Perhaps the parents of the crusaders were afraid to defy the papal approval, possibly there was little parental authority in the rural areas, or maybe the hypnotic words of Stephen made the boys and girls defy their parents (6). What is known is that by June, 11 it was estimated that 0,000 young people had assembled in Vend�me to set forth on their journey. The children had taken no food or supplies to sustain them as they traveled, so they were forced to rely on charity as they journeyed to the Holy Land. Unfortunately the hot summer in France caused drought and there was very little food to spare (Hamilton 4). On their way, many children fell dead on the side of the road from hunger while others turned back and tried to find their way back home. Regardless of the circumstances, Stephen and his followers reached their destination, Marsielles. Trouble arose when the children rushed down to the harbor anxious for the waters of the sea to open for them; they found exactly the opposite. Some of the disappointed children condemned Stephen and left the crusade, but the rest waited. Every morning they hoped that the waters of the Mediterranean would at last give way. A few days later, two merchants, Hugh the Iron and William the Pig, confronted Stephen with a prospect. They offered to provide seven ships, to the mass of children, free of charge. The hopeful boys and girls boarded their ships and set out to Palestine. It was eighteen years before they were ever heard of again. In 10, a priest arrived in France from the East and told the story of the tragedy. As a young man he traveled with Stephen to watch over the children. He told the listeners that some days after they had left Marsielles, they ran into a great storm (Treece 7). Two of the ships were wrecked on the island of San Pietro, with almost total loss of life. The other five sailed on, but in the opposite direction of their destination. They were met by prearranged escort ships who convoyed them to the Sarcen Port of Bougie, in Algeria (Hamilton 4). Hugh and William had plotted in the beginning to sell them all as slaves. Some of the children were enslaved in Algeria and others were sent to Egypt. One group was even sent to Baghdad, where eighteen of them were put to death for refusing to become Muslims. It is professed that of the 0,000 that set out to conquer the Holy Land, only the priest ever returned to France. The fate of Stephen was never learned; like the other children; he disappeared forever in the Sarcen markets of slavery.

The Crusading fever soon spread to Germany. In that same year, a second Crusade was organized by Nicholas, another young shepherd boy, who prophesied the same tale as Stephen had done. He took it a step further and declared that when the Sarcens saw his army of devoted children, they would be so moved that they would become Christians at once (Hamilton 4). His army consisted of 0,000 German children, fairly older then Stephens troops, and included tough and undisciplined juvenile delinquents (Treece 4). They struggled over the Alps and only got as far as Genoa. Like Stephen, the sea here didn’t part for them. Here [Genoa] they were turned away from the city walls by a governor who didn’t want their hunger and sickly rabble to contaminate his city (8). Sadly, the children that were still alive struggled their way back over the Alps, southward, like creatures in a dream of death, and some moved on still searching for another place where the waters may open up. They forgot about their quest for the Holy Land and concentrated on their hunger and distress. The Bishop of Brindisi did what he could to feed some of them before he ordered them to return home, but that offered little help. Others, still lead by Nicholas, continued to Rome. Pope Innocent greeted them, but told them to go back home until they had grown up, then they could carry the cross to the Holy Land. Only a few hundred to a thousand of the German Crusaders ever returned home, more fortunate then their French counterparts. Nicholas was not among the returnees, and what became of him was never told. The people of his fathers village accused him of suggesting the Crusade, and hanged him for the idea that caused the death of so many children.

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As the crusading fever continued throughout the 11th century, the tragic events experienced in the Childrens Crusade was never forgotten. The Crusading reasons developed into many different concepts, but one thing remained the same, the quest for God. The year of 11, was a grave adversity on the lives of thousands of children who risked everything on a dream of uniting the world of religion. Even Pope Innocent declared in admiration, The very children put us to shame

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