In the year 1212, tens of thousands children, put down their ploughs, carts, the flocks they tended, claiming it be God’s will, and joined the Children’s Crusade to the Holy Land.
In May of 1212, a shepherd boy named Stephen of Cloyes, believed he had been chosen by Jesus Christ to lead a crusade of children in the rescue of the Holy Sepulchre.
By June, thousands of children under twelve flocked to the Vendome rendezvous point. Upon receiving blessings, the crusade begun. By the time they reached Marseilles, the 30,000 who started out had dropped to 7,000 for many died of hunger on route, others wandered off, heading for home.
Stephen’s promise that the sea would divide, and they could walk across, never happened. Some felt betrayed and headed home… Thousands sailed from the port, on merchant ships, who offered free passage. In fact they were taken to Alexandria and sold as slaves.
In the same year, 1212, Nicholas of Germany also led a children’s crusade of 50,000 over the Alps and into Italy, hoping to board ships to Palestine. Thousands died on route, and only a few thousands boarded ships.
Their fate was to be sold into a life of slavery.
In the spring of 1213, some made it back to Germany and told of their adventure, and how thousands died on route of hunger and cold. Parents of those who had lost their young ones, turned on the father of Nicholas. He was arrested and hanged.
Pope Gregory IX (1227-1241) groaned with anguish how these children had suffered and died. He raised a memorial at the island of San Pietro, where two ships had floundered and all aboard had drowned.
A church was built, and the children’s bodies exhumed and buried within. It was called the “Church of the New Innocents” supported by twelve monks, offering prayers at the church.
For three hundred years the shrine existed, until the monks left.
In 1737 Christian captives escaping Africa landed at the island; deserted except for a ruined church.
The Children’s Crusade marked a dark history, and led to the decline of Crusades to the Holy Land.
(Image) Children’s Crusade: Wikipedia