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The Crusades: Peter the Hermit

In the year 1072, some twenty years after the conquest of Jerusalem by the Turks.  Peter Gautier better known as Peter the Hermit, would receive penance for one’s sins, to receive absolution.

A toll paid by Peter at the gate to the Holy City of Jerusalem, was a heavy one; a single gold coin, equal to five Spanish dollars.

He wore a simple cloak, that of a hermit, made of coarse dark cloth.  As a pilgrim was forced to take vows of poverty, and exist on the alms of charitable gifts on their long route.

Peter had been a soldier in his youth, under Eustace de Bouillon, the father of Godfrey de Bouillon, one of the heroes of the Crusades.

Christianity spread westwards, pilgrimages were frequent to the Holy Land, as they desired to see the tomb of their Redeemer.  To tread upon the land of Mount Calvary, where their redeemer had been crucified.

The pilgrims to Jerusalem, were called the “Armies of the Lord.”

In 1035, a troop of pilgrims arrived from France, their destination the Holy City of Jerusalem, led by Robert the 6th Duke of Normandy, sometimes called “Robert the Devil.”  According to history, he poisoned, he murdered his own brother; Richard III of Normandy in 1028.  His son was William the Conqueror, King William I of England.

Robert the 6th Duke of Normandy, left his illegitimate son William and his heir, under the protection of the then French King whilst he headed for Jerusalem in the Holy Land.  Little did he know, that he would never return to see William grow up and become Duke William and King of England, for he died of fever in Bithynia.

The Saracens did not expel the Christians, for their expeditions became a constant source of revenue, but they thought nothing of showering the priests with abuse.  The Persians sacked Jerusalem in AD614, then they attempted to destroy the Holy Sepulchre, but all they managed, burning down the temple erected over it.  In 637, Jerusalem fell into Saracen hands.

As Peter the Hermit neared Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives would rise up above the city wall.  Mount Calvary, upon which a temple to Jupiter and Bethlehem, where upon an altar to the heathen Adonis, had been placed on the very spot.  What lay around him, brought tears to his eyes; desolation, horror and misery.  Peter spoke out; “Jerusalem shall be set free by western warriors.”  As penance I will cross Europe, and speak out of the state of the church, urging them to rescue the grave of our Lord.

Peter with tears of joy spoke out, “God will look down on our afflictions!  He will soften the hearts of Europe’s princes towards us!  He will send them to rescue this Holy City.”  Peter’s zeal knew no bounds; and persuaded that heaven had charged him to avenge Christians, and vowed to return to the west, enlisting the sympathy of Europe for their eastern Brethren.

He left Palestine, crossing the sea bound for Italy, where upon he hastened to Rome and Pope Urban II.

The Holy Father, Pope Urban II welcomed him as a prophet, and sent him out to preach of the first Crusade to the people.  Wherever he went, whether it be a castle, wealthy land owners or even the village square, describing the hardship felt by these Christians in far off lands, the crowds listened.

In 1094, Peter the Hermit was one of those summoned by Pope Urban II to attend the council meeting at Clermont, France.  Peter described to those present, what he had witnessed with his own eyes, describing outrages committed by its infidel possessors against the faithful in Jerusalem.  How they were enslaved and degraded, and seen Christians in the Holy Land forced to purchase permission to worship at their Redeemer’s Tomb.  Peter’s gloomy face said it all, his difficulty in speaking, tears in his eyes, influenced those present.

Then the Pope rose to his feet and addressed those present… which included “Christians, hasten to help your brothers in the East, for they are being attacked.  Arm for the rescue of Jerusalem under your captain; Christ.  Wear his cross as your badge.  If you are killed your sins will be pardoned.”  Enthusiastic feelings were aroused by the Pope’s address and Peter’s eloquence did not fade away.

Thousand’s answered the call to take up arms.  Many were true Christians, who believed it was right to reclaim Jerusalem for the Christian World.  Other’s had committed sin in the past, and believed God might forgive them if they took part.  They had been told if they died in battle doing God’s work, they would go to heaven.  Other’s saw it as a way of getting rich quick, hoping to find treasures.  Before many months had passed, the ardour for war against the Saracens spread throughout Europe.

Departure of the First Crusade, took place in 1096, on the “Feast of the Assumption.”  The first force of Crusader’s was led by Peter the Hermit.  His army was known as the “Peoples Crusade” they who wore the emblem of a cross upon their shoulders.  They had no provisions, expecting to receive food, as they crossed one country to the next, or live off the land.

They left a wake of destruction in their path, as they crossed the Byzantine Empire.

Many a prince embraced the cause; Godfrey de Bouillon, Robert of Normandy, Edgar Atheling, Robert Earl of Flanders, Stephen de Blois, Raymond Count de Toulouse and Hugh of Vermandois.

Difficulties were seen in moving such a large number of foot soldiers as a single force; thus, they broke it down into separate forces, and all would meet up at Constantinople.  This great multitude assembled in Lorraine in spring 1096.  An army composed of thousands of foot soldiers, and a handful of knights.

Four armies departed for Byzantium in the August of 1096, led by Raymond of saint-Giles, Godfrey of Bouillon, Hugh of Vermandois and Bohemond of Taranto.

The feeling for this war was strong, and only the infirmed remained behind.  Warriors arrived from the Tiber to the Rhine, from the oceans to the Alps, and one cry alone was to be heard; Jerusalem! Jerusalem!

Along France’s main high roads, scarcely any armed bands were to be seen, except those bound for the Holy Land.  Camps were erected, prayers and hymns heard, altars erected for warriors to ask for a blessing on this military expedition.

Walter the Penniless, also known as Walter Sans Avoir, took part of Peter the Hermits army, whilst Peter and the bulk of his army took advantage of foods supplies on offer at Cologne.

The King of Hungary, gave the first force permission to cross his lands, he never expected that this so-called religious army, would disgrace the Pope.  As they passed through Semlin, they stole food.  They went on to cause havoc in Belgrade, plundering the peasantry, and the Hungarians were forced to pick up arms and destroy them.  A force of sixty took shelter in the chapel and were burnt alive, others escaped death, through the Hungarian forests and onto Constantinople.

Peter the Hermit with his army of 40,000 men, women and children came upon the town, where fallen Christians had perished, witnessing a battlefield of flags and crosses.  Out of revenge every inhabitant was killed.

Peter the Hermit, a French Monk from Amiens preached upon the Mount of Olives, and shortly thereafter returned to Europe.  He founded the Augustinian Monastery; Church of the Holy Sepulchre in France.  Peter the Hermit died as their Prior in 1131.

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