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.

Legendary Warriors of Jaffa

King Richard and Saladin

King Richard I and Saladin

Richard, lost his mount
savagely cut down in battle,
fell from underneath him
forced to fight, on foot.

Saladin impressed by Richard
gave the mighty English King,
stallion from his own stable
for kings do not fight, on foot.

Richard and Saladin meet
neither understood the other’s language,
but each respected the other
fighting for their country’s beliefs.

Wikipedia Image

The Knights of Malta

Knights Hospitaller

An ancient hospice for Christian pilgrims, was located in Jerusalem, and had been in existence well before the arrival of these Crusaders.  The Hospice was founded by Abbot Probus around 600AD.  It underwent restoration in 1010 by the Emperor of Charmagne, only to be destroyed by Caliph El-Hamin, and in 1023 restored by the citizens of Amalfi.

In 1048, the Order of St.John was born by Amalfian merchants and its founder Gerard from Martigues in Provence, who also went by the name; Blessed Gerard, the then Benedictine Abbot of St.Maria Latina.  First came the construction of a church, convent and hospital in Jerusalem, offering care to pilgrims of any faith.

The Hospice had been dedicated to St.John the Almoner.

What would follow over the coming years would be the creation of a chivalric order, which would evolve into a military machine.

A Papal Bull was issued on the 15th February 1113, by Pope Paschal II, approving the hospital’s foundation, and placing it under the protection of the church.

As such, the Order was ruled by a Grand Master, who was answerable only to the Pope.  Knights were chosen from aristocratic families of England, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy.

The popularity and praise Gerard received from 1st Crusade warriors, led to his separation from the Benedictine Order, and the foundation of the Order of Hospitaller’s, who adopted the Augustinian rule.

Their habit: A long black monastic cloak, with slits on each side for arms, with an eight pointed white cross on the breast, which included the arms of the Republic of Amalfi.

St.John the Baptist became the new patron saint of the order, replacing St.John of Almoner.  The Order of Hospitaller undertook three solemn vows: Chastity, Obedience and Poverty, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre before their patriarch; Dragobert.

As their fame grew across the land, they received many donations, which allowed the Order to purchase properties in the Holy Land and across Europe.

In 1099, the First Crusading armies, had taken three years, marching across Europe, traversed the sun-scorched waterless plateau of Asia Minor.  Thousands of their comrades had perished on the journey, from its hardships, or slain by Turkish warriors.

As they came upon the Holy City of Jerusalem, they fell to their knees in the sand, and wept.

On Friday, the 15th July 1099, at 3.00pm they stormed the Holy City of Jerusalem in their thousands, on the very day and hour their saviour had died.  The first knight to enter was Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke of Lower Lorraine, who humbled himself in prayer, at the tomb of his saviour.  Unlike others, he was devoid of earthly ambitions, and fought for the love of Christ, a true warrior of God.

Godfrey of Bouillon

Godfrey of Bouillon

Eight days after the capture of Jerusalem, Godfrey of Bouillon was elected as its first Christian King.  He refused to wear a crown or receive the title of King.  This humble warrior, in the city where his saviour had died, accepted he be its defender and ruler.  Knowing his life was short, created a Christian kingdom.

In the year 1100, Godfrey took his army to Caesarea of Philippi, an enemy held town on the Mediterranean coast.  The Muslim leader went out to meet the mighty Godfrey, King and ruler of Jerusalem, on the pretext of making peace.

Godfrey accepted and ate the dishes presented to him, and his military commanders in good faith.  What was thought to be a gift of peace, was far from the truth, as Godfrey’s life was taken from him, by a deadly fever, possibly brought on by eating poisoned food.  He was buried in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Gerard from Martigues in Provence, known as Blessed Gerald died in 1120, secure in the fact, that the Order of the Hospital of St.John of Jerusalem had been created.

By 1126, the Order had begun its military defence of pilgrims in the Holy Land.

Raymond du Puy  from Provence became the elected successor of Gerard of Martigues, and took the title of Master.

Raymond du Puy laid down the foundation for an order of chivalry, with the introduction of the Knights Hospitaller, to run alongside one of prayer and caring for others.  He laid down rules to be observed during military engagements; Swords must not be drawn, unless the standard of the cross was displayed, either in defence of the Kingdom of Jerusalem or in siege against a pagan city.  The military body had been founded in 1123, in response to Egypt’s invasion of Palestine.

Events taking place in the Holy Land would change the future of the Hospitaller’s.  For it was on the 4th July 1187, Saladin defeated Christian forces and the Kingdom of Jerusalem fell. The Hospitaller’s were forced to relinquish their headquarters in Jerusalem for Tripoli on the east coast of Palestine, where they stayed until 1197, then moving to Acre.

The Knights Hospitaller’s, felt robbed of their role as defenders of the Holy Land in 1291, when Acre fell to the Mamluks, and they had been driven out of the Holy Land and sought refuge in Cyprus.  It was here they changed their method of waging war, and became a force to be reckoned with, in naval power.

In 1309, the Hospitaller’s conquered the island of Rhodes, and changed their name; Order of the Knights of Rhodes, which they ran as an independent state, exercising their right of sovereignty.

In the year 1343, the Order conquered Smyrna, and took part in battle in Egypt and Syria.  They supported Armenians in their defence against Muslim forces.

When the Knights Templar were disbanded, their goods, their wealth was transferred to the Order of St.John of Jerusalem, under the order of the Pope, which greatly increased the wealth of the Order.

In 1522, a six-month siege by Suleyman the Magnificent, a Turkish warrior, led to their defeat and on the 1st January 1523, they left Rhodes.

In 1530, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V gave them the island of Malta, and duly went by the name of; Sovereign and Military Order of the Knights of Malta.  In 1565, it resisted a four-month siege by the Ottoman fleet.  A Spanish task force came to the assistance of the Grand Master; Jean Parisot de la Valette in his defence of Malta.

In 1571, the Turkish navy was destroyed at the “Battle of Lepanto” by the combined fleets of the Knights of Malta, European forces led by Don Juan of Austria, half brother to King Philip II of Spain.

A new capital of Malta was built, in recognition for his achievements in the defence against the Turks of 1565, they named it after their Grand Master; Valetta.

As the centuries passed by, these knights, gave up their military lifestyle, returning to their roots, by offering medical care, attracting patients from near and far.

The French Revolution of 1789, abolished the Order in France and confiscated its properties.  Malta rejected the French Revolution, offering shelter to nobles fleeing France and supporting countries at war with them; England, Spain and Russia.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte

In 1798 they lost Malta to Napoleon Bonaparte, but regained it in 1802 under the Treaty of Amiens.

In 1814, the Treaty of Paris gave Malta to Britain, and the Hospitaller’s left, moving their headquarters to Sicily where they remained until 1826.  From there they moved to Ferrara, and in 1834 finally settled in Rome.

From 1834 to 1961 they were known as the Knights Hospitaller of St.John of Jerusalem, and in 1961 to the present time are formally known as the Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St.John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, and a closed fraternity of the Roman Catholic Church.

The order no longer governs any territory, yet it is recognised as a sovereign nation by the Vatican, the only authentic Order of Malta by the Pope, and as such does issue its own passports.

In 1966, Pope Paul VI reformed the statues of the Order of Malta, abolishing its militant character, and vowing it would serve the poor and sick.

In times when the Pope’s life is threatened, the Swiss guards that guard the Vatican are dismissed, and the Knights of Malta, become guardians of the Pope.

Wikipedia Images

Holy Land Pilgrimage

Holy Land

A Pilgrimage of the mind
as we set forth on her land,
she receives us, as travellers
upon this forgotten land.

We feel the sands of time
press down, under our feet,
as we seek out ruined temples
to mingle with our mind.

Hundreds of years have passed
many a knight sought fame,
as they came in their thousand’s
the sands ran red; with their blood.

Crusading Pilgrims



Jerusalem; God’s holy city
where Jesus of Nazareth
was crucified upon the cross.

Pilgrims undertook pilgrimages
across dangerous lands,
to pay tribute, to their saviour.

Thousands ventured forth
thousands, died on route
buried, in the Holy Land.

Will anyone remember the fallen
lost in the sands of the east,
lost… but never forgotten.

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