Authors: C. D. Baker
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #Historical fiction, #German
CRUSADE OF TEARS
© 2004 by C. D. Baker
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission, except for brief quotations in books and critical reviews.
Cover Design and Photo Illustration: Terry Dugan Design
First Printing, 2004
Printed in United States of America
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from the
Holy Bible: New International Version®.
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
eBook ISBN: 978-1-62111-043-9
To the shamed, the confused,
and the broken spirits of a troubled world
Editor’s note: please find at the back of this book powerful discussion questions for group or personal study (Branching Out, p. 617), as well as a helpful Glossary (p. 629) for clarification of terminology and historical information.
would offer my heartfelt gratitude to my most merciful God, my patient wife, Susan, and the wide circle of faithful family and friends whose encouragement and gifts of wisdom gave this story its life. Their devotion to the project and to myself proved to be indispensable. I would like to thank my enterprising uncle, Gordon Loux, and my indefatigable agent, Lee Hough, for their roles in the promotion of this book and the series, of which it is a part. My new friends at RiverOak deserve special mention for their professional support and genuine interest, especially my editor, Craig Bubeck. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Burgermeister Norbert Zabel of Selters, Germany, for his gracious gifts of time and interest. Lastly, I am pleased to acknowledge the generous hospitality of the good citizens of Weyer, Germany, particularly the Roths, Wickers, Lauxes, and Klums, whose selfless accommodation and friendship added great joy to my work.
he green fields of France trembled as the horse-men of Islam thundered across the gentle heartland of Christian Europe. Behind their leader, Abd-er-Rahman, two hundred thousand plundering Moors, Persians, Berbers, and Copts had swept into Christendom unchecked, their appetite for the delicious spoils of these bountiful lands luring them ever northward. They swarmed across the Church’s domain like the locusts of Egypt, resolved that the Cross would bend to the Crescent.
Ahead of the horde, the simple, native folk scattered like dried leaves in a blast of wind, running to bar both beast and beloved within the darkest corners of their wattled hovels. Unaware that the future of a continent would soon teeter in the balance, these poor wretches could do little more than crouch low in their terror and weep.
The invading army pressed mercilessly toward the Loire River and, by October 732, they were poised to claim the fertile plain between Poiters and Tours. News of their impending assault spread quickly through the manors of upper Aquitaine, and soon the landscape was abandoned to the cool breezes and subtle warmth of the pleasant French sun. Nowhere could be seen the plodding of peasants gathering their lords’ last sheaves, nor were straining oxen yoked to heavy-laden wagons. For the dust clouds of a coming storm were rising in the south and the frightened stewards of this good land were hiding.
To the north another tempest was gathering, and its thunder now rolled ominously toward the nervous plain. In the fore of an opposing army charged Charles the Hammer, King of the Franks, and behind him roared his steely-eyed warriors. These resolute Teutons had vowed to yield not one more green forest, fertile field, sacred church, or golden maiden to the approaching foe. And so, though sweated at the sight of the dark-eyed host rushing toward them, they set their jaws hard, like ice in their own midwinter, and hastened to meet their ruthless adversary with sword, spear, axe, and hammer.
For hour upon hour the trampled fields of Aquitaine wept great puddles of blood as the champions of two worlds collided. The discordant sounds of the cries, the clash, and the crumple of warrior and horse were carried by the wind’s weary back to the far, wooded edges of the plain. And behind the silent sun a purposed Providence deliberated each soul’s fate. In the end, Abd-er-Rahman lay dead, his vanquished cavalry routed and the lust of Islam extinguished, if only for a time. The red sod grew quiet, somberly cradling the butchered remains of the sons of Mohammed and the brothers of Christ. And mercifully, the wind now bore only the thankful sigh of a relieved Christendom.
Obedient serfs soon returned to their humble tasks, once again secured and steadied to the yawn and turn of seasons. But for the councils of Europe the great battle would be neither forgotten nor forgiven, and none would ever sheath his sword or turn his back to the strange world that lay beyond. Instead, for centuries to come all would fix a wary eye upon the menacing
And vigilance proved prudent, for by the latter part of the eleventh century desperate reports of Christian pilgrims suffering persecution for their faith in Jerusalem and news of dangerous threats against Europe’s easternmost boundaries found their way to the cocked ear of the Roman Pope, Urban II. In response he entreated the kings and lords of his lands to rise, yet again, in defense of the Faith. So, in August of year of grace 1096, the armies of Christendom rallied to his call and, with crimson crosses draped on their heaving armored chests, the knights of Europe stormed into Palestine in their first Crusade.
For three years the sandy plains and rugged mountains of this ancient land soaked in the blood of crusader and Turk alike until, at long last, in July 1099, Jerusalem was taken for the Church. Sadly, the slaughter that ensued betrayed the virtue of the Cross and endeared none to the One whose blood had been poured out upon these same lands in love. Instead, for generations to follow the soldiers of Islam bitterly resisted their fair-faced conquerors and battled them throughout the Land of Promise until 1187, when they seized the Holy City once more.
Driven from the holy places, the Christian knights continued to engage their enemy for nearly two more decades. But their failed efforts proved costly, and they soon found themselves pressed against Palestine’s coast by the massing armies of the Sultan. It seemed that the Cross itself would surely be driven into the sea. Rising to such peril, Pope Innocent III sounded the alarm, calling upon his ever-faithful Franks and Celts, his Saxons and Normans, and those other tribes and races spread across the kingdoms of Christian Europe. But his warriors were weary and hesistant.
Then, in the spring of the year of our Lord 1212, the children of France and Germany heard the pope’s plea and began to stir. Inspired by priest and passion alike, they prepared to barter hearth and habit for the hope of God’s glory. Near Cloyes, France, a fifteen-year-old shepherd boy named Stephan announced a vision in which he saw the children of Christendom part the Mediterranean Sea and march, unopposed, through the opened gates of Jerusalem. He proclaimed that a congregation of harmless children would acquire the Holy City by the power of their purity and innocence rather than the ruthless force of axe and bow. In response to such remarkable claims, thousands clamored for a new Crusade and heeded Stephan’s cry, “We go to God, and seek for the holy cross beyond the sea!”
About the same time, a ten-year-old German boy named Nicholas was heralding a similar message in and around the city of Cologne. He too summoned an army of children to conquer Jerusalem and precipitate the conversion of all Palestine from Islam. He assured his assembled throngs that, where the crusading knights and soldiers of the great kings had failed, they, by their simple dependence on God Himself, would succeed. Nicholas’s message spread quickly throughout the Empire’s hamlets, towns, and manors—and the children answered.
So, by June, these unsuspecting lambs of Europe began to gather in flocks ranging in size from the twenties to the hundreds for their pilgrimage southward. In an environment where good works were believed to warrant temporal blessing as well as eternal salvation, where self-sacrifice was still a virtue and faith had manifest meaning, legions of children rallied in fealty to the transcendent God in whose hands they gladly placed their trust. Many prepared to march without provisions so that their faith might be proven pure and their utter dependency on an omnipotent God aptly confirmed. Undaunted by the realities of a fallen world, these Innocents departed in guileless enthusiasm and gaily pranced with great expectancy. Considering their inculpable naivete, such extraordinary, steadfast devotion ought to bring a stunned pause to those of feebler faith; it is a rare and noble quality and rightfully honored.
One chronicler would later write that the enthusiasm of the children was so great that no bars could hold them. Presumably, some of the children may have certainly run away from the pleas and restraints of their parents. Not to be forgotten, however, is the disquieting sacrifice of those other parents who willingly released their beloved children with both blessing and tears. The dilemma posed by their offering must have been tortuous, and the excruciating pain can hardly be imagined. But their credence—selfless and devout as it may have truly been—was sadly corrupted by their own indefensible blindness. For faith lacking truth is not faith at all, but merely well-intended folly destined to bear a grievous end.
Of course, not only parents were at fault. Diabolical profiteers from the peasantry, the nobility, and perhaps the Church itself encouraged legions of these young Isaacs toward their sorrows with an eye on their own imagined advantages. In fairness it ought to be noted that Pope Innocent III offered no public endorsement of this Crusade, nor do we have any documentation that demonstrates the Church’s overt encouragement. It is of little doubt, however, that the legacy of ecclesiastical support for such movements contributed greatly to the population’s willing accommodation. Far from any known attempt to prevent this unnecessary tragedy, the pope is recorded, instead, as having said, “These children put us to shame.” In addition, it should be noted that neither this pope nor his successor were willing to release the surviving crusaders of their “vows.” Thankfully, others did declare their unabashed opposition to the Crusade, arguing that the Devil himself had deceived the people. Sadly, their words fell on deaf ears.
Amidst these mixed and confusing currents the child-crusaders formed their columns. They were quite different from the seasoned, hard-eyed veterans who had raged before. Instead, this most eager army of Christendom was an assembly of bold youth and adolescents—young adventurers still longing to take a sharp edge to their smooth faces, wide-eyed toddlers, spirited little girls, and young mothers with infants at the breast. Sprinkled among them were the misfits, the unhappy, the abused, and the unwanted. The scent of prey as helpless as these drew wolves, as well, and their foul motives bore particular and added misery upon the Innocents. But a blessed few God-fearing shepherds also joined and these, moved by compassion and concern, offered what they could in guidance and defense. Noticeably less in numbers seemed to be the sons and daughters of the privileged, for they and their parents, it would be supposed, were content to earn blessings by yielding the service of their bound-servants’ broods. But some of higher birth did enlist, and many of them likewise suffered and died. Of these the German chroniclers made special note as having been bedecked in gray, Cross-emblemed pilgrims’ coats and wide-brimmed hats.
We are told that Stephan’s children followed him through the pleasant lands of central France, over the Rhône near Lyons, through Dauphine and the magnificent countryside of Provence until they reached, at long last, the port city of Marseilles. It is recorded that Stephan became known as “The Prophet” and rode in a fine wagon draped in red banners. Along the way he encouraged and enlarged his surging multitude by preaching and prophesying with the apparent authority of heaven itself. After costly delay, a perplexed king of France finally ordered the legions home, but Stephan and his followers refused.
Chronicles and later generations depict the fair-haired army of little Germans as escorted by “butterfly and bird,” singing the familiar hymn, “Fairest Lord Jesus,” otherwise known as “The Crusaders’ Hymn.” We believe that Nicholas’s vision was to part the Mediterranean Sea at Genoa but we are uncertain of his exact route. The Rev. George Zabriskie Gray in his impressive history,
The Children’s Crusade
, originally published circa 1870, argues that Nicholas’s column traveled west of the Rhine and crossed over the Alps through the popular pass at Mount Cenis into the Piedmont region of modern Italy. From there he believes it followed the Po valley toward Genoa.
Gray and other researchers generally agree, however, that the German children did not follow Nicholas exclusively. The original army had divided, possibly in Cologne, perhaps in Mainz. A dissident group, as many as twenty thousand, chose to travel the east bank of the Rhine. Their sad path is obscured with even more of history’s fog than that of Nicholas’s but it is believed they eventually wandered far from the Rhine and into parts of Swabia before arching southward through the treacherous landscape of eastern Switzerland. Gray contends they then escaped the Alps through the St. Gotthard pass before mysteriously turning southeastward toward the Adriatic Sea.
Considering the nature of both epoch and epic, reasonable conjecture also assumes that lost and confused groups of unattached crusaders as well as independent bands may account for the numerous other claims of fair-haired children emerging from unnamed Alpine passes into Lombardy and moving southwestward toward Genoa. It is these obscured and barely noticed shadows which are the object of the story to follow.
Given the meager and sometimes contradictory reserve of data, it seemed both futile and limiting to constrain this tale to the small portion of things proven. The particular route chosen for this work, though admittedly speculative, is offered to express the event in a way that incorporates an amalgamation of the chronicled experiences endured by the crusaders generally. Though every effort has been made to incorporate facts consistent with what historical data exists, it is not the author’s intent to represent this story as a documentary. It is hoped, rather, that the reader will turn the last page with a firmer grasp of the nature and spirit of this failed enterprise and the world in which it occurred. It is further hoped that the truths offered on this most difficult journey of souls will reach forward in time to touch the deepest recesses of a new century’s heart.