Dr. John Hannah on the Crusades

We normally restrict the word 'crusade' to denote the enormous European military operations from 1095 to 1291 to mitigate the oppression of the Islamic faith in the Middle East and in particular to rescue holy sites in Palestine from desecration. This begs the question, what constitutes a holy site? For the first 300 years of church history, prior to the conversion of Constantine, there were no pilgrimages. Constantine’s mother, Helen, a genuine convert, visited Palestine and located places mentioned in Scripture (some incorrectly) which then attracted pilgrimages.

Typically, there are eight crusades. The earlier crusades took the land route and have been dubbed the most successful failures of human history; the latter crusades take the sea.

At the first Lateran council, Pope Innocent III initiated the first crusade to overcome the tyranny of Islamic infidels. Soldiers who lost their lives in this cause were promised eternal life and care for their families. Many of them in fact offered property to the church in exchange for care over their souls and their families. Thirty thousand people travelled by land to recapture Tiberius. These Europeans, unaccustomed to the heat, wore heavy armor, travelled on horses and didn't perform well in battle. Saladin caught them on the plateau of Tiberius and burned them, massacring all thirty thousand in a stunning defeat.

The second crusade was occasioned by the fall of Odesa and initiated by Bernard of Clairveaux, a mystic, though he himself probably didn’t go. Calvin, incidentally, always quoted Bernard favorably and thought he was a Protestant before his time. The third crusade, the most famous of them all, was occasioned by the fall of the kingdom of Jerusalem to Saladin and was led by Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, Philip II of France and Richard the Lionheart who ultimately couldn't reclaim the city, but were able to negotiate access for pilgrimages. The fifth crusade was initiated by Francis of Assissi who joined the crusaders. The last crusade occured in 1291 when the Europeans were in some decisive manner kicked out of Palestine.

The most disheartening is the Children's crusade of 1212. It was led by a 16 year old lad by the name of Steven who claimed, on account of a vision, that he could accomplish by a miracle what previous crusaders couldn’t. Thirty thousand young people joined him, believing they could travel down the boot of Italy only to have God part the Mediterranean sea before them so they could march into Palestine. They got down the boot, but the Sea didn’t part. Two merchants, Hugh the Iron and William the Pig (oddly enough), promised them safe passage to Palestine by Sea and subsequently sold them into Islamic slavery.

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