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The capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders (1099)

The declaration of the First Crusade by Pope Urban II for the liberation of the Holy Land was presented and promoted as “God wills it” (Latin: Deus vult). Those who participated in it secured the suspension of their debts, the protection of their property, even the absolution of their sins, resulting in the public’s immediate response. Some participated out of religious ardour and love for God, others to have their debts written off, others for the adventure and still others to make a fortune and benefit from expected looting.

In May 1097 throngs of Crusaders gathered in Constantinople and with the assistance of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos crossed over to the coast of Asia Minor. Three months later they arrived at the coast of Syria and for nine months besieged glorious Antioch. On 3 June 1098 the city fell into the hands of the Crusaders and a merciless massacre of its Muslim residents ensued.

 

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The Massacre of Antioch in an engraving by Paul Jonnard,
based on an illustration by Gustave Doré (Paris, 1877).


The next destination and the goal of the entire expedition was Jerusalem. On 7 June 1099, 12,000 foot soldiers and 1,500 cavalrymen arrived outside the walls of the Holy City. After 40 days of siege, on 15 July 1099, the Crusaders took the city and perpetrated yet another violent massacre of the Muslim residents, as well as of the few Jews, who were burned alive in their synagogue. In an atmosphere of frenzy and insanity, even young children were slaughtered by those who supposedly served the God of Love.

 

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The Damascus Gate of Jerusalem. The part of the wall to the left of the gate was the only vulnerable spot in the city’s entire fortifications due to the downward slope of the ground. The Crusaders entered the city from here.


The terrible massacre is described by various chroniclers who were present. One of these, Fulcher, relates the following:

"Nearly ten thousand were beheaded in this Temple. If you had been there your feet would have been stained to the ankles in the blood of the slain. None of them were left alive. They did not spare the women and children."1

The description by Willian of Tyre is similar:

"It was not alone the spectacle of the headless bodies and mutilated limbs strewn in all directions that roused horror in all who looked upon them. Still more dreadful it was to gaze upon the victors themselves, dripping with blood from head to foot, an ominous sight which brought terror to all who met them."2

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Left, the Crusaders’ invasion of Jerusalem and, right, their entrance into the Church of the Resurrection amidst the slaughtered Muslims. Engravings by Albert Doms and Paul Jonnard, respectively, based on illustrations by Gustave Doré (Paris, 1877).

 

The same events are also described by the chronicler and priest Raymond d’ Agiles:

"The amount of blood that they shed on that day is incredible... Some of our men (and this was more merciful) cut off the heads of their enemies… others tortured them longer by casting them into the flames…Piles of heads, hands, and feet were to be seen in the streets of the city. But these were small matters compared to what happened at the Temple of Solomon. What happened there? If I tell the truth, it will exceed your powers of belief. So let it suffice to say this much, at least, that in the Temple and porch of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins. Indeed, it was a just and splendid judgment of God that this place should be filled with the blood of the unbelievers... The city was filled with corpses and blood."3

The way in which the merciless massacre was treated by the Latin priest seems inhuman. He deemed that the disembowelment of powerless people and young children, whose only fault was to live in that city, was the splendid and just judgment of God. It is inconceivable that such a position is expressed by a priest.

This viewpoint alone reflects the sick ideology that prevailed among the ranks of the Crusaders. It also reflects the dominant ideology of the Papal Church at that time, according to which the soul of a Muslim or other unbeliever was already condemned or lost, and consequently his life had no particular value either way. This ideology and the massacres it engendered prompted Sir Steven Runciman to characterize the Crusades as a sin against the Holy Ghost.4

We have laid particular emphasis on the repulsive crimes that were performed during the fall of Jerusalem and the brutalities of the Crusade because, as we shall ascertain next, these abominable acts, which also continued in the following years, had a direct impact on the miracle of the Holy Fire.

 

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The massacre of the Muslims at the mosque of Caesarea on 17 May 1101 in an engraving by Paul Jonnard, after Gustave Doré, for the 1877 Paris edition of J. Michaud, Histoire des Croisades. When the Crusaders captured the port of Caesarea they had permission from King Baldwin I to act as they wished. Thousands of Palestinian residents of the city fled to the large mosque, where they were mercilessly slaughtered.

 

After the fall of Jerusalem in July 1099, Godfrey of Bouillon was declared leader of the city but refused to be crowned King in the city where Jesus Christ had been crowned with the crown of thorns. He settled for the humble title “Defender of the Holy Sepulchre.”

The Greek Patriarch Symeon, who had been banished by the Muslims to Cyprus, returned to his post. However, the Latin leaders forbad him to celebrate the liturgy in the Church of the Resurrection and forced him to leave the city once again.

On 1 August 1099, Arnulf of Chocques was the first Latin to be appointed Patriarch of Jerusalem. Raymond d’Agiles noted that his ordination was irregular because Arnulf became patriarch without even being a sub-deacon and was also condemned for his incontinent life, to the point that vulgar songs were composed about him.5

In December 1099 Arnulf was replaced by Daimbert, the archbishop of Pisa, who had reached the Holy Land in the summer of 1099 as head of a fleet of 120 ships. King Godfrey had great need of this fleet, a fact which put Daimbert in a very powerful position.

On Holy Saturday of the year 1100 Daimbert was the first Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem to be made head of the Holy Fire ceremony. Even though the rite was performed in the usual manner, now for the first time the Holy Fire did not appear. The rite was prolonged for several additional hours, the supplications were repeated, but to no avail. The Latin priests realized that their actions were not sanctioned byGod and ordered the Crusaders to confess their sins, and above all the massacres they had committed during the capture of Jerusalem. After this long procedure, as we are informed by the French historian Guibert, and when the night had nearly fallen, the Holy Fire appeared.

The following Holy Saturday, however, on 20 April 1101, for the first time in the history of the city, the Holy Fire did not appear at all. The Latin priests realized for the second consecutive year that they did not have the approval of God and the residents of the city were alarmed.

The next morning, Easter Sunday, they still continued their invocations, but the Holy Fire still did not appear. The Latin clergy decided to leave the church and the Greek priests with the Syrian Orthodox priests seized the opportunity and started the rite again on their own. And then, something unexpected happened.

But let us allow the chroniclers to describe to us these surprising events. It is extremely rare for an event, which took place at a religious rite nine centuries ago, to be recorded by eight chroniclers. Included among these are the three French chroniclers Fulcher, Bartolf and Guibert, the German Ekkehard, the Italian Caffaro, the Englishman William of Malmesbury, the Armenian Matthew of Edessa and one anonymous Frenchman (the author of Codex L). So let us travel back in time and take a look at the events through the narratives of these eight men.

 

Notes:

1. Fulcher of Chartres, A History of the Expedition to Jerusalem 1095–1127, ed. H. Fink, 1.27, Knoxville 1969, pp. 121–122.

2. Willian of Tyre, A History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea, trans. E.A. Babcock and A.C. Krey, New York 1943.

3. Raymond de Agiles, Historia Francorum qui ceperunt Iherusalem [History of the Francs who captured Jerusalem], trans. A.C. Krey, The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eyewitnesses and Participants, Princeton 1921, pp. 260–261.

4. S. Runciman, A History of the Crusades, Cambridge 1951–4, vol. 3, p. 480: “The Holy War itself was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is the sin against the Holy Ghost.”

5. Raymond d’Agiles, op. cit., p. 264: “At this time, Arnulf, chaplain of the Count of Normandy, was chosen Patriarch by some, the good clergy opposing it not only because he was not a subdeacon, but especially because he was of priestly birth and was accused of incontinence on our expedition, so much so that they shamelessly composed vulgar songs about him.”

 
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