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The Holy Lance of Antioch: A Study on the Impact of a Perceived Relic During the First Crusade

The Holy Lance of Antioch: A Study on the Impact of a Perceived Relic During the First Crusade

By Marius Kjørmo

Master’s Thesis, University of Bergen, 2009

Introduction: The Crusades are by many viewed as a symbol of the ultimate clash between different cultures. Now, more than 900 years after Pope Urban II held his famous council at Clermont in 1095, students of history still flock to the sources in an attempt to understand the complexity of a movement that far exceeded Urban’s visions when he declared that all men who fell on the road to, or in combat against the Turks who had attacked the Christians in the East, would get full absolution for their sins. As I am sure most social anthropologists can confirm, it is often when confronted with a different culture that one learns more of its own. This is undoubtedly true also of the first crusade, and this is the motivation behind this thesis. What can be learned from the Christian men and women who travelled 3000 miles from their homes in search of adventure, personal glory and wealth, and absolution in the eyes of God? The role of religion will play an important part in this thesis. There is no doubt that most men and women who took the cross were God-fearing people.

However, just by browsing the source material one cannot fail to notice the disagreements between the crusaders on exactly how God’s will were manifested in the events that took place on the arduous journey from the heart of Europe to the holiest place in all of Christendom, Jerusalem. Another interesting aspect revealed by the sources is the political strife which existed between the crusaders. The crusaders were drawn from all over Europe and after uniting outside Nicea in early June 1097, the only thing which kept the crusaders as one united body was their belief in God and their common distaste of what they considered to be pagans. But what happens when religion, their unifying factor, becomes a point of debate, or even a tool in the power struggle between the different leaders of the crusade?

This thesis attempts to focus on this point of intersection, where the lines between politics and religion become blurred and where the two spheres slide into one another. At no time during the first crusade is this better exemplified than during the siege, capture, and battle of Antioch. Not only were the struggles at Antioch a pivotal moment for the expedition, it is also here that we first encounter stories of visions which would subsequently influence crusading politics. Antioch is also the site for perhaps the most controversial event on the entire crusade; the discovery of the Holy Lance. The story of how the Holy Lance was uncovered, the effect it had on the crusaders and how it was interpreted by contemporary witnesses, medieval chroniclers and modern historians alike, will be the main focal point for this thesis. As will be seen, this is a subject where neither the contemporary sources nor modern historians agree on what actually happened and to what extent the supposed relic lead to the subsequent triumph of God’s army.

The main focus of this thesis is the Holy Lance discovered at Antioch in the summer of 1098 by Peter Bartholomew, centered on the question: what was the impact of the Lance to the first crusade? To be able to answer this question we must examine the story of the Lance, from the reported visions that led to its discovery, to the ordeal of fire where it mostly disappears from the sources. We will have to take into account the gallery of people involved in this story, especially Peter Bartholomew, Raymond d’Aguilers, Raymond of Toulouse, Bohemond of Taranto and Bishop Adhemar of le Puy.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Bergen

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