The Knight, the Hermit, and the Pope: Some Problematic Narratives of Early Crusading Piety

The Knight, the Hermit, and the Pope: Some Problematic Narratives of Early Crusading Piety

By Nicholas Paul

Paper given at the 34th International Patristic, Medieval, and Renaissance Conference, held at Villanova University (2009)

Peter the Hermit - First Crusade

Introduction: On 23 December 1095 Pope Urban II set out from the monastery of Uzerche for the city of Limoges, where he would celebrate the Feast of the Nativity. Urban had come to the Limousin as part of his greater journey to southern and western Francia. Earlier in the journey, Urban had stopped in October to dedicate a high altar at the monastery of Cluny in Burgundy and in November to hold a great Church council at Clermont in the Auvergne. On 27 November, after the formal business of the council was concluded, Urban announced plans that he may have been developing with his advisors since a church council in Piacenza the previous March. We cannot know exactly what he said, but it was understood by contemporaries to encompass a great expedition to the East to defeat the enemies of God who at that time threatened the Eastern church and dishonored Christ and to recapture the two holiest sites in Christendom, the Holy Sepulcher and Calvary, from the hands of unbelievers. Urban’s route had presumably been carefully chosen to take him through lands where his words might find the support required by this undertaking. As he traveled, he preached, and in some cases he may have enlisted the help of others to assist him in preaching.

In Limoges Urban repeated his message to an assembled crowd including prelates, members of local religious communities, and members of the lay nobility. As at Clermont, we cannot have any idea of exactly what he said or how many people were actually present, although a number of texts written after the event purport to inform us on both counts. What can be seen quite clearly, however, is that by the following Feast of the Assumption-15 August 1096- many members of the local nobility of the Limousin, including men from the lordships of Bré, Malafaida, Pierre-Buffière, Turenne, Le Breuil, La Chèze, Las Gaydias, Les Murs, La Rivière, Lastours, and La Vue had undertaken to join the expedition. These men came from a region that lacked anything resembling the strong centralized overlordship that could be found by this time in Normandy, Flanders, Anjou, or the Chartrain.

Their participation in the crusade was thus probably not, as it might have been in some areas, deeply influenced by the bonds of military service or obligation that are sometimes called mouvance. Without the focal figure of an overlord who might have supported or assisted them in the preparations for their journey, many of these men probably found themselves in difficult personal and financial situations. How would they raise the money to support themselves for an unknown length of time traveling and fighting abroad? How would their families bear the financial burdens of the subsequent debt and their absence? If, as in some cases, all of the fighting men of the household departed, who would protect their properties and loved ones? These were difficult questions, and we have only partial evidence of how they might have been answered. A much more general question, one that extends beyond the geographic confines of the Limousin and the period between 27 December 1095 and 15 August 1096 is why an individual choose to confront any of these difficulties at all. Why did they go?

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