Deus lo Volt!: Chronicle of the Crusadesby Evan S. Connell
A magisterial work of historical imaginationa stunningly immediate, first-person account of one soldier's experience of the defining war of Christendom God wills it! The year is 1095. Thousands of men, including many of the leaders of the Christian world, have assembled in a meadow in France near Clermont. Pope Urban appeals for the liberation of Jerusalem and… See more details below
A magisterial work of historical imaginationa stunningly immediate, first-person account of one soldier's experience of the defining war of Christendom God wills it! The year is 1095. Thousands of men, including many of the leaders of the Christian world, have assembled in a meadow in France near Clermont. Pope Urban appeals for the liberation of Jerusalem and the people shout, Deus lo volt! The cry is taken up, echoes forth, is carried on. The crusades have begun. Wave upon wave of Christian pilgrims assault the growing power of the Muslims in the Holy Landand will do so for the next two hundred years. Most able men become soldiers of the Cross, and many of their women fight alongside them. It is a time of great adventure-of great exploration and cultural change. Uniting Christian Europe in a common cause, the crusades defined forever the spirit of the West.
The San Francisco Chronicle
- Counterpoint Press
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Read an Excerpt
In the year of our Lord 1189 my father's father, Geoffrey, died at the siege of Acre. That was before my birth. My uncles, Robert and Geoffrey, also took the cross. Robert accompanied Gautier de Brienne to Apulia, there ascending gloriously to God. King Richard of England honored my uncle Geoffrey, giving leave to quarter his arms with the Plantagenet lion. Geoffrey embraced our Savior during the battle of Kalaat al-Horn. This, too, happened before my time. My father, Simon, fought at Troyes and at Carcassonne to cleanse the earth of Albigensian heretics. Also, my father journeyed to Egypt where he fought valorously beneath the walls of Damietta. I, myself, when I returned from oversea, brought back the shield of my uncle Geoffrey to hang in the church of Saint Laurent at Joinville in order that men might pray for its owner, that his fame might not perish. There I placed a tablet upon which I had inscribed a tribute to the deeds of my illustrious family, both at home and while on pilgrimage.
Lord God, show mercy to the seigneurs of Joinville at rest in this place. Show mercy to one who, by Your grace, founded and built for You the abbey of Écurie, the abbey of Jouvillier, the house of Mathons, the priory of Le Val d'Onne, so that all descended from him may find themselves in Your presence, believing that he who builds the house of God on earth builds for himself a house in heaven.
How do such things come to pass? By the grace of providence two centuries ago Étienne Devaux, having grown wealthy on this land, espoused the Comtesse de Joigny. As her marriage portion she brought the fief so named, including various profitable manors. It was Étienne who built Joinville castle. I am myself descended from this man through my father's second wife, Béatrice de Bourgogne. I was betrothed to Alicia, daughter of Comte Henri de Grand Pré, during the lifetime of my parents, articles of marriage being agreed to in the month of June, 1231. Also, through the marriage of my great-grandfather to Félicité de Brienne was the house of Joinville allied with the twelfth king of Jerusalem. Therefore, I, Jean, speak as the present lord of a family distinguished throughout Champagne. May that suffice.
* * *
Long ago near the village of Amiens lived a hermit called Peter, reputed to be from northern Gaul, diminutive, ill favored, with a gloomy countenance bonier than that of the donkey he rode, eyes so liquid and brilliant that some declared him lunatic. I have heard he was a soldier before assuming the cowl. Yet I have heard he was a distinguished scholar of noble lineage, mentor to Count Baldwin and Duke Godfrey. Syria, Hungary, Spain, Germany, and other countries now claim to be the land of his birth. Abbot Guibert de Nogent, who heard him preach, speaks of crowds glorifying Peter as a saint, urging gifts upon him. Whatever he was offered he refused or distributed among the poor. From village to village he wandered, homespun tunic flapping at his heels, bare feet embellished with dirt, regally crowned with a pointed hood. Neither bread nor meat did he accept, but lived on fish and wine. Those who gathered to hear him preach fought to pluck hairs from the tail of his donkey to worship as relics since the gullible covet novelties to assuage their need. Also, it is said that prostitutes who clustered around him would eschew their lewdness and, weeping, return to their husbands.
Ancient documents relate that he visited Jerusalem where he spoke with the patriarch Simon who told him of Christians held captive, holy sites dishonored. Peter wept, the blood boiled in his veins. He vowed to request audience with His Holiness Urban. Therefore the patriarch wrote a letter, sealed with his seal, which he gave to the hermit. And that evening Peter went to pray for courage at the church of the Holy Sepulcher but fell asleep on the floor. Christ appeared, telling him to rise up. Then down to the port he hastened, embarked, and sailed to Bari whence he proceeded to Rome. So much do chronicles assert. Some think he did not complete the journey since he was maltreated by infidel Turks and obliged to turn back. How much is true, God knows. Certain it is that Bishop Lietbert of Cambrai got no closer to Jerusalem than Laodicea because of abuse. There he with his entourage met Bishop Helinand who was returning and drew such a loathsome picture of what to expect that they quit the pilgrimage. And it is known that Abbot Géraud de Saint-Florent-les-Saumur fell among misbelievers who tortured him to death. Hence there can be no doubt that Christians oversea were harshly treated by enemies of the light. Babylonian. Turk. Arab. Still, what could dissuade them from reflecting upon that land where the Savior lived out His earthly life? What could prevent their feet from seeking that hallowed ground where once He preached the Gospel? For that is the essential of Christian life, to deny one's self in search of another and greater self.
That the Holy City lay in bondage could not be questioned. Clots of earth, dung, all manner of filth was hurled through windows of Christian homes. Daughters and sons of Christians were abducted, defiled, festivals prohibited. Yet these iniquitous pagans, dissatisfied with the boundaries of Arabia and Syria, traveled north to menace Europe. Thousands were slain in the Armenian capital of Ani and a cross surmounting the cathedral was melted to make a brick, set at the door of a mosque for infidels to step upon. Thus affronted, who could doubt the surpassing fury of God?
His Holiness Urban, moved by inexpressible pity, crossed the Alps to Gaul in the year of our Lord 1095. At Clermont he met with the principal barons of France, entreating them to aid their brethren in the East. Present were three hundred abbots and bishops. For seven days they conferred while snow lay thickly on the ground. It is not I who beseeches you, he told them. It is Christ who commands. And during those days His Holiness excommunicated the bishop of Cambrai for simony. If this were not enough, he excommunicated King Philip for adultery with Comtesse Bertrade d'Anjou, a sentence of such inflexibility that all were astonished, making them at once fear and love a pastor so vindictive.
From many leagues came citizens high and low to see the pontiff, to hear his message. Those unable to find lodging put up tents. We are told that the fields near Clermont resembled a military encampment. Peter the hermit was seen, albeit chronicles from those days disagree as to whether he spoke.
All in good time His Holiness came forth, attended by cardinals and bishops, a tall man robed in white. When he lifted his hands the multitude fell silent. He spoke with sweet and persuasive eloquence.
O, Frankish men, in how many ways has our Lord blessed you. How fertile is your land. How steadfast your faith. How indisputable your courage. To you, accordingly, do we address our brief. We wish you to know what just and grievous cause has brought us hence. We hear ominous tidings. We hear of a malevolent race withdrawn from the communion of our belief. Turks, Persians, Arabs, accursed, estranged from God, that have laid waste by fire and sword to the walls of Constantinople, to the Arm of Saint George. Until now Constantinople was our bulwark, our rampart. Now it stands disfigured, imperiled. How many churches have these enemies of God polluted, torn asunder? We hear of altars desecrated by filth from Turkish bodies. We hear of true believers circumcised, the blood of circumcision poured into baptismal fonts. What can we say to you? Turks stable their horses in churches. Misbelievers force Christians to kneel and bow their heads, awaiting the stroke of the sword. Turks ravish Christian women. They ravish Christian children. What more can we say? Think of pilgrims who crossed the sea, obligated to pay toll at the gate to every city, at the entrance to every church. How often are they falsely accused, humiliated? Those who trusted in poverty, how are they met? They are searched for hidden coins. Calluses on their heels are slit in search of coins. They are given scammony to drink until they vomit, until their bowels burst, while Turks examine what they disgorge. O, listen. Turks cut apart the bellies of Christians, slice apart their entrails so that what nature held secret must be disclosed. Turks perforate the navels of God's servants, pull forth and bind their intestines to stakes, lead them about while viscera discolor the earth. They pierce Christians with arrows, flog the suffering. What else can we say? What more shall be said? To whom, therefore, does the task of vengeance fall, if not to you? Are not these your brethren in Christ? O, Frankish men, are you not girdled knights? Step forward. Ye who have turned against one another, who cultivate fraternal strife, step forward. Ye who have been thieves, become soldiers. Be you now armed with the sign of the cross and step forth to battle enemies of our Lord. Let no obstacle dissuade you. Let controversy slumber. Let no possession detain you, nor family solicitude. Recall the words of thy blessed Savior. Whosoever shall abandon for my name's sake his house, or his brethren, or his sisters, or his father, or his mother, or his wife, or his children, or his property, shall receive a hundredfold and shall inherit everlasting life. If the Maccabees of ancient days earned glory because they fought for the Temple, likewise are you granted this opportunity to rescue the Cross, the Blood, the Tomb. In the past have you not waged unmeet war? Have you not ingloriously struggled toward mutual destruction? Avarice and pride directed you. For this you deserve damnation, perpetual death. Yet now we offer redemption, the reward of holy martyrdom. O, ye Franks. Palestine is a land flowing with milk and honey, precious in the sight of God, a place to be divided. Therefore we call upon you. Wrest from that accursed race the promised land, Jerusalem, fruitful above other lands, center of the earth, made illustrious by His sojourn, consecrated by His passion, redeemed by His death, glorified by His burial. The way is short, the struggle brief. Fear not. Fear not torture wherein lies the martyr's crown. A bed awaits you in Paradise. Fear not death wherein lies everlasting glory. Angels will present your souls to God. Now see before you, leading, guiding, He who is invisible, eternal. Therefore march assured in expiation of your sin. Go assured that after this world you shall know imperishable glory in the world to come. Let the host of the Lord rush against His foe. Let whoever would liberate Jerusalem bear the cross of our Lord on his breast or on his brow until he sets forth. And when he shall return from the journey, having fulfilled his vow, let him fix that holy emblem between his shoulders in memory of Christ who preceded him. Let him cover his shoulders with the mark of our redemption. Now may the army of God cry against His enemies.
Deus lo volt! Deus lo volt! Deus lo volt!
And the shout rang across the meadow. God wills it! We are told that while Pope Urban addressed the multitude an apparition of the Holy City glowed in the sky above his head. Does not a certain order embrace all things?
Bishop Adhémar of Le Puy knelt before the pontiff, asking leave to go. His Holiness decreed that Bishop Adhémar should go and rule the host. This was as it should be. Nine years earlier he had made the pilgrimage and now was first to accept the cross.
Next came envoys from Raymond, count of Toulouse, half-Spanish through his mother, Princess Almodis of Barcelona. He was fifty-three years old, scarred by ancient wounds, had lost one eye battling the Moors. Count Raymond would undertake the journey, his blue standard leading Provence mountaineers with saddles fashioned from soft Córdoba leather, reins weighted with gold ornament. He would bring his youthful wife Elvira, princess of Aragon, and their newly born son. Thus would they journey toward another life, realizing that duty imposed by Holy Scripture which bids us transcend the self.
News of this assembly at Clermont traveled across Europe faster than swift horsemen, more quickly than fire consuming a parched field. To the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Germany, Italy, hamlet to village to city. Thousands rushed to take the cross, noble and commonage. Ironsmith, groom, villein, carter, fletcher, knave, chandler, monk, fisherman, cleric, teacher, young, old, thieves absolved of crime through papal edict, debtors released from claims of creditors rising from the abyss of misery, touched by the light, impelled to take up arms against enemies of the Lord. Two brothers from Provence, Guy and Geoffrey de Signes, accepted the cross for the grace of pilgrimage, as they declared, but also to quench that immoderate madness wherein Christians are oppressed, made captive, slaughtered with barbaric fury. Since the creation of the world what has occurred so marvelous as this exodus toward Jerusalem? Abbot Guibert de Nogent disclosed how the Savior instituted holy war that all might find a new path to salvation.
Portents of divine favor blazed overhead. Mounted warriors, infidel and Christian, battled with fiery swords. Stars hurtled earthward, each a dying pagan. Clouds redder than blood darted to the zenith. In the east a comet was observed changing place by sudden leaps. A child was born with double limbs, another with three heads. A woman two years pregnant bore a child that knew how to speak. A foal emerged from its dam with uncommonly large teeth. Here and there people repeated what others said, that Charlemagne would rise from his grave to lead this army of the Lord.
Does not a wheel turn slowly at first? Now faster, faster. Knights mortgaged their estates, great or small, farmers sold their plows, artisans their tools, each after his fashion preparing to liberate the Holy Land. Some who felt reluctant or undecided got unwelcome gifts to express contempt, a knitting needle, a distaff. Meanwhile the clerics of France distributed swords, staves, pilgrim wallets. Yet dissident whispers and murmurs could be heard. How have Saracens troubled us? Why take arms against strangers that neither harry nor bait us? But these skeptics did not think rightly or they would perceive how everywhere Christianity lay wounded by Saracen misbelief.
As to women, thousands employed smoking hot iron in the form of a cross to sear themselves on the breast and stained their wound with red ointment. Whether burnt in flesh or cut from silk or woven gold to exhibit on mantles, tunics, cassocks, was it not appropriate that Christ's servants be thus identified? Since they made themselves known under this acknowledgment of faith did they not in truth acquire that Cross of which they bore the symbol? This emblem they adopted as a sign of pious intent and does not good intent warrant the accomplishment of good work?
How many pilgrims left home? Who counts the grains of wheat in a field? From mist-shrouded uplands came Scots clothed in shaggy skins, legs bare, each with his fleas and sack of victual. Now here came the Welshman out of his forest, the Dane who would forswear drinking to make a pilgrimage, the Northman turning his back on raw fish. From strange distant lands came unfamiliar men to disembark at Frankish ports, bawling a language so foreign that, unable to make themselves understood, they laid two fingers in the form of a cross to show in default of words how they wished to join this expedition. Many western Franks left home without regret because of civil war, famine, and plague spreading from the church of Saint Gertrude de Nivelle. Even today there is no help for this plague, which burns like fire until the victim must give up the afflicted part or his life. Neither leech nor physic nor corrective is any use, proof of sovereign displeasure.
Thousands marched toward Amiens lightly provisioned, crudely armed, taut with desire to swarm about Peter the little hermit, joyful and pious, eager to follow. They are said to have been ripe with laughter, full of badinage so confident were they, numerous as pebbles at a beach, fearless in their numbers, peregrini Christi. They busied themselves cutting scarlet crosses for their tunics while he preached. Yet what were these innocents who expected to vanquish a Saracen horde? Hapless peasants, mock monks, halegrins, ribalds, druggists, pick-thanks, beribboned harlots, sodomites, magicians, catamites, those with hairless shanks, cripples that begged a sou from the porch at Notre-Dame, those who chanted hymns for centimes and threw mad fits, night strollers.
How impatient to liberate Jerusalem were they? Frankish barons fixed the month of August for departure. But this shoal of blind fish, this bawling herd of misbegotten witlings refused to wait. Villeins fitted oxen with shoes as though shoeing knightly chargers, harnessed lumbering steeds to carts heaped with possessions until they might be taken for hayricks alive with children. In April they set forth to crush a pagan host, unwary lambs bleating on the track of their pastor.
Having marched to the land of Alemanni they were scorned as country folk loosed by folly, striving after uncertainties in lieu of certainty, having left for naught the places of their birth. And the children spying some village or castle would ask if it might be Jerusalem.
Easter Sunday they reached Cologne where again Peter stopped to preach. Some who felt impatient rode on, breeding disorder, looting, murdering. They assaulted a fortress but were hurled back. Some drowned while attempting to retreat. Others lost heart, withered by shame, and began walking toward Gaul, starved, penniless. Yet others sharply inveighed against a march on Jerusalem when all about lived those despicable enemies of Christ, Jews. Hence they searched out Jews, preceded by a she-goat and a goose. According to many, such creatures have been animated by God to identify unbelievers. Could this be the judgment of our Lord, or an egregious error of the mind? Israelites were led into captivity on account of numerous sins they committed, their term of deliverance fixed at one hundred years. Yet they had been held captive for centuries in divers places, which argues they have sinned past computation.
By the coat of our Lord may Israel be understood. As Jacob's coat was closer to him than any other garment, so at one time was the faith of Israel closer to God than any other. Yet the Jews tore apart His garment. Now, just as a furious man shreds his coat, throwing one shred this way, another that way, so did our Lord angrily cast aside the Jews, scattered them. While Christians labor to purify churches and establish truth, Jews look to wicked ritual, circumcision, abstinence from pork.
Documents relate that Peter still preached at Cologne when Count Emich of Leisengen marched against Spier. A noble of low repute, a brigand, Emich burned a cross into his flesh. They say he felt inspired by the hermit. Also, he thought a display of religious fervor might put something in his pocket. However it was, at Spier he found the Jews sheltered by a Christian bishop. Nevertheless he rounded up ten or twelve, despatching them on the point of a sword since they would not gainsay their faith. Chronicles allege that a particular Jewess stabbed herself to avoid being taken by Germans. Later the bishop arrested several of Emich's men and chopped off their hands. Did our Lord's eye turn cloudy and dark?
Next to the city of Worms. It is said these Jews not long previous had drowned a Christian and kept his body in a cistern, poisoning the water, so quite rightly they feared the arrival of Count Emich. Soon enough he came knocking at the gate. His soldiers abetted by townsfolk stormed the Judengasse, which is to say Jews' Lane, butchered every Jew in sight, cutting them down like a reaper with his sickle, destroyed the synagogue, ripped apart rolls of the Torah to mock and litter the street. Meschulam bar Isaac snatched up his infant son, telling his wife he would offer the child to God. She implored him to kill her first. He would not. First he stabbed the child, then his wife. And a certain Isaac known as the son of Daniel was caught while leaving home, dragged to church, spitting, cursing, a rope around his neck. You may yet be saved, said Emich's men. Do you accept Jesus Christ? He refused to speak, or could not because of the rope, and motioning with one finger told them to lop off his head, which they did. In that city one thousand perished.
Count Emich moved north to Mainz. These Jews were terrified, knowing what happened at Spier and Worms. Two Israelites walking toward the synagogue heard ghosts praying, clear proof that all were doomed. They begged Archbishop Rothard to save them, slipped him two hundred silver marks and left Jewish treasure for him to protect. Therefore he shut the gates against Count Emich.
Mysteriously the gates opened. So all at once the courtyard of Archbishop Rothard sparkled with German lances. Emich's men hunted out those who crucified our Savior. Israelites draped fringed prayer shawls about their shoulders, huddled submissively, among them Rabbi Isaac ben Moses, renowned as a scholar, who was first to stretch out his neck, hastening to fulfill the intent of his Creator as if he did not wish to live another moment. Thus he met the blade. Willingly did these Jews accept the judgment of heaven and made no effort to escape, not while stones were flung at them, not while arrows struck. Those in the courtyard, one and all, took their final steps.
Others less devout rushed toward the palace for safety, entrusted their lives to Archbishop Rothard. But he did not like the look of things since he had been the their spokesman and took to his heels, fled to his villa near Rüdesheim.
Excerpted from Deus lo Volt! by Evan S. Connell. Copyright © 2000 by Evan Connell. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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