Children's Crusade Debacle - Part 2
The Children's Crusade
The Crusade Takes Root
The tale begins in the province of Orlèannais, about 20 miles west of Orleans where the valley of the Loir widens and between the hills, and the village of Cloyes sits. It is here a 12-year-old shepherd boy lived; mature beyond his years.
When in the city of Chârtres on St. Marks Day, April 25, Stephen’s zeal was aroused. He witnessed the procession popularly called the day of the “Black Crosses,” a processional litany instituted by Gregory the Great during the ravages of the plague. The emotions of the day worked powerfully to create in him a passion to play a part in the expulsion of the hated Mohammedans from the land of Christ.
A short time later Stephen, resting in his shepherd’s hovel, received a call, which changed the face of Europe. George Zabriskie Gray, who wrote “The Children ’ s Crusade ,” gives this accounting,
Quote "A stranger, claiming he was a returned pilgrim from Palestine, asked for food. Stephen could not refuse one who had been where he longed to be. He asked of the brave heroes who had fallen in battle. Readily the stranger complied, telling him that which delighted his ears. Having thus gained an influence over the boy, he announced himself to be Jesus Christ, commissioning Stephen to preach a Crusade to the children, promising that with Stephen as leader and prophet, they should win the victory, which soldiers and nobles had failed to gain. He was also given a letter for the King of France, commanding the monarch to furnish aid to the new enterprise."
(The Chron. Anon . of Laon relates this interview of Stephen with Christ, showed the letter, which the Savior gave him. The explanation suggested was that Stephen was duped by a priest who found him ready to believe such a thing, and ardent enough to assume the charge. There must have been an incident of some kind to put it into the boy’s head to undertake such a mission. He showed some letter as proof of his call, which he never could have written, nor anyone else in Cloyes; it was clearly the work of an ecclesiastic, which confirms the above story.)
Soon in every region of the land, Stephen’s mission was known and 30,000 children began to dream of terrestrial fame and celestial glory
The hysterics soon reached a village near Cologne, Germany. There Nicholas, a child about ten years old, coached and spurred forward by an ambitious father, also began to preach the crusade claiming he also had received a call. As Cologne was within the limits of the Rhine and the land of Burgundy, the commotion was greater than in France. Within just a few weeks, an army of approximately 60,000 children had gathered at Cologne.
There were many more girls with the German pilgrims and a larger contingent of nobility thereby reducing somewhat the numbers of disreputable vagabonds and prostitutes. The excitement had run through the upper class of Cologne being a large and imperial city. Cologne is said to have lost so many sons on whom hopes were placed that the effects of the movement were felt for a long time after it died away.
Due to the length and nature of this article, it is impossible to go into detail regarding the experience these vulnerable children had on their journey. Henry Firth gives a nutshell description in In the Brave Days of Old: the Story of the Crusaders of the sad endings to the crusade:
“The bands marched towards the [Holy Land], singing; and when asked wither they went, declared that they were “going to Jerusalem to deliver the Sepulcher of the Lord.” They had been told to expect a miracle, and that the Mediterranean would dry up and afford them safe passage.
Hundreds of children perished, lost in gloomy forests; or frozen on treacherous Alpine paths; or overcome by fatigue and hunger, fell to die miserably by the way. The residue struggled on and gained the sea, which had not dried up. They then embarked on deceptively provided ships; hundreds were shipwrecked; hundreds more sold as slaves to Saracens; and many boldly endured torture and the martyr’s death, rather than renounce the faith which had carried them across Europe to die!”