The Crusades were based upon the firm belief that Jerusalem was entitled to Christian control. Considering the Crusaders’ immense religious fervor, it is no surprise that miracles became a centerpiece of their campaign. These miracles were seen as divine intervention and were used to justify that the Crusader’s mission was also God’s will. Regardless of whether or not the miracles occurred in truth, they had a very real effect on the Crusader’s war effort. At desperate times, miracles of the First Crusade lifted morale among the Crusaders and motivated them to continue, thereby playing a role in their eventual unlikely capture of Jerusalem.
In June 1098, as the army of the First Crusade headed South for Jerusalem, the Crusaders captured the city of Antioch. However, they were soon after besieged by the Turks and Arabs and essentially entrapped in their encampments. As food ran out, the morale of the Crusaders quickly deteriorated. Crusader morale soon improved thanks to an unlikely peasant named Peter Bartholomew, who shared a vision from Saint Andrew with the crusading leaders (“The Discovery of the Holy Lance”).
Allegedly, in this miraculous vision, Saint Andrew told Peter Bartholomew that the Holy Lance—the spear that had pierced Christ’s side on the Cross—could be located in the cathedral of St. Peter in Antioch.
Raymond D’Aguilers provides modern historians with an account of Peter Bartholomew’s alleged words to Count Raymond and the Bishop of Le Puy:
“Andrew, apostle of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ, has recently admonished me a fourth time and has commanded me to come to you and to give back to you, after the city was captured, the Lance which opened the side of the Saviour. To-day, moreover, when I had set out from the city with the rest to battle, and when, caught between two horsemen, I was almost suffocated on the retreat, I sat down sadly upon a certain rock, almost lifeless. When I was reeling like a woe-begone from fear and grief, St. Andrew came to me with a companion, and he threatened me much unless I returned the lance to you quickly.” (Peters, 215)
Understandably, the validity of Peter Bartholomew’s vision and supposed lance has been called into question by modern historians, suggesting that skeptics like the Bishop of Le Puy chose to keep their doubts quiet in hopes of boosting the crusaders’ morale. While this question will remain unsolved, the consequences of Peter Bartholomew’s vision were clear. Bartholomew’s vision and discovery of the Lance served as a pivotal moment during the First Crusade as it inspired the Crusaders to continue their fight for Antioch.
After the victory in the Battle of Antioch, skeptics of Peter Bartholomew’s vision started to make their claims more vocal. Indignant that some of the Crusaders doubted his vision, Peter Bartholomew decided to take the ordeal of fire, whereby he would walk through a large flame with the Holy lance. If it was the Lord’s lance, Bartholomew proclaimed that he would emerge unscathed; if it was a false relic, he would be consumed by fire (Raymond, 100). (3)
On April 8 1099, Good Friday, Peter Bartholomew went through with the ordeal by fire. Large crowds assembled, and two piles of dry olive branches were created with a space of one foot for Peter to walk (Kostick, 38). Then, Peter walked through the flames, with a short pause in the middle during which he claimed Christ spoke to him (Raymond, 100). Peter Bartholomew died within two weeks of the ordeal by fire. His supporters, including Raymond D’Aguilers, claimed that Bartholomew died due to injuries inflicted by the mob after he exited the flame and would have survived otherwise (Raymond, 102). According to Raymond, “The frenzied mob seized him, hoping to touch him or snatch a piece of his clothing. They made gashes on his legs and cracked his backbone” (Raymond, 102). Some Crusaders continued to doubt Peter’s vision, and believed he died of wounds from the fire. However overall, the ordeal by fire was remembered as a miracle and cemented faith in the Holy Lance, thereby bolstering the Crusaders’ beliefs that God was on their side.
Another miracle of the crusade was Peter Desiderius’s vision of Adhemar of Le Puy. This miracle was almost purely physical in the sense that the miracle revolved around the capturing of Jerusalem, despite overwhelming odds. When the Crusaders arrived to Jerusalem they were low on food and water, and worn down by their four-year crusade in the Middle East. The Crusader’s initial attack on Jerusalem was repelled and the Crusaders saw massive casualties. It was at this point that many Crusaders were discussing abandoning the first Crusade and returning home. They felt they lacked proper siege equipment as well as the physical forces to capture Jerusalem. Then came forth Peter Desiderius, who spoke of a vision in which Adhemar of Le Puy told how the Crusaders could retake Jerusalem. Peter Desiderius said that the Crusaders needed to turn their back on sin and perform a barefoot procession around the two and a half mile wall around Jerusalem (Raymond, 127-139).
This was particularly important because it presented an opportunity for the Crusaders to cleanse themselves of their prior hardships and loss, and renew their standing with God. All the bad omens and losses of the pass could be dissociated with the campaign to take Jerusalem. The Crusaders performed the procession, and with their renewed fervor launched an attack against the city. The Crusaders managed to take Jerusalem despite all odds and in an extraordinarily short amount of time. Mainly accounts of the Jerusalem attest this miraculous victory to the procession that the Crusaders took around Jerusalem, and it would seem that it would be partially true. The physical efforts undertaken by the Crusaders was remarkable, including the moving of heavy siege equipment long distances in merely days.
Peter Bartholomew’s vision, his ordeal by fire, and Peter Desiderius’s vision of Adhemar of Le Puy were three of many miracles of the First Crusade. Like the others, each of these miracles came at times of great need, and helped to boost morale among the Crusaders. In doing this, the miracles had tangible impact on the Crusader war effort.
Cavendish, Richard. “The Discovery of the Holy Lance.” History Today 48.6 (1998): n. pag.
Hill, John Hugh, and Laurita Lyttleton Hill. Raymond D’Aguilers Historia Francirum qui ceperunt Iherusalem: Translated with introduction and notes by John Hugh Hill and Laurita L. Hill. American Philosophical Society, 1968.
Kostick, Conor. The Trial by Fire of Peter Bartholomew: a Case Study in Medieval Social Conflict. Leiderchrift, 2012.
Materials (The Middle Ages Series). Second. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998. Print.
Peter Bartholomew Undergoing an Ordeal by fire, illustration from William of Tyre’s Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum (“History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea”).
Peters, Edward. The First Crusade: “The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres” and Other Source.
Schnetz, Jean Victor. Procession of Crusaders Around Jerusalem. Chateau de Versailles, France.