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History of the Christian Church, Volume V: The Middle Ages. A.D. 1049-1294.
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§ 54. The Children’s Crusades.


"The rich East blooms fragrant before us;

All Fairy-land beckons us forth,

We must follow the crane in her flight o’er the main,

From the posts and the moors of the North."

Charles Kingsley, The Saint’s Tragedy.


Literature.—For the sources, see Wilken: Gesch. der Kreuzzüge, VI. 71–83.—Des Essards: La Croisade des enfants, Paris, 1875. — Röhricht, Die Kinderkreuzzüge, in Sybel, Hist. Zeitschrift, vol. XXXVI., 1876.—G. Z. Gray: The Children’s Crusade, N. Y., 1872, new ed. 1896.—Isabel S. Stone: The Little Crusaders, N. Y., 1901.—Hurter: Innocent III., II. 482–489.


The most tragic of the Crusader tragedies were the crusades of the children. They were a slaughter of the innocents on a large scale, and belong to those mysteries of Providence which the future only will solve.

The crusading epidemic broke out among the children of France and Germany in 1212. Begotten in enthusiasm, which was fanned by priestly zeal, the movement ended in pitiful disaster.

The French expedition was led by Stephen, a shepherd lad of twelve, living at Cloyes near Chartres. He had a vision, so the rumor went, in which Christ appeared to him as a pilgrim and made an appeal for the rescue of the holy places. Journeying to St. Denis, the boy retailed the account of what he had seen. Other children gathered around him. The enthusiasm spread from Brittany to the Pyrenees. In vain did the king of France attempt to check the movement. The army increased to thirty thousand, girls as well as boys, adults as well as children.429429    Hurter regards the numbers handed down as greatly exaggerated., and seek for the holy cross beyond the sea." They reached Marseilles, but the waves did not part and let them go through dryshod as they expected.430430    An epigram, dwelling upon the folly of the movement, ran:—
   "Ad mare stultorum

   Tendebat iter puerorum."

   

   "To the sea of the fools

   Led the path of the children."

The centres of the movement in Germany were Nicholas, a child of ten, and a second leader whose name has been lost. Cologne was the rallying point. Children of noble families enlisted. Along with the boys and girls went men and women, good and bad.

The army under the anonymous leader passed through Eastern Switzerland and across the Alps to Brindisi, whence some of the children sailed, never to be heard from again. The army of Nicholas reached Genoa in August, 1212. The children sang songs on the way, and with them has been wrongly associated the tender old German hymn:


"Fairest Lord Jesus,

Ruler of all nature,

O Thou of man and God, the son,

Thee will I cherish,

Thee will I honor,

Thou, my soul’s glory, joy, and crown."


The numbers had been reduced by hardship, death, and moral shipwreck from twenty to seven thousand. At Genoa the waters were as pitiless as they were at Marseilles. Some of the children remained in the city and became, it is said, the ancestors of distinguished families.431431    Wilken for this assertion quotes theHistory of the Genoese Senate and People, by Peter Bizari, Antwerp, 1679. One of the families was the house of the Vivaldi.f Brindisi refused to let them proceed farther. An uncertain report declares Innocent III. declined to grant their appeal to be released from their vow.

The fate of the French children was, if possible, still more pitiable. At Marseilles they fell a prey to two slave dealers, who for "the sake of God and without price" offered to convey them across the Mediterranean. Their names are preserved,—Hugo Ferreus and William Porcus. Seven vessels set sail. Two were shipwrecked on the little island of San Pietro off the northwestern coast of Sardinia. The rest reached the African shore, where the children were sold into slavery.

The shipwreck of the little Crusaders was commemorated by Gregory IX., in the chapel of the New Innocents, ecclesia novorum innocentium, which he built on San Pietro. Innocent III. in summoning Europe to a new crusade included in his appeal the spectacle of their sacrifice. "They put us to shame. While they rush to the recovery of the Holy Land, we sleep."432432    See Wilken, VI. 83.ht seem in our calculating age, it is attested by too many good witnesses to permit its being relegated to the realm of legend,433433    So Wilken, Sie ist durch die Zeugnisse glaubwürdiger Geschichtschreiber so fest begründet, dass ihre Wahrheit nicht bezweifelt werden kann, p. 72. Röhricht, Hist. Zeitschrift, XXXVI. 5, also insists upon the historical genuineness of the reports.hildren of Bethlehem at the hand of Herod.



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