82. People Who Were Called Pilgrims. Pilgrims are men and women who make journeys to places held sacred because of some event connected with religion. Some of the most famous pilgrims were those who visited the Holy Land in the eleventh and following centuries, to see and worship at the places made sacred by the life and deeds of Jesus.

In Rome the graves of St. Paul and St. Peter are still visited by great numbers of people. In England lies Thomas Becket. The stone in the path leading to his grave has been worn down by the thousands who have worshiped at his place of burial in Canterbury Cathedral. To Mecca, in Arabia, the birthplace of Mohammed, the founder of the Mohammedan religion, crowds of pilgrims travel annually, for every believer in that prophet is expected to make a pilgrimage to that holy city once in his life.

But the greatest pilgrimages were made to places in the Holy Land trodden by the feet of Jesus. In that far-off age it was taught, and men believed, that they might get rid of great sins and terrible diseases by making such long journeys. From every land of Europe, therefore, pilgrims flocked to the Holy Land, singly and in crowds, to secure some great blessing.

But the journey was long and hard. They did not know the way well; the roads were bad and often dangerous. They had to climb mountains, cross rivers, and go on board ships before they reached the sacred spot. There were robbers and murderers along the route. The pilgrims often found themselves among people speaking a language they had never heard.

Finally books were written to make easier this hard journey. These were probably the beginning of the modern guidebooks that are so full of useful and interesting information abbut men and events, buildings and places. These old books told the pilgrims how they should get ready for the journey, what they should do on the way, and what prices they should pay. In some guidebooks foreign words and phrases were given, which helped the pilgrim in securing food and lodging or in paying for the sea trip from Europe to the Holy Land.

When the pilgrim had finished his pious visit, and was ready to go back to his native land, it was a widespread custom for him to make a gift of money or jewels to the saint whose tomb he had visited. By this means these hallowed places became very rich as the gifts piled up year after year. The pilgrim usually took back with him some token of his visit, just as people nowadays like to carry home a souvenir of their trip. In the case of the pilgrim he generally carried back a medal on which the name of the saint or some pious words were written. To his admiring neighbors he could thus furnish proof of his pilgrimage. The people listened with wide-eyed wonder to his tales of adventure and the stories of what he had seen. He became a man of renown in his native village after he had been to the Holy Land and seen the very places hallowed by the presence of Jesus.

As time went on, pilgrimages to the Holy Land became more and more dangerous, and pilgrims went together in companies for protection. Although these crowds numbered several hundreds, and some of them were armed, not half of the people ever came back. Many died of starvation and sickness, or lost their lives by accident or in battle.

83. The Cultured Arabs and the Fierce Turks. Though the Christian religion began in the Holy Land, that region had long before this time been conquered by the Arabs. Led by the great prophet Mohammed, this remarkable people had left the deserts of Arabia and by a series of wonderful conquests overrun all southwestern Asia and northern Africa. They even crpssed the Strait of Gibraltar and established their power in Spain.

Though originally a very war-like race, the Arabs soon became highly civilized. They adopted much of the learning of the Greeks and Romans, and added other ideas which they got from the East. From them the people of Europe learned much about the movements of the heavenly bodies and got their first notions of chemistry and of other scientific subjects. The Arabs were best of all in mathematics. The Arabic figures, which we still use in arithmetic, are named after them.

At a time when the rest of Europe was almost barbarous the Arabs, or "Moors," of Spain had great universities and constructed beautiful buildings, such as the famous palace of the Aihambra, which are still viewed with delight.

The cultured Arabs were tolerant of people of other religions, and permitted the Christian pilgrims to worship at the shrines they held so dear. But presently western Asia was overrun by a ruder and fiercer Mohammedan tribe called the Turks. These came with fire and sword from central Asia, and conquered everything in their path. they refused to allow the pilgrims to see the holy places, and killed them by hundreds.

The returning pilgrims told of this cruel treatment. They not only told of their own hardships but spoke of the shame and disgrace to Europe of permitting the Turks to hold the sacred places of the Christian faith.

The Greek emperor, a Christian prince whose capital was at Constantinople, became alarmed by the conquering Turks. lie tried to defeat them in battle, but the soldiers of Mohammed were too powerful for him. He then thought of his good friend, the pope, to whom many of the pilgrims had told their stories, and who was the religious ruler over the nations of Western Europe. The emperor begged the pope to come to his aid and help in driving back the Turks.

84. How the Crusades Began. Pope Urban replied to the emperorís plea by calling a great council at Clermont in France. In the presence of assembled thousands, of rich and poor alike, he told the story of the sufferings of the pilgrims, and appealed to the people of Ďall Western Europe to arouse themselves, stop fighting each other, and go to rescue the Holy Land from the hands of the infidel Turk. He stirred the mighty crowd to the greatest excitement. Soldiers drew their swords and, waved their banners, and the multitude sent up a mighty shout, crying: "Godwilisit! It is the will of God!" The pope then declaredthat "God Wills It" should be their battle cry, and that every soldier should wear a cross ó upon. his breast as he went forth to the Holy Land, and upon his back as he returned.

The excitement, beginning at Clermont, spread to all classes in the remotest corners of Western Europe. Many preachers, during the fall and winter of 1095 and 1096 still further stirred the people. Rich and poor, soldier and beggar, joined the forces bound for the Holy Land to destroy the Turks. The summer of 1096 was chosen as the time for the great army to start.

But to those people who did not know how hard would be the battle or how far would be the march, the time seemed much too long in which to get ready. They were anxious to get at the Turks at once. Many wanted to be among the first to strike the blow that should drive the enemy from the sacred places. These impatient persons found their leaders. A great speaker, Peter the Hermit, and a poor knight called Walter the Penniless, put themselves at the head of these hosts and set out immediately for the conquest.

Unfortunately, this curious army of knights and monks, of artisans and peasants, of beggars and criminals, of women and children, had made very little preparation. This was because, in their enthusiasm, they truly believed that Christ and the various saints would come to their rescue in some such way as that in which the Lord provided food for the Israelites in the wilderness.

These thousands of Crusaders were like swarms of hungry locusts, eating people out of "house and home" in the regions through which they traveled. They journeyed up the Rhine for a time, but when they came to the "beautiful blue Danube" they found the Hungarians maddened by their plundering. The Hungarians set their armies on them, and the Crusaders hastened forward to Constantinople.

But the emperor, instead of giving them a hearty welcome, was only too glad to get rid of them because they set fire to some of his buildings in the city and began robbing the churches. He hurried them across into Asia Minor, where they fell a prey to the well-drilled and wellfed soldiers of the Turks. Neither the prayers of the monks nor the swords of the knights could gain for them the hoped-for victory. The Turks were victorious in the battles around the old town of Nicaea, and the sacred places remained in the hands of the infidels. Only a very few of the great host that began the journey under the banners of Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless ever saw their native land again; many were killed in battle, but thousands died of disease.

Back to Table of Contents.

© 2001 by Lynn Waterman