On the Cusp of Battle During the Crusades

April 16, 2020

The silence of the morning of the battle has been so well described by the great poets, that we will not essay to follow them. The silence is more solemn than lugubrious. Many thousands of knights are ready to charge, waiting silently the word, spear in hand. They await the order “Forward!” They have been to chapel with bare feet. They have emptied their alms-purses into the hands of the priests, for there are many monks present who will have plenty of occupation shortly. Every man has confessed, for each one thinks he may be dead ere nightfall. There were some true conversions—such as that of the old knight of Carcassonne. The “bachelors” renounce their levity, and many repent in tears. In the midst of the valley altars are erected, and the priests are chanting Mass. The holy men pass on, administering the Communion as all the knights kneel down before them. The sun shines upon the scene; it illuminates all; all rivalry and jealousy is put away; the kiss of peace is bestowed; the vow is taken—“If I survive, I will never sin more;” “If I survive I will compose a fine song upon the battle.” In fact they promise, if they do not subsequently perform, and they are signed with the Cross. Now to horse!

At the Battle of Aspremont, a miraculous cross supports Charlemagne. Date circa 774

The call is sounded, the trumpets ring out. This is the time to speak to men who are about to die. “Barons,” says the oldest of the priest, “you are on the brink of the battle which you have so desired. Remember the ills you have endured, and which this will put an end to. Your foes are numerous, but look up to Heaven, and remember that God will send you legions of angels as He has done before. When you are in the battle, strike and spare not, till you have penetrated your enemy’s ranks. Remember you are the soldiers of God! You have received absolution; let your penitence be shown in your striking down the Infidel. Go!”

Then after a pause—he continued gravely: “If by chance there be any amongst you who are afraid, let them depart. But remember, ere you go, that a place has been prepared for you in Heaven, and those who dies will tonight be with the angels! Here is a relic which should give a whole heart to anyone who by chance is weak-spirited. It is a fragment of the spear which pierced the side of Jesus—I pronounce my blessing upon you with it!”

This holy benediction falls over all the army. Thus it was at the great battle of Aspremont, when all the barons in the army of Charlemagne saluted the crucifix—a piece of the true cross—which Archbishop Turpin suddenly displayed, luminous, and which darted its rays into the middle of the melée. “Fear not Death,” he cried; “but, for the honor of Him who suffered for you, seek it! Forward!”

León Gautier, Chivalry, trans. Henry Frith (London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., 1891), 480–2.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 722

 

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