A Miracle of the True Cross Saves King Baldwin III of Jerusalem From Disaster During a Rash and Unjust Military Expedition

June 10, 2021

On his [King Baldwin III’s] return from the expedition of the Jordan he undertook an unjust and unfortunate war, the presage of a sad future for the kingdom of Jerusalem.

Bosra, Syria – a view of the citadel.

An Armenian, who governed the city of Bosra in the name of the sultan of Damascus, came to Jerusalem to offer to deliver up to the Christians the place which he commanded, and the barons and principal people were convoked to hear his proposals. The wiser part of the assembly referred to the alliance made with the Saracens of Damascus; the promises of an unknown soldier appeared to them to have no security, and to inspire no confidence; they said the kingdom of Jerusalem did not want for enemies to combat, or conquests to attempt; it was their duty to attack the most formidable, and protect the others as useful auxiliaries. This advice, which was the most reasonable, was that which obtained the smallest number of suffrages. Wonders were related of the country they were about to conquer; Bosra was the capital of Upper Arabia, all the riches of that country appeared already to belong to the Christians, and all who opposed a conquest so brilliant and so easy were accused of treason. They deliberated in the midst of tumult,* and the cries of a misled multitude smothered the voice of reason and prudence. The council of the barons and the principal people decided that an expedition, upon which so many hopes were built, should be undertaken.

The mountains of Libanus

The Christian army was soon on its march, and across the mountains of Libanus. When it arrived in the territory of Damascus, its first conflict was with the Saracens gathered together to oppose its passage. After sustaining several severe encounters, the Christians succeeded in gaining the country called Traconite, where they found nothing but plains burnt up by the ardent rays of the sun. The roads were difficult, and the locusts having fallen into the wells and cisterns, had poisoned all the waters. The inhabitants, concealed in subterranean caverns, laid ambushes in all directions for the Christian army; whilst the Mussulman archers, planted upon all the hills and acclivities, left the warriors of Jerusalem not a moment’s repose. The misfortunes of the army (it is William of Tyre who speaks) increased every day, and there was poured upon the Christians such a quantity, and as it were continually, of all sorts of arrows, that they appeared to descend upon them like hail or heavy rain upon houses covered with slates and tiles, men and beasts being stuck all over with them. Nevertheless, the hope of winning a rich city sustained the courage of the Christian soldiers, and enabled them to brave all these perils. But when they arrived within sight of Bosra, it was announced to them that the wife of the Armenian commandant had called the garrison to arms, and that she was prepared to defend the city which her husband had promised to give up to the king of Jerusalem. This unexpected news at once spread consternation and discouragement through the Christian army. The knights and barons, struck with the misfortunes that threatened the Christian soldiers, pressed the king to abandon his army, and save his person and the cross of Christ. Young Baldwin rejected the advice of his faithful barons, and insisted upon sharing all their perils.

King Baldwin III

As soon as the order for retreat was given, the Mussulmans, with loud cries, set out in pursuit of the Christians. The soldiers of Jerusalem closed their ranks, and marched in silence, sword in hand, bearing away their wounded and dead. The Saracens, who could not shake or break through their enemy, and who, in their pursuit, found no trace of carnage, believed they were actually fighting against men of iron. The region which the Christians were traversing was covered with heath, thistles, and other plants dried by the heat of the summer. The Saracens set fire to these; the wind bore the flames and smoke toward the Christian army, and the Franks marched over a burning plain, with clouds of smoke, ashes, and dust floating over and around them. William of Tyre, in his history, compares them to smiths, to such a degree were their clothes and their faces blackened by the fire which devoured the plain. The knights, the soldiers, and the people who followed the army, gathered in a crowd around the bishop of Nazareth, who bore the wood of the true cross, and conjured him with tears to put an end by his prayers to calamities they were no longer able to bear.

The bishop of Nazareth, touched by their despair, raised the cross, imploring the mercy of Heaven—and, at the moment, the direction of the winds was changed. The flames and the smoke which desolated the Christians were immediately wafted against the Mussulmans. The Franks pursued their march, persuaded that God had wrought a miracle to save them. A knight, whom they had never before seen, mounted on a white horse, and bearing a red standard, preceded the Christian army, and conducted it out of danger. The people and the soldiers took him for an angel from heaven, and his miraculous presence reanimated their strength and their courage. At length the army of Baldwin, after having undergone all sorts of misery, returned to Jerusalem, where the inhabitants rejoiced at its arrival singing these words from the Scriptures—“Let us give ourselves up to joy, for that people that was dead is resuscitated; it was lost, and behold here it is found again.”

* William of Tyre attributes the determination of the king and the barons to the cries of the populace of Jerusalem; the same historian relates this expedition with many details in his sixteenth book, chs. vii-xiii.

Joseph François Michaud, History of the Crusades, trans. W. Robson (London: George Routledge and Co., 1852), 1:317–20.

 

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 781

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