In 1095 Pope Urban II preached an electrifying sermon before a great multitude. He described the plight of the Eastern Church, inundated by Turkish Muslims. Infidels controlled the Holy Land, Urban thundered, and Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest spot in Christendom, lay in Islamic hands.
All Europe set out to liberate Jerusalem. Colorful hordes of militant lords and ladies, knights and peasants marched 2,000 miles across Europe.
Their numbers were soon depleted, however, by the realities of war. By the time the Crusaders reached Jerusalem only about 20,000 remained. Meanwhile the Islamic governor of Jerusalem readied for siege. Wells outside city walls were poisoned. Flocks were driven into the city, and Christian inhabitants expelled. Jerusalem’s ancient towers were reinforced.
A lunar eclipse on June 5 seemed to augur success for the pilgrims, and on the evening of June 7, the main army reached the Holy City. On June 12 a hermit on the Mount of Olives promised, “If you will attack the city tomorrow, the Lord will deliver it into your hands.”
When the sun rose over the city the next day, trumpets blared and the armies melted into attacking hoards assailing the walls. Ladders were thrown up, and knights scaled the ramparts only to be repelled by sticks, stones, and boiling oil. The assault failed. Thirst set in. Temperatures reached 100 degrees, and the wind blew hot. Rotting corpses of horses sullied the air. Quarrels broke out. Rumors of advancing Muslim forces frightened the troops.
On Wednesday, July 13, another assault was mounted. The city finally fell on Friday, July 15, 1099, at three o’clock—the day and hour of the Savior’s death, it was noted. Crusaders slaughtered the inhabitants until streets were choked with the dead. None were spared. Jews perished in burning synagogues, and the blood of Muslims flowed up to the ankles. Jubilant Crusaders sang hymns as they waded through a sea of bodies to the holiest spot in Christendom.
Jerusalem, we pray that you will have peace, And that all will go well for those who love you. May there be peace inside your city walls And in your palaces. Let’s pray for peace in Israel! (Psalm 122:6,7;128:6b)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). July 15.