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The Children's Crusade and Cloyes, France

"The children's crusade was made up of two separate movements, one in France the other in Germany, originating from a common impulse, but differing materially in their details and their results.  The spark which ultimately kindled so vast a conflagration was first lighted at the hamlet of "Cloyes, near Chartres. A peasant boy, about twelve years old, named Stephen, whose imagination had been powerfully excited by tales of pilgrims from the Holy Land, appears to have been worked up to an intense pitch of enthusiasm by the processions and litanies for the recovery of Jerusalem, solemnized in the cathedral city on St. Mark's day (April 25), 1212. A vision, as he believed, of the Savior commanded him to preach a crusade to the boys of France, promising them under his leadership, an assured triumph, and a letter was given him to the King of France, Philip Augustus, ordering him to assist the novel enterprise. A priest may, no doubt, easily have personated our Lord, nor would such a stratagem in that age have been looked upon with the same strong reprobation as in our own day. But this does not account for the extraordinary power and success which marked the preaching of the unlettered peasant boy. He made his way to Paris, preaching everywhere on the road, showed his letter to the King, and established himself at St. Denys, which became the centre...(The Living Age Volume 108, Issue 1398 published March 18, 1871)

"The abnormal suggestibility of medieval society was most clearly seen in the crusades of children.  About 1212, between the fourth and fifth crusades, Stephen, a sheperd boy at Cloyes, in imitation of his elders, began to preach to children of the holy war.  Stephen soon became the rage of the day; the shrines were abandoned to listen to his words.  He even worked miracles. The appeal of Stephen to the children to save the Holy Sepulchre aroused in the young a longing to join him in the holy pilgrimage.
The crusade epidemic rapidly spread among the little ones.  Everywhere there arose children of ten years, and some even as young as eight, who claimed to be prophets sent by Stephen, in the name of God.  When the "prophets" had gathered sufficient numbers, they began to march through towns and villages. Like a true epidemic, it spared neither boys nor girls; according to the statements of chroniclers there was a large proportion of little girls in the multitudes of hypnotized children.  The king, Philip Augustus, by the advice of the University of Paris, issued an edict commanding the children to return to their homes; but the religious suggestions were stronger than the king's command, and the children continued to assemble unimpeded. Fathers and mothers brought to bear upon the young all the influence they had to check this dangerous migration mania, but of no avail.  Persuasions, threats, punishments, were as futile as the king's command.  Bolts and bars could not hold the children. If shut up, they broke through doors and windows, and rushed to take their places in the processions which they saw passing by.  If the children were forcibly detained so that escape was impossible, they pined away like migratory birds kept in seclusion.  In a village near Cologne, Nicholas, a boy of ten, began to play at crusade-preaching. Thousands of children flocked to him from all sides.  As in France, all opposition was of no avail.  Parents, friends, and pastors sought to restrain them by force or appeal; but the young ones pined so that, as the chroniclers say, their lives were frequently endangered, as by disease, and it was necessary to allow them to depart.  Hosts of children assembled in the city of Cologne to start on their pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  They were divided into two armies, one under the leadership of Nicholas, the boy-prophet, the other under some unknown leader.  The armies of the little crusaders, like Coxey's army of our own times, were soon reduced in numbers by mere lack of food.  After many tribulations, the army led by Nicholas, considerably reduced in size, reached Rome, where the pope, Innocent III, succeeded in diverting this stream of little pilgrims back to Germany.  Ruined, degraded, and ridiculed, the poor German children reached their homes; and when asked what they in reality wanted, the children, as if aroused from a narcotic state, answered that they did not know.  The other German army had a worse fate.  After untold sufferings and enormous loss of numbers, they reached Brindisi, where they were treated with extreme cruelty. The boys were seized by the citizens and sold into slavery, and the girls were maltreated and sold into dens of infamy.  The French little crusaders met with a similar fate. When, after a long and fatiguing journey, they at last reached Marseilles, two pious merchants voluntarily offered to provide vessels to convey the children to Palestine.  Half of the vessels suffered shipwreck, and the rest were directed to the shores of Africa, where the little pilgrims fell into the hands of the Turks and Arabians. The two pious merhants were slave-dealers."  (A Study of Mental Epidemics - Boris Sidis, The Century; a popular quarterly, Volume 52, Issue 6, October 1896)

" the summer of 1212 three armies of children, each more than thirty thousand strong, set out from France and Germany, to walk to Jerusalem and rescue the Holy Sepulchre from the bands of infidels!  The leaders were children, boys only twelve or thirteen years old; they preached in churches, at shrines, on highways; they sent other children through villages, through towns, bearing a yellow oriflamme and burning candles, and calling on all children to follow.  Some of these "minor prophets" were only eight and ten years old; the greater part of the army was under fifteen; in vain parents, friends implored; if the children were kept back by force, they pined and fell ill; the whole movement was like the blaze of a swift spreading fire.
It was early in June that Stephen of Cloyes, the leader of the French band, first preached at St. Denys, and before September ended the tragedy was over; hundreds of dead children lay unburied in the Pass of St. Gothard, and along the waysides of Germany, Switzerland, and Italy; hundreds more had entered on sad lives among strangers in Genoa, Pisa, and Brudusium; some thousands had returned to their homes, disheartened, demoralized, enfeebled; and the rest had set sail from Marseilles or Pisa for the Holy Land.  The most pathetic moment in the whole history is when these weary infants reached the Mediterranean Sea; the Germans at Genoa, and the French at Marseilles. They had been told, and they devoutly believed that the Lord would open a path for them through the sea, as he did for the Israelites of old.  Day after day they waited on the shore for the waves to part and let them go on their journey. Day after day, as the glittering blue sea lay unchanged, they lost faith and hope.  The German band pushe on undaunted from Genoa to Pisa, and so on, down to the very extremity of the Italian peninsula; at Pisa two shiploads set sail for Palestine, but were never heard from again.  At Marseilles, two merchants named Procus and Ferreus came forward with great show of liberality and Christian enthusiasm, and offered to provide ships for all who would go.  This revived the drooping faith of the little crusaders, and was claimed to be the fulfillment of their leader's promise that the Lord would open a path for them across the sea.  Five thousand children went on board the seven ships of the merchants Porcus and Ferreus; they weighed anchor and slowly sailed out of the harbor; the priests on deck sang "Veni Creator Spiritus"; vessel after vessel took up the chant; the gay banners waved in the wind; the cliffs were crowded with the citizens of Marseilles , and with thousands of children who had lost confidence in the enterprise and were unwilling to trust themselves in the ships.  It was a wise instinct.  For eighteen years no tidings came back of the children who sailed away from Marseilles that day. Then an aged priest returned and told the tale. Two of the ships had been wrecked on the island of San Pietro, and every soul on board lost. The other five had escaped the storm, only to bear the helpless children to a more cruel fate. Porcus and Ferreus were the blackest of traitors. The children were all sold as slaves to the Mohammedans; some were carried to Alexandria; some to Bujeiah; some to Bagdad; in Bagdad eighteen of them were put to death because they would not abjure the Christian faith.  The only memorial left of this army of infant martyrs is an old ruin on the island of San Pietro. It is the ruin of a church built by Gregory IX, on the spot where the little shipwrecked ones were buried. It was called the Church of the New Innocents, and for three centuries was a favorite shrine; finally it fell out of favor; the monks left the island, and when in 1737 a party of Christian captives, escaping from Africa, landed there they found no trace of human habitation excepting this old ruin."  (Culture and Progress at Home, Scribners monthy, Volume 2, Issue 2)

The church in the village has stained glass depicting the Crusade and a statue of Stephen of Cloyes. The village is very charming.

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