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Negotiating Knightly Piety: The Cult of the Warrior-Saints in the West, ca. 1070–ca. 1200

  • James B. MacGregor (a1)


Around 1184, Alan de Lille composed a sermon addressed to Europe's knights (Ad milites) as part of a treatise on the art of preaching (Ars praedicandi). In it, Alan condemned the felonious and violent behavior of Western warriors and reproached them for their mistreatment of the poor and the Church—the very groups that knights ought to protect in an ideal Christian society. According to Alan, such actions must cease and knightly behavior must be reformed. Using scriptural precedent, he encouraged knights to consider their spiritual welfare by articulating a difference between internal and external military service. Knights, if they wish to be soldiers of God, must wield both temporal and spiritual arms: the former to protect the Church and their homelands, the latter to combat the enemies of their souls. Balance between the two was essential since external service (earthly combat) was empty and meaningless without its internal counterpart (spiritual combat). By ensuring the proper equilibrium, knights could fulfill their assigned role in the world while actively working to ensure their own salvation.



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1. Insulis, Alanus de, Ars Praedicandi, ed. Migne, J.-P., Patrologia Cursus Completus. Series Latina, 221 vols. (oParis: Garnier Frères, 18781890), vol. 210, cols. 185–87 (hereafter cited as Alan de Lille). d'Alverny, Marie-Thérèse, Alain de Lille. Textes inédits (Paris: Librairie philosophique J. Vrin, 1965), 109 and note 2; Flori, Jean, L'Essor de la chevalerie, Xle–XIIe siècles (Geneva: Droz, 1986), 291–94; Kaeuper, Richard W., Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 7677.

2. For easily accessible versions of Urban's speech at Clermont, see The First Crusade. The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and Other Source Materials, ed. Edward, Peters, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), 2541, 5053. Bernard, of Clairvaux, , In Praise of the New Knighthood, trans. Greenia, M. Conrad (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian, 2000), 3343.

3. Alan de Lille, col. 186: “Habeant exemplum vitæ suæ milites, beatum martyrem Sebastianum militem, qui sub Diocletiano imperatore ita temporalem exercuit militiam, quod spiritualem non deseruerit agoniam: reddens quod Cæsaris erat Cæsari, et quæ Dei, Deo. Beatum quoque Victorem, beatum Hypolitum, et multos alios, qui per materialem militiam strenue ministratam, ad æternam summi regis militiam, feliciter sublimari meruerunt. Thebæa etiam cohors, sic exterius utebatur militiæ cingulo, quod interius devote militabat Deo.”

4. Delehaye, Hippolyte, Les Légendes grecques des saints militaires (New York: Arno, 1975), 19; Hornus, Jean-Michel, It is Not Lawful for Me to Fight. Early Christian Attitudes toward War, Violence and the State, trans. Kreider, Alan and Coburn, Oliver (Scottsdale, Penn.: Herald, 1980), 118–57; Walter, Christopher, The Warrior Saints in Byzantine Art and Tradition (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2003), 938, 261–90. I have chosen to use the term “warrior-saints” rather than “soldier-saints” or “military-saints” in order to more closely identify them with Europe's mounted warriors whether denned as knights, chevaliers, or Ritter. For Sebastian, Saint, Acta sanctorum (Antwerp and Brussels, 1643–; Brussels: Culture et Civilisation, 1965–), Jan. II, 265–78 (hereafter cited as Acta sanctorum). For the Theban Legion, Acta sanctorum, Sept. VI, 342–49. The identity of saints Victor and Hypolite is more difficult to ascertain. At least three warrior-saints share the name Victor. The most likely reference is to the Victor who was martyred along with his companions at Marseilles ca. 290: Acta sanctorum, July V, 135–62. Other possibilities include Victor, a member of the praetorian guard martyred at Milan in 303 (Acta sanctorum, May II, 286–90), and Victor, a veteran martyred with the Theban legion. The identity of Hypolite is extremely uncertain, and his legend most likely represents the confusion of several saints bearing the same or similar name, one of whom may have been a soldier: Delehaye, Hippolyte, “Recherches sur le légendier Romain,” Analecta Bollandiana 51 (1933): 5866. The uncertainty about the identity of saints Victor and Hypolite is reflected in other manuscripts of Alan's text in which their names are omitted altogether, while the references to the better-known Sebastian and the Theban Legion are retained: London, British Library, MS. Royal 7.C.XI, f. 123v; London, British Library, MS. Add. 19767, ff. 46r–46v.

5. Erdmann, Carl, The Origin of the Idea of Crusade, trans. Baldwin, Marshall W. and Goffart, Walter (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977), 275–81; Waas, Adolf, Geschichte der Kreuzzüge, 2 vols. (Freiburg: Verlag Herder, 1956), 1:1418; Holdsworth, Christopher, “‘An Airier Aristocracy’: The Saints at War,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th Series, 6 (1996): 103–9, 121–22; Flori, Jean, La guerre sainte. La formation de l'idée de croisade dans l'Occident Chrétien (Paris: Aubier, 2001), 125–34.

6. The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, ed. and trans. Marjorie, Chibnall, 6 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 19691980), 3:216 (hereafter cited as Orderic Vitalis).

7. For Demetrius, Saint, Delehaye, , Les Légendes grecques, 103–9; Walter, , The Warrior Saints, 6793; Acta sanctorum, Oct. IV, 87–104. It is important to note that in the West, before the First Crusade, the legend of Saint Demetrius makes no reference to his background as a soldier. His presence among the saints reportedly used by Gerold d'Avranches in his ministry, however, suggests that this perception may have been changing before 1095. For George, Saint, Delehaye, , Les Légendes grecques, 5060; Walter, , The Warrior Saints, 109–44; Huber, P. Michael, “Zur Georgslegende,” Festschrift zum 12. Deutschen Neuphilologentag in München (Erlangen: Junge, 1906), 174235. For Theodore, Saint, Delehaye, , Les Légendes grecques, 1729; Walter, , The Warrior Saints, 4466; Acta sanctorum, Nov. IV, 29–39; Mombritius, Bonnius, Sanctuarium, seu vitae sanctorum. Novam hanc editionem curaverunt duo monachi Solesmenses, 2 vols. (Paris: Albertum Fontemoing, 1910), 2:588–91. For Eustace, Saint, Walter, , The Warrior Saints, 163–69; Acta sanctorum, Sept. VI, 123–37.

8. Harper-Bill, C., “The Piety of the Anglo-Norman Knightly Class,” in Proceedings of the Battle Conference on Anglo-Norman Studies II, ed. Brown, R. Allen (Woodbridge, U.K.: Boydell, 1979), 7177; Bull, Marcus, Knightly Piety and Lay Response to the First Crusade. The Limousin and Gascony, c. 970–c. 1130 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993), 125–42; MacGregor, James B, “The Ministry of Gerold d'Avranches: Warrior-saints and Knightly Piety on the Eve of the First Crusade,” Journal of Medieval History 29 (2003): 219–37.

9. Cowdrey, H. E. J., “The Anglo-Norman Laudes Regiae,” Viator 12 (1981): 44, 6265, 7273. See also Kantorowicz, Ernst H., Laudes Regiae. A Study in Liturgical Acclamations and Medieval Ruler Worship (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1946), 14, 2829.

10. Flori, , L'Essor de la chevalerie, 97111, 379–82; Flori, Jean, “Chevalerie et liturgie,” Le Moyen Age 84 (1978): 274–78, 436–38.

11. Die Kruezzugsbriefe aus den Jahren 1088–1100, ed. Heinrich, Hagenmayer (Innsbruck: Verlag der Wagner'schen Universitäts-Buchhandlung, 1901), 69, 147, 271–72 (hereafter cited as Kreuzzugsbriefe).

12. Riley-Smith, Jonathan, “The First Crusade and Saint Peter,” in Outremer. Studies in the History of the Crusading Kingdom of Jerusalem, eds. Kedar, B. Z., Mayer, H. E., and Smail, R. C., (Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi Institute, 1982), 5355 and note 104.

13. Unfortunately, the reason for Blaise's presence among the warrior-saints must remain speculative since the identity of the five battles to which the letter refers may only be guessed at. Hagenmeyer suggests that they are (1) The battle of Dorylaeum (July 1097); (2) The battle of Heraclea (September 1097); (3) The battle at the Iron Bridge on the banks of the Orontes (October 1097); (4) The battle against the Turks from the castle of Harnec (November 1097); (5) The battle against a Muslim force seeking to relieve Antioch (December 1097). See Kreuzzugsbriefe, 245, 272–73. Whether or not the cult of Saint Blaise was associated with any of these sites is difficult to determine since his cult is based in the town of Sebaste, a location well off the route followed by the crusading army. There is, however, a lesser known martyr named Blaise whose cult was centered in Caesarea (Cappadocia), a city through which the crusaders passed shortly after the battle of Heraclea. As with the martyred bishop of Sebaste, however, Blaise of Caesarea had no connection with a military career, having been a shepherd before he suffered for the faith. For Blaise, Saint of Sebaste, , Acta sanctorum, Feb. I, 336–53. For Saint Blaise of Caesarea, , Acta sandorum, Feb. I, 353.

14. Orderic Vitalis, 3:226.

15. Gesta Francorum et aliorum Hierosolymitanorum, ed. Rosalind, Hill (London: T. Nelson, 1962), 69.

16. For the traditional view that the Gesta chronicler was a knight, see Gesta Francorum, xi–vi; Anonymi Gesta Francorum et aliorum Hierosolymitanorum, ed. Heinrich, Hagenmeyer (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1890), 17; Anonymi Gesta Francorum et aliorum Hierosolymitanorum, ed. Lees, Beatrice A. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1924), xiiixvi. For the more recent view that the chronicler was a cleric, see Morris, Colin, “The Gesta Francorum as Narrative History,” Reading Medieval Studies 19 (1993): 5571.

17. For Mercurius, Saint, Delehaye, , Les Légendes greajues, 91101; Walter, , The Warrior Saints, 101–8.

18. Beer, Jeanette M. A., Narrative Conventions of Truth in the Middle Ages (Geneva: Droz, 1981), 2334.

19. For example, see the letter written in October 1098 by the clergy and people of Lucca in support of the Crusade. It recounts the experiences of Bruno, a layman from Lucca who had participated in the defense of Antioch. He reports that the crusaders were aided by the miraculous appearance of a large, shining host (“ecce vexillum admirabile excelsum valde et candidum, et cum eo multitudo militum innumera”) but makes no reference to the warrior-saints. Kreuzzugsbriefe, 167.

20. Riley-Smith, , “The First Crusade and Saint Peter,” 5556 and note 105.

21. Tudebodus, Petrus, Historia de Hierosolymitano itinere, ed. Hill, John Hugh and Hill, Laurita L. (Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 1977), 111–12 (hereafter cited as Peter Tudebode).

22. William, of Malmesbury, , Gesta Regum Anglorum, ed. and trans. Mynors, R. A. B., Thomson, R. M., and Winterbotton, M., 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 19981999), 1:638 (hereafter cited as William of Malmesbury).

23. Peter Tudebode, 98–100. Translation from Tudebode, Peter, Historia de Hierosolymitano itinere, trans. Hill, John Hugh and Hill, Laurita L. (Philadelphia, Penn.: American Philosophical Society, 1974), 7475.

24. Monachus, Robertus, Historia Iherosolimitana, in Recueil des historiens des croisades. Historiens Occidentaux, 5 vols. (Paris: Imprimerie Royale, 18441895), 3:821–22, 830, 832 (hereafter cited as Robert of Rheims; the Recueil will be cited as RHC Hist. Occ.).

25. Historia peregrinorum euntium Jerusolymam, in RHC Hist. Occ., 3:205.

26. Robert of Rheims, 832. The proximity of Rheims to the Imperial domain, where the cult of Saint Maurice was particularly popular, offers one possible explanation as to why this saint's name was added to Robert's version of the Antioch story. See Flori, , La guerre sainte, 131.

27. Le “liber” de Raymond d'Aguilers, ed. Hill, John Hugh and Hill, Laurita L. (Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 1969), 8183 (hereafter cited as Raymond d'Aguilers); Runciman, Steven, “The Holy Lance Found at Antioch,” Analecta Bollandiana 68 (1950): 199205; Morris, Colin, “Policy and Visions: The Case of the Holy Lance at Antioch,” in War and Government in the Middle Ages. Essays in Honour of J. O. Prestwich, ed. John, Gillingham and Holt, J. C. (Woodbridge, U.K.: Boydell, 1984), 3345.

28. William of Malmesbury, 1:638, 639. See also Nogent, Guibert de, Dei Gesta per Francos et cinq autres textes, ed. Huygens, R. B. C., Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis, 127 A (Turnholt: Brepols, 1996), 240 (hereafter cited as Guibert of Nogent).

29. Katzir, Yael, “The Conquests of Jerusalem, 1099 and 1187: Historical Memory and Religious Typology,” in The Meeting of Two Worlds. Cultural Exchange between East and West during the Period of the Crusades, ed. Gross, Vladimir P. (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Medieval Institute, 1986), 104–7.

30. Robert of Rheims, 796–98.

31. Bull, , Knightly Piety, 197; Levine, Robert, “The Pious Traitor: Rhetorical Reinventions of the Fall of Antioch,” Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch 33:1 (1998): 6567.

32. Cowdrey, H. E. J., “Martyrdom and the First Crusade,” in Crusade and Settlement, ed. Edbury, Peter W. (Cardiff, U.K.: University College Cardiff Press, 1985), 4656. Bohemond's interaction with Pirrus is similar to the dialogue/debate that most martyrs reportedly had with their persecutors. Still, Bohemond's inability to answer all of the theological questions posed by Pirrus demonstrates that Robert of Rheims was willing to push this resemblance only so far.

33. For an introduction to the content, intent, and audience of the chansons de geste, and the chansons de croisade more specifically, see Powell, James M., “Myth, Legend, Propaganda, History: The First Crusade, 1140–ca. 1300,” in Autour de la Première Croisade. Actes du Colloque de la Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East (Paris: Sorbonne, 1996), 131, 136–38; Cook, Robert Francis, “Crusade Propaganda in the Epic Cycles of the Crusade,” in Journeys toward God: Pilgrimage and Crusade, ed. Sargent-Baur, Barbara N. (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Medieval Institute, 1992), 157–75; Trotter, D. A., Medieval French Literature and the Crusades (Geneva: Droz, 1987), 107–25; Kleber, Herman, “Pelerinage—Vengeance—Conquete. La Conception de la premiere croisade dans le cycle de Grain-dor de Douai,” in Au carrefour des routes d'Europe: La Chanson de geste, 2 vols. (Aix-en-Provence: Cuer, 1987), 2:757–75; Bender, Karl-Heinz, “Die Chanson d'Antioche: eine Chronik zwischen Epos und Hagiographie,” Oliphant 5 (1977): 89104; Bender, Karl-Heinz, “Des chansons de geste à la première èpopèe de croisade. La présence de l'histoire contemporaine dans la litérature française du 12ème siècle,” in Actes du VIe congrès international de la Société Rencevals (Aix-en-Provence: University of Provence, 1974), 485500.

34. La Chanson D'Antioche, ed. Suzanne, Duparc-Quioc, 2 vols. (Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 19761978), 1:444–46 and note, lines 9052–71.

35. On the use of Robert's chronicle by the author/redactor of the chanson, see Chanson D'Antioche, 2:132–39.

36. Edgington, Susan B., “Holy Land, Holy Lance: Religious Ideas in the Chanson d'Antioche,” in The Holy Land, Holy Lands, and Christian History, ed. Swanson, R. N. (Woodbridge, U.K.: Boydell, 2000), 142–53.

37. Gesta Francorum, 87.

38. For Ramla and other sites important to the cult of Saint George, see Delehaye, , Les Légendes grecques, 4550.

39. Malaterra, Gioffredo, De rebus gestis Rogerii Calabiae et Siciliae comitis et Roberti Guisgardi ducis fratris eius, in Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, vol. 5, part 1, ed. Ernesto, Pontieri (Bologna: Nicola Zanichelli, 1928), 44; Wolf, Kenneth Baxter, Making History. The Normans and Their Historians in Eleventh-Century Italy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995), 143–47, 155–57.

40. Orderic Vitalis, 5:156,157. See also the chronicle of Baldric of Dol from whence Orderic took his information: Historia Jerosolimitana in RHC Hist. Occ., 4:95–96.

41. Guibert of Nogent, 269; Translation from Guibert, of Nogent, , The Deeds of God through the Franks, trans. Levine, Robert (Woodbridge, U.K.: Boydell, 1997), 125–26.

42. Hamilton, Bernard, The Latin Church in the Crusader States: The Secular Church (London: Variorum, 1980), 1012. For a brief history of Ramla, see Pringle, Denys, The Churches of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem: A Corpus, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 19931998), 2:181–85.

43. Raymond d'Aguilers, 131–34; Translation from d'Aguilers, Raymond, Historia Francorum qui ceperunt Iherusalem, trans. Hill, John Hugh and Hill, Laurita L. (Philadelphia, Penn.: American Philosophical Society, 1968), 112 (hereafter cited as Hill and Hill).

44. Narratio quomodo reliquae martyris Georgii ad nos Aquicinenses pervenerunt, in RHC Hist. Occ., 5:xliv–xlv, 248–52; Acta sanctorum, Apr. III, 134–36.

45. Chanson D'Antioche, 1:304, line 6064; Riley-Smith, , “The First Crusade and Saint Peter,” 56 and notes 109, 110.

46. Raymond d'Aguilers, 136; translation from Hill and Hill, 114–15.1 have slightly altered the translation by Hill and Hill for clarity. These changes are indicated above in brackets. “Itaque obtulimus vota sancto Georgio, et quia se ducem nostrum confessus fuerat, visum et majoribus et omni populo, ut episcopum ibi elegeremus, quoniam ecclesiam illam in terra Israel primam inveneramus.”

47. Raymond does report that some crusaders witnessed a vision of Bishop Adhemar (the papal legate had died on August 1, 1098) on the walls of Jerusalem: Raymond d'Aguilers, 151. It is not until the thirteenth century that Saint George becomes associ- ated with the fall of Jerusalem: Varazze, Iacopo de, Legenda Aurea, ed. Maggioni, Giovanni Paolo, 2 vols. (Florence: SISMEL, 1998), 1:398.

48. La Chanson de Jerusalem, ed. Thorp, Nigel R. (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1992), 50, lines 679–89.

49. Hamilton, , The Latin Church in the Crusader States, 8485.

50. Despite what the chanson says, Bohemond cannot have been present at this battle. When the crusading army continued its march to Jerusalem, Bohemond remained at Antioch where he ruled as the first prince of this new crusader principality.

51. Chanson de Jerusalem, 50–53, lines 690–854.

52. The identity of the saint named “Domins” in the Chanson de Jerusalem is commonly thought to be Saint Demetrius. Given that Demetrius is named in virtually all of the chronicles, and since no other saints with similar names present themselves as possibilities, this identification appears sound.

53. Acta sanctorum, May III, 285–86; Delehaye, Hippolyte, “Les actes de S. Barbarus,” Analecta Bollandiana 29 (1910): 276301. It is unlikely that the reference to “saint Barbe” in the Chanson de Jerusalem refers to Saint Barbara—there is no indication in the chronicles or chansons that female saints were associated with the success of the First Crusade or with the ranks of the warrior-saints. The only possible exceptions to this statement are the reported visions of the Virgin Mary to individual crusaders and the report, found only in the chronicle of Raymond d'Aguilers, that Saint Agatha accompanied the Virgin during one of these appearances. See Riley-Smith, , “The First Crusade and Saint Peter,” 53; Raymond d'Aguilers, 127. It is not until the late Middle Ages that Barbara's purported patronage of artillerymen associates her with military activity.

54. Spiegel, Gabrielle M., “The Cult of St Denis and Capetian Kingship,” in Saints and Their Cults. Studies in Religious Sociology, Folklore and History, ed. Stephen, Wilson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 141–68.

55. Flori, , La guerre sainte, 131; Kendrick, T. D., St. James in Spain (London: Metheun, 1960), 1924, 4143; Herbers, Klaus, Der Jakobskult des 12. Jahrunderts und Der “Liber Sancti Jacobi” (Wiesbaden: F. Steiner, 1984), 108–63. Saint Denis is also named as one of the heavenly leaders of the First Crusade in the Chanson d'Antioche, 1:262–63, lines 5115–20. The transformation of saints Denis and James into warrior-saints is theologically justified by Robert of Rheims. In the context of the reported conversation between Bohemond and Pirrus, Bohemond's chaplain explains that God could choose to send His saints to earth as either peaceful or aggressive intercessors. The implication seems to be that the warrior-saints could intercede in times of peace just as easily as pacific saints could intercede in times of war.

56. Chanson de Jerusalem, 53–54, lines 855–70.

57. For the titles of other chansons de geste in which the warrior-saints appear, see the appropriate volumes and entries in Moisan, André, Répertoire des notns propres de personnes et de lieux cités dans les chansons de geste françaises et les oeuvres étrangères dérivées, 5 vols. (Geneva: Droz, 1986).

58. Emden, Wolfgang van, “La Chanson d'Aspremont and the Third Crusade,” Reading Medieval Studies 18 (1992): 5760.

59. The Song of Aspremont, trans. Newth, Michael W. (New York: Garland, 1989), 203–6, lines 8505–610.

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