It is the 8th of July 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1115.
It was the age of Crusades. We will get to them in just a bit. But it was also a time of growth and expansion across the globe. Plague and war would soon reduce the world’s population, but the 12th century saw a kind of population explosion and renaissance.
The population of China reached 100 Million, and the Song dynasty unified many of the traditional Chinese territories. However, divisions soon created a fractured Chinese empire with the Liao dynasty supplanted the Song dynasty, although the Song still held some territories. In 1115, the Jin dynasty pushed back against the Liao empire and eventually defeated the Song as well. While this new Confucian bureaucratic state may have been the answer the Chinese were looking for, it was all for naught as the Mongol invasions soon began.
At the beginning of the 12th century, Timbuktu established itself as an important post in Western Africa. The city on the edge of the Sahara would become one of the most important centers of scholarship and trade in the world. Rich in salt, gold, and slaves, Timbuktu would become a cosmopolitan center and a home for Berbers, Muslims, and Jews, as well as local tribes. While today “Timbuktu” refers to a place on the far edges of our imagination, in 1115, it was on its way to becoming a thriving hub of culture and learning.
The writings of Al Ghazali were likely known in Timbuktu and across Northern Africa and the Middle East. Al Ghazali was one of the most important medieval Muslim characters. His work in theology, law, and philosophy marked the development of Aristotelian epistemology in the Arab world. While much of Aristotle’s work had been lost to the West, the middle east had copies of his work translated into Arabic and other languages. Our early understanding of Aristotle and what we might call the scientific method came from the works of Al Ghazali.
In the western church, there were several luminaries. The early 12th century is the age of Abelard, Anselm, and Bernard of Clairvaux. We’ve heard about these characters on the show before. By 1115, Saint Anselm had died, Abelard was coming into his own, and in 1115, Bernard founded his Abbey at Clairvaux.
As mentioned before, this is the age of the Crusades. And it is today that we remember one of the more curious crusaders, Peter the Hermit, who is said to have died on this day, the 8th of July, in 1115.
Many of you know that on this show, we sometimes highlight figures as Dr. Gene Scott All-Stars. That is, they were eccentric, odd, and possibly a little heterodox. We’re not saying these people aren’t in heaven. We just wonder if they got a little talking to before going to meet the rest of the saints. Peter the Hermit is our first medieval Dr. Gene Scott All-Star.
The mad monk was described as being short and thin, barefoot in a dirty tunic. He carried only a pilgrim’s staff and a jug of water. His long red hair and red beard were noted by contemporaries, as was his messianic and apocalyptic preaching in favor of the Crusades.
The crusades are generally dated between 1095 and 1303. In 1095, Pope Urban famously urged Christians to head to Jerusalem to recover the Holy City from the Muslims. While it may have begun with elements of humanitarian aid and peacekeeping, Peter the Hermit was on the vanguard of turning the Crusades from well-meaning to ill-informed, poorly planned, and eventually an outright disaster.
Little is known of Peter’s early life. He first arrived on the scene in 1096, a year after Pope Urban’s call. The story about Peter is that he had tried to go to Jerusalem before 1096, but was stopped, abused, and tortured by Muslims. While this has been called into question, his zeal for harsh rhetoric against Muslims would be his calling card. If not that, then it would be for attacking fellow Christians. If not that, it would be for his People’s Campaign.
The People’s Campaign began in Germany with Peter calling for an attack on what he called the “mindless Mohammedan Devils.” His sermons regularly contained the infamous phrase “Deus Volt,” or “God Wills It.” Contemporaries criticized the People’s Crusade as brutal and rogue. Pope Urban did not recognize Peter’s Campaign and those who were solely on his crusade would not have been eligible for the crusader’s indulgence.
After reappearing in Europe after the crusades, little is known about him. We have several accounts of his death, but a contemporary chronicle marks the death of Peter the Hermit on this, the 8th of July, in 1115.
The reading for today comes from the aforementioned Bernard of Clairvaux. The mystic and favorite of Martin Luther is best known for what we know as “O Sacred Head Now Wounded.” The original poem is 11 verses. This is the last stanza of the original:
Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.
That was from the last verse of the poem “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” by Bernard of Clairvaux.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 8th of July 2020, presented by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man whose favorite Crusade, is Indiana Jones’ Last Crusade: Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true; everything is going to be ok.