Hot wind swept across the field, mourning through the withered stalks. Jean wished to lie down and die with his failed crop. It had been three years since the earth gave up her bounty, three years of drought and famine. Jean wasn’t sure how much longer he could live on borrowed time. Already he owed most of a year’s wage to the Jewish lenders. He would have to borrow more if he was going to pay his taxes, live through the winter and be able to plant again in the spring.
Shaking off his despair, Jean brushed the dust of his hands, and began his slow trek to town. He would again humble himself before the Lord, confess his sins and beseech God to lift the drought that sucked the life from the land; the drought that had claimed the lives of his family.
With head bent low, Jean did not see the crowd until he was nearly at the cathedral. Soldiers, noblemen, peasants and beggars all congregated around the church stair. For such a large gathering, they were respectfully quiet. Jean could hear a man speaking, but could not yet make out the words. Curious, he edged closer, elbowing his way toward the speaker.
A tall man moved to the side, and Jean caught a glimpse of the preacher. He was an older man with a long face, dressed in a simple mantle. His arms, legs and feet were bare and dirty. He held a staff with a large cross on the end. Jean’s attention was drawn the man’s eyes. They were full of life and passion.
“Brethren, who will follow me to Jerusalem?” The man spoke loudly to the crowd. “Who will do the work of the Lord and expand the Kingdom of God on this earth?” Jean was sure the man was looking right at him. “Do you not know that those base Turks have taken over the city of Christ? They have destroyed the holy hill and set up their own temple in its place. They have ground the kingdom of God down into dust. Come with me, brothers. Arm yourselves! This is not just the will of Pope Urban II; this is the will of God, our high calling. Come, fight with me!”
Jean had heard rumors of the fall of Jerusalem, he had heard of the horrors that the Turks inflicted among the Christians in the holy city. Women and children had been tortured. Jean’s blood boiled within him as he continued to listen to the preacher’s words.
“Europe is too narrow for us. We must go to the land that flows with milk and honey. We must bring the New Jerusalem to earth. Take up you arms against the Saracens who have defiled God’s holy land.”
Jean was nodding with the rest of the men around him. Suddenly he felt like there was a mission for him beyond the simple confines of his humble farm. Perhaps God could use him in the kingdom.
“Do not fear men, for God is above all. Leave your fields and your families. We will be kings in Jerusalem. All of your debts will be cleared, your taxes forgiven, your sins forgotten.” Jean’s heart soared at those words.
“God will bless those that follow him in faith and defeat the enemies of the Lord. Come with me, brothers! Come and fight the battle for the Lord. This is a holy adventure. It is not kings or nobles that ask this of you, but God himself. Will you let the heathen run free in the land of promise? Or will you fight?”
“Deus lo volt,” cheered the crowd, waving their arms in excitement.
“Deus lo volt!” Jean cried with them, his heart pounding in his chest.
The preacher mounted an old donkey and rode his way through the impassioned crowd. Jean watched as several people reached out and pulled hair from the animal’s hide to keep as a relic. Jean followed the mob through the city and out the gate, determined that he would help win back the city of Jerusalem and bring the Kingdom of God to earth.
“Deus lo volt,” they chanted. “Deus lo volt!”
In March 1096, Peter the Hermit marched out with 40,000 peasants. The battle cry of the campaign, “Deus lo volt,” means “God wills it.” After the battle in October 1096, only 3,000 peasants returned. This ill-fated venture became known as the People’s Crusade.
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