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GEOFFREY VINSAUF Itinerary of Richard I and others to the Holy Land

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Itinerary of Richard I and others to the Holy Land
page 4

The opportunity above mentioned at once roused his ambitious mind, and promised him a brilliant and sure success. Moreover it was not altogether without cause that the sultan declared war; Reginald, prince of Antioch, having broken the terms of truce, which had been agreed upon between our people and the unbelievers. For once upon a time, when a large and wealthy caravan of Mahometans were passing from Damascus to Egypt, and, trusting to the truce, did not hesitate to pass over the frontiers of the Christian territories, the aforesaid prince suddenly attacked them, and dishonourably carried them off prisoners, together with all their baggage. The sultan, excited on one side by his ambition, and on the other moved with indignation at the outrage, raised all the strength of his kingdom, and assailed with power and impetuosity the territories of Jerusalem. If the number of men, the variety of nations, and the diversity of religions were fully described, as the law of history demands, my plan of brevity would be interrupted by the ample details of such a narrative: Parthians, Bedouins, Arabs, Medes, Cordians, and Egyptians, though differing in country, religion, and name, were all aroused with one accord to the destruction of the Holy Land. As our troops were marching to meet them, and the fatal day approached, a fearful vision was seen by the king’s chamberlain, who dreamt that an eagle flew past the Christian army, bearing seven missiles and a balista in its talons, and crying with a loud voice, "Woe to thee, Jerusalem!" To explain the mystery of this vision, we need, I think, only take the words of Scripture; "The Lord hath bent his bow, and in it prepared the vessels of death." What are the seven missiles, but a figure for the seven sins by which that unhappy army was soon to perish? By this number, seven, may also be understood the number of punishments that impended over the Christians, which was some time after fulfilled by the event, that too faithful and terrible interpreter of omens. The battle had not begun, when, the armies having been drawn out at a short distance from Tiberias, at a place called the Marescallia, the Lord hemmed in his people with the sword, and as a punishment for the sins of men, gave over his inheritance to slaughter and devastation. What need I say more? Neither the plan of my work, nor the immensity of the calamity, allows me to find lamentations for all its details. However, to sum all up in few words, so many were slain there, so many wounded, and so many cast into prison, that the destruction of our people drew pity even from the enemies. That vivifying wood of the cross of our salvation, on which our Lord and Redeemer hung, and down whose shaft the holy blood of Christ flowed, the sign of which is adored by angels, venerated by men, and feared by devils, under whose protection our men have always been victors in war, alas! is now captured by the enemy, and the two bearers of the cross, the bishop of Acre, and the precentor of our Lord’s tomb (the bishop of St. George), fell with it, the one slain, the other a prisoner. This was the second indignity, since Chosroes, king of the Persians, which that holy cross endured for our sins; it had redeemed us from the old yoke of captivity, and now it was captured from us, and soiled by the profane hands of the unbelievers. Let him that hath intelligence consider how fierce must have been God’s wrath, how great the iniquity of his servants, when unbelievers were deemed less unworthy than Christians to become its guardians. Nothing ever happened so lamentable in all ancient times; for neither the captivity of God’s ark, nor that of the kings of Judah, can compare with the calamity of our own times, by which the king and the glorious cross are taken captive together. Of the other prisoners, whose number was both extraordinary and lamentable, part were reserved unhurt to be placed at the victor’s disposal, part were dispatched with the sword, and so found a happy and short byroad to heaven! Among others was Reginald prince of Antioch: he was led into the presence of the sultan, and that tyrant, either following the impulse of his passion, or envious of the great excellence of the man, cut off with his own hand that veteran and aged head. All the Templars also who were taken, except their master, he ordered to be decapitated, wishing utterly to exterminate those whom he knew to be valiant above all others in battle. O what faith, what fervour of mind was theirs! How many assumed the tonsure of the Templars, and flocked eagerly round their executioners, joyfully presenting their necks to the sword, in the pious fraud of this new costume! Among these soldiers of Christ was a Templar, named Nicholas, who had so induced others to aspire to martyrdom, that, by reason of their emulation to be beforehand with him, he could hardly succeed in first obtaining the mortal stroke which be coveted. Nor did the Divine mercy withhold its miraculous manifestation, for during the three following nights, when the bodies of the holy martyrs were lying still unburied, a ray of celestial light shone over

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