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The Crusades

The highly mythological and mysterious Children’s Crusades are fraught with romanticism and tragedy. In 1212 a shepherd named Stephen began to speak of a children’s crusade. As he travelled to Paris, reportedly many children followed him. While there is no real evidence of this event, and some writers have completely fictionalized this Crusade, there are other reports that children in Cologne moved across the Alps to get to Genoa, and then Rome. These 7,000 children were led by a boy named Nicholas. Many of the children were raped, and those who died were buried along the way. The trail turns cold when the children were supposedly on two boats that left for Pisa and were never seen again. There are no documents or personal histories from any of the hypothetical participants. Another group of children, numbering 30,000, were reported to have arrived in Marseilles. Sea captains provided seven ships to the children, two of which were lost in a storm. The bodies of the children supposedly washed up on the island of St. Peter, where Pope Gregory IX later built a church so that pilgrims could see the bodies (which inexplicably never decomposed). The remaining children were said to be sold as slaves in Egypt.18 The lack of authoritative sources from the time of the Crusades, calls to question the authenticity of these stories. Nonetheless, children were casualties of these holy wars. During the first Crusade, for example, Jewish children were forced to commit suicide by and with their parents in order to avoid forced conversion to Christianity.19

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