The crusaders, under Bohemond’s command, engaged Kerbogha in hand-to-hand combat outside the city’s eastern wall. “The battle was waged with such force from morning to evening that nothing like it was ever heard of. There was a certain frightful and as yet unheard of calamity befell us, for amidst the hail of arrows and rocks, and the constant charge of javelins, and the deaths of so many, our men became unconscious. If you ask for the end of this fight, it was night,” observed Raymond d’Aguilers.
The battle raged on for days. Exhausted and terrified of the prospects of defeat, men began to abandon the siege. So many were fleeing, Bohemond and the Bishop Adhemar had to bar the city’s gates. There was even talk of treachery within the army, so Bohemond set fire to part of the city to root out the troublemakers and, perhaps, force them into submission.
Despite their dwindling resources and confidence, the crusaders had successfully prevented Kerbogha’s force from breeching the eastern wall. Determined to take Antioch as he was, Kerbogha settled on another strategy: starve the Franks into submission. He dispatched a large contingent of soldiers to blockade the Bridge Gate and the St. George Gate. By 14 June, he had successfully alienated the Franks from the outside world. Since the crusaders had plundered all the resources Antioch had to offer, there was very little food to be had. Once again, they suffered from starvation. “They cooked and ate the leaves of the fig tree, grapevine, and thistle, and all of the trees, so tremendous was their hunger.” To add to their misery, there were only 200 horses left. Many noblemen were reduced to near poverty, forced to ride on top of donkeys or mules.
In the midst of despair and intense suffering, a young peasant visionary, Peter Bartholomew, claimed that St. Andrew had revealed to him the lance, which had pierced the side of Jesus while he hung on the cross, lay underneath the Basilica of St. Peter. Peter’s story went like this: St. Andrew appeared to him before the crusaders captured Antioch. St. Andrew had a message for the Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy and for Raymond of Toulouse. St. Andrew, Peter recalled, denounced Bishop Adhemar for failing in his duties as spiritual advisor to the Christian army. Raymond, though, was revered. He was to be given a special task: Raymond would accompany Peter with twelve men to the Basilica and unearth the Holy Lance. Once they reach the River Jordan in Palestine, Count Raymond was to cross the river on a raft, re-baptize himself and then preserve his underclothes and the lance on that site forever.
The Holy Lance was apparently preserved underneath the south chapel. Peter knew this because, in a dream, he was transported there. St. Andrew disappeared underground, and then returned, holding the Holy Lance. He promised Peter that it would guarantee victory against the Turks.
St. Andrew instructed Peter to go to the leaders immediately and tell them of the discovery of the Holy Lance, but Peter feared they would berate him and then dismiss him. So, he did not seek them out right away. As time wore on, St. Andrew’s pleas became more urgent and irate. Peter could no longer ignore them.
As he predicted, not all of the leaders believed him, especially the Bishop Adhemar quite understandably. He disregarded Peter’s visions as rubbish, so too did Bohemond, Tancred, Robert of Normandy and Robert of Flanders.
“Peter secretly had with him and Arab spear, which he had found by chance and had kept as useful material for deception. Seeing that it was rusty, eroded, old and different from what we were used to both in appearance and size, he judged that with this, credence would be given to his imaginings,” Radulph of Caen wrote in around 1108.
Peter’s visions were undoubtedly hallucinations, fed by his hunger, exhaustion and ardent belief that Christ was guiding them, fighting with them. In fact, the twelve men – including Count Raymond – dug in the spot where St. Andrew had instructed Peter to dig, but found nothing. As the men turned away, Peter, clad only in a shirt, slipped discreetly into the pit and produced a piece of iron that was — as Radulph suggested — probably nothing more than an old, rusted Turkish lance.
We, referring to the people of today, believe Peter’s visions are fantastical and ludicrous, but to the people who took part in the First Crusade, his visions were authentic. Most of the crusaders, especially the lower ranks, did not question Peter’s credibility. As far as they were concerned, the lance was the lance that pierced Jesus’s side. Its discovery filled them with a strong, renewed sense of hope. They believed God had not abandoned them. He was with them and He would lead them to great victory.
Armstrong, Karen. Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World. Anchor Books; New York, 2001.
Asbridge, Thomas. The Crusades: The Authoritative History of The War For The Holy Land. Ecco; New York, 2011.
Krey, August C. The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eye-Witnesss and Participants. Princeton; Princeton University Press, 1921.
Various contributors. Chronicles of the Crusades: Eye-Witness Accounts of The Wars Between Christianity and Islam. Bramley Books; Portugal, 1997.