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St. Bernard Preaching the Crusade - II

Emperor Conrad III Takes the Cross

Hugh O’Reilly
After the assembly of Vèzelay, the Abbot of Clairvaux continued to preach the Crusade throughout France and Europe. What many people do not know is that many miracles accompanied his preaching, causing the people to believe that God authorized and consecrated his mission.

Medieval illumination depicting emperor Conrad refusing to take the cross

Emperor Conrad refuses to take the cross and join the Second Crusade

When he arrived in Germany, the empire was convulsed with wars and troubles among the disunited princes. Conrad III had convoked a general diet at Spires. Bernard preached there and pressed the Emperor several times to take up the Cross, but Conrad refused to take the oath to go and fight against the infidels.

One day, on the feast of St. John, as the orator of the Crusade was saying Mass before the Princes and Lords convoked at Spires, he announced unexpectedly that such a day could not be celebrated without a sermon. Then he preached and, at the end of the sermon, he turned to the Emperor, whom he addressed not as a monarch, but frankly as a human being.

He reminded him of the coming judgment, how he would stand before the tribunal of Christ and hear from Him the words, “Oh man, what could I have done for you and did not do?” Then, he reminded him of the benefits he had received: the Imperial Crown, wealth, good advisers, a sound mind and a healthy body.

Conrad was so much affected by these words that he interrupted the speaker, and, with tears in his eyes, cried out: “I know what I owe to Jesus Christ and I swear to go wherever He shall call me.”

Then, the nobles and the people who believed they had witnessed a miracle, threw themselves on their knees and returned thanks to God for his blessings.

Immediately the Emperor was marked with the Cross and received from the hands of the Abbot the banner that he was to carry with his own hands in the army of the Lord. Together the Emperor with his young nephew Frederick (later Emperor Barbarossa) and numerous Princes and notables took up the Cross.

On the feast of the Holy Innocents the King convoked an assembly for the crusaders, during which the holy Abbot, with almost divine words, encouraged the persons present. When he was finished the Emperor and the Princes accompanied the Saint so he would not be crushed to death by the crowd.

Medieval illumination depicting Emperor Conrad embarking with knights for the Crusade

Conrad III leading his army to the Holy Land

At this moment, a paralyzed child was brought while the Emperor was still present. Bernard blessed the child and made him stand erect and then ordered him to leave. Who could describe the joy when the child, completely healed, was led away.

Turning to the Emperor the holy Abbot said, “This has happened for your benefit so that you may recognize that God is with you and is well-pleased with your undertaking.”

Again and again during these days one could hear in Spires the ringing of the bells and the cheering people who announced new miracles.

His preaching produced such an extraordinary effect that they depopulated the cities and countries of men who took up arms to fight the infidel. To Pope Eugene Bernard could report:

“You have ordered, and I have obeyed and your authority has made my obedience fruitful. I have preached the Crusade and the number of participants is growing beyond all measure. Towns and castles become empty. Now already there is one man to every seven women. Everywhere one meets widows and orphans whose husbands and parents are still living.”

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Blason de Charlemagne
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Adapted from Hugo H Hoever. Saint Bernard, The Oracle of the 12th Century,
New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co, 1952, pp. 55, 62-67.
Posted February 17, 2018

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