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Peter the Hermit



Born at Amiens about 1050; d. at the monastery of Neufmoutier (Liège), in 1115. His life has been embellished by legend, and he has been wrongly credited with initiating the movement which resulted in the First Crusade. While the contemporary historians mentioned him only as one of the numerous preachers of the crusade, the later chroniclers, Albert of Aix-la-Chapelle, and above all William of Tyre, gave him an all-important role. According to Albert of Aix Peter having led during some years the rigorous life of a hermit undertook a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and suffered much at the hands of the Turks. One day when he was asleep in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, Our Lord appeared to him and ordered him to ask for credentials from the Patriarch of Jerusalem and to go to Europe proclaiming the miseries which had befallen the Christian of the Orient. Peter obtained the patriarchal letters and sought Urban II, who, moved by his recital, came to preach the crusade at Clermont ("Histor. Hierosol.", I. 2). According to William of Tyre (I, II), it was of his own accord that Peter went to find the pope. The pilgrimage of Peter is mentioned by Anna Comnena (Alexiad, X, 8), who, born in 1083, could know nothing of this story except through tradition; she relates, however, that he could not get as far as Jerusalem, and that, resolved to undertake a second pilgrimage, he conceived the idea of preaching a crusade in order to be able to go to the Holy Sepulchre attended by goodly company. It is evidently absurd to ascribe the Crusades to such an insignificant cause. Because of the silence of contemporaries and the later contradictory accounts, even the fact of the pilgrimage of Peter is doubtful, while it is impossible to assign to him the role of promoter of the crusade. The merit of this belongs solely to Pope Urban II (see CRUSADES). Writers like Albert of Aix wished to deprive the pope of this honor in order to attribute it to the ascetics so popular at that time in Europe. It is absolutely certain that it was only after the Council of Clermont that Peter commenced to preach the crusade.

In March, 1096, he led one of the numerous bands going to the East; his enthusiastic eloquence is described by the chroniclers. He arrived with his army at Constantinople 1 August, 1096. After a toilsome march as far as Nicomedia Peter pitched his camp at Civitot, and seeing his army without resources returned to Constantinople to solicit help from the Emperor Alexius. During his absence, the crusaders, commanded by Walter the Penniless, were massacred by the Turks near Nicaea (Oct., 1096). Peter assembled the remnants of his band and in May, 1097, joined the army of Godfrey of Bouillon near Nicomedia. After this he had but an unimportant part. In Jan., 1098, at the siege of Antioch, he even attempted to desert the army, but was prevented by Tancred. In spite of this cowardice he was one of the envoys sent to Kerbûga. On his return to Europe he founded the monastery of Neufmoutier. see CRUSADES.

D'Oultreman, La vie due Venerable Pierre l'Ermite (Mons, 1612), reprinted (Clermont, 1895), gives the traditional point of view; HAGENMEYER, Peter der Eremite (Leipzig, 1879), Fr. tr., Le vraix et le faux sur Pierre l'Ermite (Paris, 1879); KURTH, Pierre l'Ermite (Liège, 1892); DONNET, Pierre l'Hermite et la famille Lhermite d'Anvers (Antwerp, 1893).

LOUIS BREHIER








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