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This Blessed Day: The Crusaders Captured Antioch & Found The Holy Lance
How the Spear of Longinus saved the First Crusade from disaster
“This Blessed Day” is a brand-new Substack newsletter that focuses on Christian history, Christian culture, and important Christian figures. I love the idea of a short, daily inspirational reminder of my Christian faith and heritage.
Below, you will find the newsletter for June 3rd, 2023.
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On June 3rd of the blessed year of our Lord 1098, the knights of the First Crusade regained the city of Antioch from Turkish invaders. This victory was necessary in order for the knights to protect their supply routes in the campaign to re-take the holy city of Jerusalem — which was the main goal of the First Crusade.
The siege of Antioch had taken more than seven months.
There was no way to assault the city directly — it required deception to conquer Antioch. The Count of Toulouse even said that it was “so well fortified that it need not fear attack by machinery nor the assault of man, even if all mankind came together against it.”
The Turks inside Antioch were a formidable force of “two thousand of the best knights, and four or five thousand common knights and ten thousand more footmen” according to the Crusaders.
One of the leaders of the siege, Bohemond of Taranto, made a secret deal with one of the Armenian commanders of the city wall to allow the Crusaders to open the city gates by night. On the appointed day, Bohemond and his knights pretended to march south but then returned to Antioch at night and scaled the walls with rope ladders. The city gates were thrown wide, and the Turks were completely overthrown — with the Armenians and Greeks inside Antioch joining the Crusaders in killing the Turkish invaders.
Two days later, on June 5th, a massive Turkish army from Mosul numbering 200,000 — led by their best general, Kerbogha — arrived at Antioch to help the now-destroyed Turkish garrison.
There was no food left in Antioch for the Crusaders. They could not hope to defend the city from being besieged and taken by Kerbogha’s army.
The situation was dire.
Inside the city, a priest from France named Peter Bartholomew announced to the knights that he had seen a vision — the fabled spear of Longinus that pierced the side of Jesus Christ on the Cross was hidden somewhere in Antioch. Bartholemew told the commanders of the First Crusade that St. Andrew had appeared to him in a vision to say: “Come and I will show you the lance of our Lord Jesus Christ, which thou wilt give to the Count of Toulouse, since God hath intended it for him since birth.”
The Crusaders began to search the city for the Holy Lance.
Four days later, a meteor was seen landing in the Turkish army camp outside the walls — a good omen for the Christians.
On June 15th, they began digging inside the cathedral of Saint Peter. Then Peter Bartholomew went into the pit, and found a spear point. The news of the discovery of the Holy Lance ran like wildfire through the mostly Christian inhabitants of Antioch — they began to sing a song that went, “Wood of the Cross, sign of the leader, follows the army never yielding, always advancing, borne on by the Holy Spirit.”
The knights took this relic as a divine sign that they could not surrender Antioch. Instead, they had to attack the Turkish army. The residents of Antioch chose to follow the Crusaders into battle rather than stay in the city. Even the peasants, even the women, carried weapons against the Turks that day — so great was their faith that God would deliver them.
On June 28th, the Crusaders launched an attack against Kerbogha’s army — Raymond of Aguilers carried the Holy Lance in the vanguard into battle. The Turks were not prepared for the organization and ferocity of the knights — many Crusaders claimed afterward that they saw a vision of three saints riding with them to victory: Saint George, Saint Mercurius and Saint Demetrius.
The battle was brief, and the Turks were forced to retreat in disorder. Kerbogha was abandoned by some of his own forces in the field.
A year later, the Crusaders set off to conquer Jerusalem. Bohemond of Taranto stayed behind as the Prince of Antioch.