Saturday, 15 May 2010
The Goose Who Led a Crusade . . . well, sort of!
The effect that the preaching of the First Crusade had on people cannot be overly emphasised. Pope Urban II's speech had been electrifying, and news of this incredible new venture spread far and wide. The enthusiasm created for this new idea of a crusade was phenomenal. People had been whipped up into a mad frenzy of mass hysteria. A small glimpse of this can be seen when reading accounts of events at this time, some of which even describe a divinely blessed goose who almost led a crusading venture.
We hear of this goose in Albert of Aachen's (or Albert of Aix's) chronicle which also described the events of the Peoples Crusade, led by Peter the Hermit.
'There was also another abominable wickedness in this gathering of people on foot, who were stupid and insanely irresponsible, which, it cannot be doubted, is hateful to God and unbelievable to all the faithful. They claimed that a certain goose was inspired by the holy ghost, and a she-goat filled with no less than the same, and they had made these their leaders for this holy journey to Jerusalem; they even worshipped them excessively, and as the beasts directed their courses for them in their animal way many of the troops believed they were confirming it to be true according to the entire purpose of the spirit.' 
Guibert of Nogent recorded a similar event in his chronicle 'The Deeds of God Through the Franks'
'What I am about to say is ridiculous, but has been testified to by authors who are not ridiculous. A poor woman set out on the journey, when a goose, filled with I do not know what instructions, clearly exceeding the laws of her own dull nature, followed her. Lo, the rumour flying on Pegasean wings, filled the castles and cities with the news that even geese had been sent by God to liberate Jerusalem. Not only did they deny that this wretched woman was leading the goose, but said that the goose led her. At Cambrai they assert that, with people standing on all sides, the woman walked through the middle of the church to the alter, and the goose followed behind, in her footsteps, with no one urging it on. Soon after, we have learned, the goose died in Lorraine; she would certainly have gone more directly to Jerusalem if, the day before she set out, she had made herself a holiday meal for her mistress. We have attached this incident to the true history so that men may know that they have been warned against permitting Christian seriousness to be trivialized by vulgar fables.'
There have been other similar accounts of this kind (see the chronicle by Fulcher of Chartres ). Whether these accounts are based on real events or not, that they were even recorded gives us an insight into the mindset of these people who were caught up in the whirlwind of the First Crusade. That people believed a goose had been blessed by the Holy Spirit and would lead them to Jerusalem, shows the mass hysteria conjured up by the preaching of the First Crusade.
 Albert of Aachen, available in a slightly different translation online from the Medieval Sourcebook (see Emico, section 7: Version of Ablert of Aix)