The “vow of the cross” was introduced at the Clermont Cathedral by Pope Urban II, when he encouraged everyone with his speech and distributed the crosses among those who wished to go on a trip to the Holy Land. The reaction of those gathered to the sermon of the laymen was instantaneous: everyone began to sew them on their clothes. The signaculum, as the pope believed, was to be on the right shoulder (as Christ carried the cross on Golgotha), but could also be placed between the shoulders, on the chest or on the forehead. “Those who intend to go on this holy pilgrimage… may they bear the sign of the Cross of the Lord on their forehead or chest. But those who wish to return after completing their vows should have a sign on their backs between their shoulder blades,” Urban II said in his speech. The cross was attached to the clothes, but some particularly fanatical crusaders could burn or carve it on the body – as one monk did during the First Crusade, who was unable to finance his campaign: “In order to give the illusion of deception, (he) said that an angel appeared to him in a vision and sealed the cross on his forehead,” after which the people who were hungry for miracles were covered with gifts. Crosses, like the stigmata of Christ, could mysteriously appear on the bodies of the crusaders – so, when during the First Crusade, in 1097 in the port of Brindisi there was a shipwreck and the corpses of sunken crusaders were brought ashore, “on the bodies of some, namely over the blades, were found signs of the cross.
The sign of the cross, which a warrior had no right to remove until he made a vow, had a virtually universal – four-pointed – shape; however, it was replaced by the image of the cross on the ball for those who fought against the vows of knights in 1147. Most often the badges were made of golden thread, silk or other fabric, but they could have been made of wood, copper or iron; in the later Middle Ages, the crosses were also worn around the neck on a rope. Their color varied. In the Third Crusade the military militias of different nations wished to have different signs: the Flemish – green, the British – white, the French – red. Crosses of two tones – white and red – were worn by the participants of the military and religious expedition of 1265-12666 against Manfred. Nevertheless, the preferred color of the emblem for a long time was red.
The distinctive sign of the Crusader – the cross – marked primarily the religious intentions of the Crusaders and in this capacity was understandable to all around. Gwibert Nozhansky says that soon after the Clermont Cathedral in one of the seaports of France from faraway countries came to join the campaign to the Holy Land “it is unknown from what people who spoke an incomprehensible language. Crossing their fingers, these people depicted a cross and thus, “for lack of words, showed that they wanted to go on a journey for the cause of faith” – a sign language accessible to all.
Anyone who wanted to become a crusader and go to Jerusalem received the cross as a distinctive sign. During the Second Crusade, in response to Bernard Clervossky’s hot sermon, he cried out: “Crosses! Crosses!” – Before the abbot had time to “scatter rather than distribute” the bundle of crosses prepared in advance, he “had to tear his clothes to the crosses and scatter them” among the crowd.
The “Autumn Crosses” (crucesignati) – so from the end of the XII century. called going to the Holy Land. The cross was a visual symbol of the vow that connected the crusader with the principles proclaimed by Christ in the New Testament: “If anyone wants to follow me, deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24) or “whoever does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). He who received the cross followed the New Testament call: “And whoever leaves domes, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or serpent, for My name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). In mystical terms, the cross meant Christ, His Passion, His Resurrection and the Christian Church as a whole. But it was also a symbol of repentance, through which the crusader received the remission of sins, which was made possible by the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. The cross was also seen as a talisman that protected against the devil and earthly enemies: the Crusaders who wore it on the garments of the crusaders believed that this sign was the guarantee of their victory over the enemies of Christ. The symbolism of the cross was extremely rich: it could be a military emblem or a mystical symbol, a sign of repentance or a talisman.
But the main thing is that getting the cross from the hands of a priest was a public confirmation of the status of a crusader. Back at the Clermont Cathedral, Urban II ordered that the one who takes the cross, will no longer be able to refuse to participate in the expedition, repenting of their intentions and afraid of parting with their loved ones. Accepting the cross bound a man with a vow, which he had to fulfill under the fear of a vow, presenting physical evidence – he was to bring the palm trees collected in Jericho in the garden of Abraham, and later, at the end of the XII century, Pope Innocent III demanded a letter from the king or patriarch of Jerusalem or the Grand Master of the Order of Templars or Hospitalers. Once having accepted the votum crucis, it was necessary to go all the way. In the XIII century. Innocent III did not accidentally talk about the hereditary nature of the vow – the transfer of the unfulfilled obligation to the descendants of the Crusader. At the beginning of the 12th century the Crusaders who forgot about their duty were declared apostates, they were deprived of their inheritance, they were forbidden to attend churches and openly showed them their contempt. In 1099, Pope Paschal II promised to remove the excommunication of the Crusaders who had deserted from the army of the crusaders only in a single case: if they returned to the Holy Land and fulfilled their obligations by worshipping the Holy Sepulchre. It was not difficult to control the situation – the lists of those who accepted the cross were regularly compiled and were always at hand in the churches, because the blessing and permission of a priest or bishop was absolutely necessary for a layman or clergyman going on a crusade.
The vow was not taken spontaneously, the future crusader had to go through several stages: reflection (deliberatio), intention (propositum) and the vow itself (votum). The main motive for the vow was the penitential mood and the thirst for salvation. They were guided both by ordinary laymen and by the highest nobility. It is known that the French king Louis VII became a crusader in order to atone for his sin: in 1143, during the war with Count Thibaud II of Champagne, he burnt 1300 civilians alive in the town of Vitry. By taking a vow, the monarch hoped to make amends. Sometimes the vows were made under the influence of fear of death, illness or some dramatic circumstances. This was the case with King Louis the Holy, great-grandson of Louis the Holy: he was gravely ill, was at death and survived by miracle: “And as soon as he was able to talk, as he demanded that he was brought the cross, which was fulfilled. When the queen, his mother, was told that the speech had returned to him, she rejoiced at it as much as possible. And when she found out that he had accepted the cross, what he himself had told her, she fell into such deep sorrow, as if she had seen him dead.
Determined to become a crusader, the layman had to perform a liturgical rite of acceptance of the “vow of the cross” (votum crucis). This ritual was not universal and differed by a huge local originality – rituals that did not always exist in different regions coincided with the example that was given by the pope. But what is really important: the ceremony of taking the cross was a sign of the new legal status of a layman, as if an external manifestation of his internal commitments. It gave solemnity and publicity to the incomprehensible change of the status of the layman, who became a crusader as a result of his vow.
The liturgical rite of passage was closely linked to the previous pilgrimage ceremony. The cross was also a sign of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem – it was sewn on a pilgrim’s bag and hat. There was also a rite of blessing of the pilgrim, very similar to the ceremony of acceptance of the cross – until the end of the XII century, connoisseurs of canon law did not distinguish the vow of the crusader from the vow of the pilgrim, and only around 1200 they begin to mention the ceremony of acceptance of the cross separately. It was then that the theory of the vow of the crusader was formed in canonical law. Judging by the sources of the time, votum crucis was a real ritual, full of meaningful meanings and included various symbolic words and gestures, but in different regions it was performed in different ways.
The taking of the vows could be a private event that took place in the parish church in the presence of a priest. But this ceremony could also be public and take place at the court of spiritual or secular rulers. Its central moment is the handing over of the cross to the soldier in recognition of his vow. The ritual, as a rule, was combined with the mass (sometimes a special liturgy of the Honest Cross), perhaps with the confession of the Crusader, which is necessary to obtain forgiveness of sins, and the reading of psalms. An important part of the rite was the blessing of the cross, staff and suma – the incigneous (external distinctive signs) of the Crusader. Usually these objects – the signaculum, like the staff and the suma (vestimenta) – were placed on the altar to emphasize the sanctity of the ritual, and the crusader stretched out in front of it (thus imitating the form of the cross); then the priest, sprinkled the cross with holy water, laid it between the shoulders of the vow taker – the same at the same time solemnly took an oath – and handed him the staff and suma. The new crusader made a round of churches with a request to pray for him, worshipped relics, and asked for the priest’s blessing before going on a campaign. This is roughly how the ritual of accepting the cross is described in liturgical books, starting from the end of the XII century.