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STORIES FROM OUR HISTORY

Brindisi during the Ages of the Crusaders
1th part

Brindisi's harbour always played a strategic and decisive role through centuries in relationship between East and West, representing the main "Gate of the Orient" between the two cultures which often were conflicting.
Important yet during the Messianic Age - from 10th century before Christ - and subsequently during Roman Empire, the Town was re-launched in its role of main departure point to East during the age of the Crusaders (1096-1291).
After the Great Schism in 1054 (the division between the Eastern - Orthodox and Western - Roman Church) and the consequent irremediable division from Byzantine culture, Apulia became the Western frontier of Christianity and Brindisi in particular, with its harbour, was one of the most important areas of such frontiers. Here the Crusaders and pilgrims could foreshadow the vision of Holy Land, because of the presence of some important monuments such as the circular construction of the Temple of St. John Sepulchre
(more info) and the holy scenes represented on the polychrome mosaic's floor of the Cathedral (more info).
Brindisi's harbour, thanks to its well placed position, was the preferred embarkation point to the East by the expert Venetian sailors, also for the good ability of local ship owners, who carried several kinds of merchandise as well as pilgrims and Crusaders.
Raynulfus Higgeden, the famous Benedictine monk of the Monastery of St. Werberg and renowned map-maker (cartographer) of the XIV century, in his "Mappamondo" (globe map) wrote: "Apulia, whose metropolis is Brindisi, through which one can sail to the Holy Land…".


Pino Nardelli. Crusaders set sail from Brindisi's harbour. 2006
(click to enlarge)

The route:
Pilgrims and Crusaders coming from the North passed through ancient Roman "Via Traiana"
(photo), the road built by Emperor Trajan as an extension of Via Appia from Benevento to Brindisi. From Bari to Brindisi they used to stop in certain "housing stations", some located at rupestrian communities (those communities living in caves or rock-based houses, far away from villages and towns, and near water streams), other in Basilian monks' rupestrian crypts (photo), where nowadays are still visible some splendid ancient frescoes representing Virgin Mary, Christ and Saints. Then, they passed through the Torre Guaceto wood (more info) and finally arrived in Brindisi after having stopped for prays at the Chapel of the "Madonna di Gallico" (nowadays a famous sanctuary). This church, better known as "Santa Maria di Jaddico" (more info), was probably built by the Knights of Holy Sepulchre; its name might derive from the ancient fresco in an inner wall, representing Our Lady who holds Jesus with her right hand and a rooster with her left hand; that's why this area is called Jaddico (the dialect word of Gallico, that derives from the word "rooster" in Italian); another hypothesis is that the term "Jaddico" might derive straight by the Hebraic word "Jadd" (sepulchre) or from the Arab term "Jihad" (Holy War, relating to Crusades).

In Brindisi Knights and pilgrims going to Holy Land were usually hosted in several hospitals and residences of the Teutonic Knights, Knights Templar, Knights of Malta and others Orders of knights.

The First Crusade:
During the First Crusade (1096-1099), Bohemund, the Norman prince of Taranto and later prince of Antioch, left from Brindisi on April 5th, 1097; he gathered a fine Norman army - perhaps the finest division among the crusading troops - at the head of which he crossed the Adriatic Sea from Brindisi to Durazzo (Durres). His troops then joined up with Godfrey of Bouillon's troops at Constantinople, and together conquered Antioch and then Jerusalem.

The Third Crusade
During the Third Crusade (1189-1192) King Richard "Lionheart", while being in Messina ready to leave for the Crusade, decided to come to Brindisi in April 1191 to meet his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine and his future wife Berengaria of Navarre, to decide on the date of their wedding. The King resided in the house of admiral Margarito, well known for its magnificence.
The third Crusade was headed jointly by King Richard, Frederick I Barbarossa ("Redbeard") and King Philip Augustus of France. On July 15th King Philip Augustus left from Tyre to Brindisi while coming back from the Holy Land.
In March 1197 thirty ships of German Crusaders set sail from Brindisi harbour; two of these ships sank because of strong wind. Other ships of Crusaders set sail during May and June.

The "Children's Crusade"
On 1212 the "Children's Crusade" arrived to Brindisi; this Army of Children was organized by Nicholas, a 12 year old shepherd from Germany, who succeeded in convincing and grouping about 8000 children of the same age, telling them that he could "walk on the sea" and he would be able to convert the Holy Land's unfaithfuls to Christianity. With no blessing from the Pope, the little Crusaders got to Ancona, where according to the prophecy the sea would the sea would have had to open in front of them, but this didn't happen. TThen, after arriving to Brindisi, where they suffered robbery and violence, they succeeded in founding ships going to East, where they were probably sold into slavery. Only few returned home and none reached the Holy Land.
Gerardo, the dying Archbishop of Brindisi, tried to convince the children to give up this absurd project, but he couldn't. GianCarlo Menotti in his opera of 1963 "The Death of the Bishop of Brindisi" describes a dying bishop's guilt-ridden recollection of the Children's Crusade, during which he questions the purpose and limitations of his own power.

» continues on the 2th part

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