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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Defeat of the Christian Host at Galilee, A.D. 1187
By William Cowper Prime (1825–1905)
 
From ‘Tent Life in the Holy Land’

REGINALD OF CHATILLON, a Knight of the Cross, had come to Palestine with Louis le Jeune, and joined the forces of Raymond of Poictiers, Prince of Antioch. Keen as a hawk and brave as a lion, the young soldier, nameless and of low origin, not only won a name, but on the death of Raymond won his widow Constance and his throne. The stories of his bravery and beauty, sung by the troubadours of those days, were countless; nor was any one more often mentioned, as stout knight and valiant soldier, than Reginald of Chatillon. His career is the theme for a history. His arm never grew weary of battle, nor did his sword rust until he was taken prisoner by the Moslems, and kept in chains for years at Aleppo. Released at last, he found his wife dead and his son on his throne. He himself gathered around him the most daring and reckless of the Templars, and having by a second marriage obtained other castles and possessions, he made it the business of his life to harass and annoy the Saracens wherever he could find them; and at length, emboldened by his success, conceived the idea of marching to Medinah and Mecca, and plundering the holy Kaaba itself. With his hitherto invincible band of warriors he set out on this perilous enterprise. They surprised and captured the Egyptian caravan crossing the desert from India, and advanced in triumph to the valley of Rabid, scarcely thirty miles from Medinah, where they were met by an overwhelming force and routed with terrible slaughter.  1
  Reginald escaped even here; but Salah-e’deen was aroused by this sacrilegious undertaking. He swore by an oath that could not be violated that the knight should die and Jerusalem should fall….  2
  It was the morning of July 4th, 1187, that the Christians advanced over the plain. Annoyed by the shafts of the Saracens and their constant sallies on both flanks, they yet advanced steadily to the middle of the plain, intending to cut their way through the ranks of the enemy and gain the shore of the sea.  3
  It was here that Salah-e’deen came down on them like a thunderbolt, at the head of twenty thousand horsemen. It was one of the most terrible charges on record. But the Christians, closing up their ranks, received it as the rock receives the sea, and it went back like the foam.  4
  Now high up among the Christian host, the Holy Cross itself was elevated, and men knew for what they were to fight and die. Around it, to use the words of Salah-e’deen himself, they gathered with the utmost bravery and devotion, as if they believed it their greatest blessing, strongest bond of union, and sure defense. The battle became general. On all sides the foe pressed the brave knights and their followers. The latter fell by hundreds, from exhaustion and thirst; for they had been short of bread and water for a week.  5
  Twice did Salah-e’deen repeat that tremendous charge, penetrating into the ranks of his enemies, and fighting his way out again without breaking their array.  6
  Night came down on the battle-field while its fate was yet undetermined, and they rested for the morrow.  7
  What wild, despairing prayers went up to God before the Cross of Christ that night, we may not know until those vials of the elders shall be opened.  8
  Long before day, by the admirable disposition of his army, Salah-e’deen had decided the battle even before it was fought.  9
  But he had not decided how many of his host were to be slain on the soil of Galilee by the swords of the Christians.  10
  As the day advanced, the two armies beheld each other. Salah-e’deen waited till the sun was up, and then “the sons of heaven and the children of fire fought their great battle.”  11
  The Christians fought as they were accustomed. Their heat and thirst were terrible, and increased by the enemy setting fire to the dry brush and grass, from which the strong wind blew a dense smoke toward them, nearly suffocating them.  12
  The scene was like a very hell; knights and devils contending among flames. Again and again the bands of Templars threw themselves on the Saracen front, and endeavored to pierce their way through its steel wall to reach the citadel of Tiberias, but in vain. The cry of the battle-field went up, among smoke and flame, before God, and he permitted the end to come. “Holy Cross!” shouted the grand-master of the Templars, as he fought his way toward the banner of the Kalif, followed by his brave knights. “Raymond for the Sepulchre!” rang over the clash of steel in the front of the battle. “Ha! Ha! Renaud—Renaud—Chatillon—Carrac—No rescue! Strike, strike!” shouted the proud retainers of the old knight, who were reveling in the blood of the conflict.  13
  By this time, in the centre of the field, the fight had grown thickest and most fierce around the True Cross, which was upheld on a slight eminence by the bishop of Ptolemais. Around it the bravest knights were collected. There Geoffrey of Lusignan, brother to the King, performed miracles of valor; and the Knights of the Temple and the Knights of St. John vied with each other in bravery. As the fray grew darker, and shafts flew swifter around them, and one by one they fell down before the holy wood, the stern, calm voice of the bishop was heard, chanting, “De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine; Domine, exaudi vocem meam!” in tones that overpowered the din of battle, and reached the ears of the dying even as they departed. Nearest of all to the Cross was a man wielding a sword which had already done fearful work on the Saracens. The sign on his back was not sufficient to distinguish him from other soldiers; but they who fought by his side well knew the brave precentor of the Sepulchre, bishop of Lydda, the city of St. George. How many souls he had sent to hell that day it is impossible to relate. He and four others remained around the old bishop of Ptolemais, who was fainting for loss of blood; for many arrows had pierced him, and his life was fast failing. “Bohemond for the Cross!” shouted the young Prince of Antioch, as he swept the Paynims down by scores. “St. George! St. George!” shouted the holy bishop, his bright eye flashing around him. He caught sight of the tottering Cross, as the bishop of Ptolemais went down dead. Springing toward it, he seized it with his left arm, and with prodigious strength threw himself into the faces of the foe. The lightning is not more fierce and fast than were the blows of his sword, as he hewed his way along, followed by Bohemond of Antioch, and Renaud of Sidon, and one unknown Knight of the Temple. The latter pressed forward to the side of the brave bishop. Bohemond and Renaud were separated from them, but the two fought on alone, in the midst of thousands of their enemies.  14
  At length the unequal contest was well-nigh over.  15
  The eye of Salah-e’deen was fixed on the dense mass that surrounded the Cross. He smiled bitterly as he saw it trembling and ready to fall from the hands of the gallant bishop, who held it with his left arm, while with his right he cursed the Infidels with the curse of steel, that damned them then, there, and forever. Well might the Soldan believe that as long as he held that holy wood, so long his mighty arm would remain strong, and blood replace in his brave heart the floods that issued from his wounds. But he grew faint at length, and yet shouting in clear tones, “St. George! St. George!” knelt down by the Cross, shielded by the stout arm of the brave Templar, who fought above him, unwounded and undaunted, though he now found himself last knight at the Cross of his Lord.  16
  One glance of his eye over the plain told him that all was lost; and nothing now remained for him but to die bravely for God and for Jerusalem. Far over the field, above the summit of the Mount of Transfiguration, he beheld the heavens opened, and saw the gates of pearl. Clear and distinct above the clash of arms and loud cries of the field of blood, he heard the voices of the angels singing triumphant songs. So he took courage as the darkness of the battle gathered blacker around him.  17
  For now, as the bishop of Lydda fell prostrate on the ground, the Cross had nearly fallen, and the Paynims, raising a shout of triumph, rushed in on their solitary foe. But they rushed through the gates of hell, sheer down the depths of death, to everlasting perdition. Down came the flashing axe on head and shoulder and limb; down through eyes and chin and breast; so that when they went to Hades in that plight, their prophet had difficulty in recognizing them even as of mortal shape.  18
  The dead lay all around him. He trod down his iron heel in their faces, and crushed it in their chests, and laughed as he dealt those more than human blows with cool, calm aim, but lightning force and velocity. No sound but the clashing steel was heard in this part of the plain, where for a while it appeared as if the saint of the fallen bishop were standing over him in arms for the cause of the Sepulchre.  19
  But every inch of his armor bristled with arrows that were drinking his blood; a well-sped javelin had made a hideous opening in his throat, and the foam from his lips was dropping red on his steel breastplate.  20
  Looking up once more, far over hill and plain, he saw again the battlements of heaven, and a shining company that were approaching even to his very front. The battle-field was visible no longer; but close beside him, the Divine eyes of the Virgin Mother were fixed on him with the same look that she of old fixed on that Cross when holier blood than his ran down its beam. But that was not all that he saw.  21
  There was a hideous sin on the soul of the Knight of the Cross. To expiate that sin he had long ago left the fair land of France, where he had lordly possessions, to become an unknown brother of the order of the Temple. And now through the fast-gathering gloom he saw the face of that one so beloved and so wronged, as she lay on the very breast of the matchless Virgin; and the radiance of her countenance was the smile of heaven. Though he saw all this, the gallant knight fought on, and his swift falchion flashed steadfastly above the mêlée. But then there was a sudden pause: his lost love lay warm and close on his breast, lay clasped in his arms, on his heart of hearts! He murmured a name long forbidden to his priestly lips, and then, waking one instant to the scene around him, he sprang at the throat of a Saracen, grasped it with his stiffening fingers, and the soul of the Paynim went out with his, as he departed to join the great assembly of the soldiers of the Cross. So the Cross was lost on the field of Galilee.  22
  Guy of Lusignan, eighth and last King of Jerusalem, with a small band of faithful knights, still held his ground on the hill of Hattin. When the Cross vanished from the field, a wail of anguish rose from all the plain, and quivered in the air at the very gates of the celestial city. Raymond of Tripoli and Renaud of Sidon cut their way through the ranks of Saracens, and escaped around the foot of Mount Tabor to Ptolemais. All the rest that were living fell into the hands of Salah-e’deen; and the next day, with his own sword, he executed his threatened vengeance on Reginald of Chatillon, hewing him down to the ground and leaving him to be dispatched by his followers. The fearful sacrifice which he then made of the Templars; how they crowded to it, and others sought to be included in the martyrdom, is a well-known page of history. Not so the statement of an old chronicler, that “during the three following nights, when the bodies of the holy martyrs were lying still unburied, a ray of celestial light shone over them from above.”  23
  The Cross which was lost on this field was never regained by Christians. It remained for some time in the custody of Salah-e’deen; and a few years later—that is, in A.D. 1192—the same chronicler describes the visits of pilgrims to Jerusalem, where they were allowed by the Kalif “to have a sight of the Holy Cross.”  24
 
 
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