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  • Chapter 2 Preaching the Crusades and the Liturgical Year:The Palm Sunday Sermons
  • Jessalynn Bird

It is a truism in both general and specialist studies of the crusades that recruiters focused on certain dates in the liturgical year, including the Invention and Exaltation of the Cross and Holy Week.1 However, few studies have been done on how preachers used the readings and liturgies of specific feast days to construct crusade appeals. As part of a larger project investigating the sources used by crusade preachers, this article will focus on the Palm Sunday sermons of Paris-trained individuals who preached the crusade in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, including Stephen Langton, James of Vitry, Oliver of Paderborn, Odo of Cheriton, Alan of Lille, and John the Teuton, abbot of Saint-Victor. Paris masters and their Victorine collaborators were at the forefront of liturgical reform in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and I will also be examining the liturgical context in which sermons were delivered by referencing the treatises of John Beleth, Sicard of Cremona, and Peter of Roissy, chancellor of Chartres (the latter two were involved in crusading) and liturgical manuscripts from northern France and England, including Saint-Victor.2

For many years, I have been investigating unpublished reform and crusade appeals preserved in several Victorine manuscripts, which I intend to edit and publish. The sermons described below largely originate from manuscripts owned by or produced for the canonry of Saint-Victor in Paris that contain homilies delivered by Paris masters or the canons and abbots of Saint-Victor. These and other surviving collections of sermons and other pastoral material may have been intended for use by masters and students active in Paris, who viewed Saint-Victor as a spiritual haven. Alternatively, these compilations could have been created for use by Saint-Victor’s canons, who studied and taught theology, were valued as confessors and judges delegate, and were involved in crusading and pastoral work.3

No matter their provenance, the manuscripts represent a coherent and shared body of liturgy and doctrine that canons and masters alike tapped to produce crusade [End Page 11] appeals in response to Innocent III’s call for monthly processions (accompanied by sermons) and the insertion of daily prayers in the Mass in support of the crusade effort. Many Paris masters were specifically commissioned to preach the crusade (or undertook this activity on their own), but its promotion was also undertaken by the Victorines and diocesan clergy in Paris, who together with all those with the care of souls, were required to preach the crusade to their own parishioners. In response to their own pastoral needs and those of other preachers, masters including Odo of Cheriton and James of Vitry also produced and revised sermon collections, drawing on what they had heard and learned in Paris. A comparison between the Palm Sunday sermons preached during the liturgical year and surviving crusade appeals shows that both the canons of Saint-Victor and the masters of Paris consciously drew on themes present in the liturgy and readings for Palm Sunday when constructing crusade sermons, particularly to explain the penitential stance required of crusaders and those participating in the fasting, almsgiving, prayer, and processions of the crusade’s home front. Their explanations would become critically important for justifying the extension of involvement in the crusade to virtually every member of western Christendom in one form or another: participating in the prayers and processions instituted for the crusade, earning divine favor through repentance and penitential observances, contributing money and supplies, or joining a crusading expedition. The sermons also cast light on the ways in which the memory of the crusades became entwined with the memory of the Holy Land and Christ’s redemptive work there, reenacted daily in the Mass and yearly in the liturgical calendar of feast days associated with Christ’s life.

The Liturgy

Important to any preaching occasion were the readings and liturgical ceremony associated with a particular feast day. Palm Sunday was rich in these resonances. Its ritual joyously commemorated Christ’s triumphal yet humble entry into Jerusalem riding a donkey. Yet the biblical account of Christ’s Passion was also read, fore...


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