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Medieval Sourcebook:
Annalist of Nieder-Altaich:
The Great German Pilgrimage of 1064-65

[Adapted from Brundage Introduction.] The early crusade historians tried various ways to present their subject. One important model was that of pilgrimage. From the .eighth-century on the number and size of pilgrimages from the West to Jerusalem increased. The great German Pilgrimage of 1064-65 is one of the most important of these journeys, and the account here gives some account of the hazards.

[#1] An almost incredible multitude set out for Jerusalem this year to worship at the sepulcher of the Lord. So many people took part in the pilgrimage and so much has been said about it that, lest its omission seem serious, we should briefly summarize here what transpired.

[#2] The leading personages who took part in the pilgrimage were Archbishop Siegfried of Mainz [*see note below], Bishop William of Utrecht, Bishop Otto of Ratisbon, and Bishop Gunther of Bamberg. Bishop Gunther, though younger than the others, was not inferior to the rest in wisdom and strength of spirit. Although now, after his death, we can scarcely record it without sorrowful groans Gunther was at that time the glory and pillar of the whole realm. Those who were acquainted with his secrets used to say that in many virtues he was perfection itself, down to the most minute details.

[#3] These leaders were followed by a multitude of counts and princes, rich and poor, whose numbers seemed to exceed twelve thousand. As soon as they had crossed the river known as the Morava, they fell at once into constant danger from thieves and brigands. Prudently avoiding these dangers, they cautiously made their way to the city of Constantinople. There they conducted themselves so honorably in every way that even the imperial arrogance of the Greeks was taken aback by them. The Greeks were so astounded by the noble appearance of Bishop Gunther that they took him to be, not a bishop, but the King of the Romans. [i.e. The King of Germany] They believed that he had disguised himself as a bishop, because be could not otherwise pass through these kingdoms to the sepulcher of the Lord.

[#4] They left Constantinople a few days later and, after passing through various difficulties and tribulations, came to Latakia. Bishop Gunther made their troubles clear when he wrote from Latakia to his people who were still at home. He said, among other things: "Brethren, we have truly passed through fire and water and at length the Lord has brought us to Latakia, which is mentioned in the Holy Scriptures as Laodicea. We have had the Hungarians serve us without faith and we have had the Bulgarians prey secretly upon us; we have fled from the open raging of the Uzes [i.e. The Byzantine name for the Oghuz Turks] and we have seen the Greek and imperial arrogance of the citizens of Constantinople; we have suffered in Asia Minor, but worse things are yet to come."

[#5] While they were staying for a few days in Latakia, they began to meet each day many people returning from Jerusalem. The returning parties told of the deaths of an uncounted number of their companions. They also shouted about and displayed their own recent and still bloody wounds. They bore witness publicly that no one could pass along that route because the whole land was occupied by a most ferocious tribe of Arabs who thirsted for human blood.

[#6] The question before the pilgrims was what to do and where to turn. First of all, they quickly agreed in council to deny their own wishes and to put all hope in the Lord. They knew that, living or dying, they belonged to the Lord and so, with all their wits about them, they set out through the pagan territory toward the holy city.

[#7] They soon came to a city called Tripoli. When the barbarian commander of the city saw such a multitude he ordered that all of them, without exception, be slaughtered cruelly with the sword; he hoped thereby to acquire an infinite sum of money. Immediately there arose from the sea (which beats against one side of the city) a dark cloud, from which there issued a great many lightning flashes, accompanied by terrifying claps of thunder. When this storm had lasted until noon of the next day and the waves of the sea had reached unusual heights, the pagans, united by the urgency of the situation, shouted to one another that the Christian God was fighting for his people and was going to cast the city and its people into the abyss. The commander, fearing death, changed his mind. The Christians were given leave to depart and at once the disturbance of the sea was calmed.

[#8] Harassed by various trials and tribulations, the pilgrims at last made their way through the whole country to the city called Caesarea. There they celebrated Holy Thursday, which fell that year on March 24. They even congratulated themselves on having escaped all danger, since it was reckoned that the journey from there to Jerusalem would take no more than two days.

[#9] On the following day, Good Friday [March 25. 1065] about the second hour of the day, [about 6.30-8 am] just as they were leaving Kafar Sallam, they suddenly fell into the hands of the Arabs who leaped on them like famished wolves on long awaited prey. They slaughtered the first pilgrims pitiably, tearing them to pieces. At first our people tried to fight back, but they were quickly forced, as poor men, to take refuge in the village. After they had fled, who can explain in words how many men were killed there, how many types of death there were, or how much calamity and grief there was? Bishop William of Utrecht, badly wounded and stripped of his clothes, was left lying on the ground with many others to die a miserable death. The three remaining bishops, together with a considerable crowd of various kinds of people, occupied a certain walled building with two stone towers. Here they prepared to defend themselves, so long as God allowed it.

[#10] The gate of the building was extremely narrow and, since the enemy was so close, they could not unload the packs carried by their horses. They lost, therefore, their horses and mules and everything that the animals were carrying. The enemy divided these things among themselves and soon hastened to destroy the owners of the wealth. The pilgrims, on the other hand, decided to take up arms" and with weapons in hand they courageously fought back. The enemy more indignant than ever, pressed the attack more vigorously, for they saw that the pilgrims, who they had thought would not attempt anything against them, were resisting manfully. For three whole days both sides fought with full force. Our men, though handicapped by hunger, thirst, and lack of sleep, were fighting for their salvation and their lives. The enemy gnashed their teeth like ravening wolves, since it seemed that they were not to be allowed to swallow the prey which they bad grasped in their jaws.

[#11] At last, on Easter Sunday," about the ninth hour of the day, [i.e. mid afternoon] a truce was called and eight pagan leaders were allowed to climb up into the tower, where the bishops were, to find out how much money the bishops would pay for their lives and for permission to leave.

[#12] As soon as they had climbed up, the one who seemed to be their chief approached Bishop Gunther, whom he took to be the leader of the pilgrims. The sheik removed the linen cloth with which his head was covered, and wrapped it around the neck of the seated bishop. "Now that I have taken you," be said, "all of these men are in my power and I shall hang you and as many of the others as I wish from a tree." Gunther acted as be did because the just man was fearless as a lion." As soon as the interpreter made known what he sheik had done and said, Gunther, who was not at all terrified by the numerical strength of the surrounding enemy, immediately leaped up and knocked the pagan to the ground with a single blow of his fist. The venerable man brought his foot down on the sheik's neck; then he said to his men: "Quick now! Set to and cast all these men into chains and put them out naked to ward off the missiles which their men are throwing at us." There was no delay; as soon as he had spoken his orders were carried off. Thus the assault of the attacking pagans was quelled for that day.

[#13] On the following day, about the ninth hour, the governor of the King of Babylon [i.e. Al-Mustansir, the Fatamid Caliph of Cairo] who ruled the city of Ramla, came at last with a large host to liberate our men. The governor, who had heard what the Arabs, like heathen, were doing, had calculated that if these pilgrims were to perish such a miserable death, then no one would come through this territory for religious purposes and thus he and his people would suffer seriously. When the Arabs learned of his approach, they dispersed and fled. The governor took charge of those who had been captured and tied up by the pilgrims and opened the gate so that our men could leave. They made their way, after leaving, to Ramla, where, at the invitation of the governor and townspeople, they rested for two weeks. They were finally allowed to leave and on April 12 they entered the holy city.

[#14] One cannot describe with words the fountain of tears which as shed there, the number and purity of the prayers and consecrated hosts which were sacrificed to God, or the joyful spirit with which, after many sighs, the pilgrims now chanted: "We hall now pay reverence at his foot stool." [Ps. 131;1]

[#15] After they had spent thirteen days there, fulfilling with intimate devotion their vows to the Lord, they finally returned in exultation to Ramla. Large numbers of Arabs gathered together at many places along the route, lying in ambush at all the entrances to the road, for they still sorrowed over the prey which had been snatched from their jaws. Our men, however, were not unaware of this. They presently gave passage money to the merchants. When they saw a favorable wind they boarded the ship. After a prosperous voyage they landed on the eighth day at the port of the city of Latakia. Leaving there a few days later, they joyfully arrived at last, though not without great difficulty and travail, at the Hungarian border and the banks of the Danube river.


Annales Altahenses Maiores, 8, a. 1065, MGH, SS. XX. 815-17, trans. James Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary History, (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1962)

[Update 28-Dec-2009. A note is needed here. Prof. Brundage's 1962 published version contained a typographical error. The person identified as Siegfried of Metz is in fact Siegfried of Mainz.  Thanks to Herwig Weigl and Leonard Lispshutz for pointing this out.]

Copyright note: Professor Brundage informed the Medieval Sourcebook that copyright was not renewed on this work. Moreover he gave permission for use of his translations.

Cite this document as follows

Annalist of Nieder-Altaich,  "The Great German Pilgrimage of 1064-65," trans. James Brundage,  Internet Medieval Sourcebook,   [/halsall/source/1064pilgrim.html], <paragraph ##-## if needed>

Note: The paragraph numbers [##] are specific to this version of the document, not to either the original language version, nor to the printed edition.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall December 1997, updated December 2008
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