The First Crusade and the War for the Holy Sepulchre

On 27 November 1095 Pope Urban II called on the knights of Latin Christendom to fight a war for the conquest of Jerusalem and the liberation of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Four years later, on 15 July 1099, the armies of the First Crusade broke into the holy city, massacred its population of Muslims and Jews, and established Christian custody over its many sacred sites. They did so confident in the belief that they were agents of God’s will.

The crusaders’ sense of divine approval for their actions was amplified even further on 5 August 1099 when they discovered what they believed to be a major relic of the True Cross. This talismanic sacred treasure was subsequently wielded in battle on countless occasions by the settlers of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. The relic was eventually lost at the Battle of Hattin (4 July 1187), a military disaster for the Latins that paved the way for Saladin’s reconquest of Jerusalem later that year.

Coin of the Kingdom of Jerusalem

Kingdom of Jerusalem


The Latin kingdom of Jerusalem was established in the wake of the First Crusade as the most prominent and influential of the four new Crusader States. This coin probably depicts the True Cross relic the settlers discovered in 1099, demonstrating how significant this sacred object was to the kingdom’s sense of identity.

All our men rejoiced and we gave praise and thanks to almighty God, who returned to us not only the city in which he had suffered, but also the symbols of his Passion and victory, so that we might embrace him more closely with the arms of faith, the more certain because we beheld the signs of our salvation.

– A first crusader celebrates the conquest of Jerusalem and the discovery of the True Cross
From Raymond of Aguilers, The History of the Franks who Captured Jerusalem, c.1100

Print depicting the Battle of Ascalon (12 August 1099)

Date and provenance unknown

LDOSJ 8793

This print imagines the scene at the Battle of Ascalon, the final military engagement of the First Crusade which took place around a month after the crusaders’ conquest of Jerusalem. The central figure holds aloft a reliquary box or chasse. It is probably supposed to contain the True Cross relic that the crusaders had discovered in Jerusalem a week earlier.

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