During the Middle Ages, over the course of hundreds of years, peasants, knights and kings left Europe, leaving their homes behind them to journey to the Land of Israel and carrying the dream in their hearts of redeeming the holy city, Jerusalem, from the hands of the Muslims. One European who came on one of these Crusades was the king of England, Richard I, known as Richard the Lionheart. Richard embarked on his journey in 1190, carrying with him the Crusader oath and vowing not to rest until he had liberated the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site of the crucifixion and resurrection of the Christian Messiah. After many days' journey and after anchoring on the shores of the Land of Israel he enjoyed initial success; he liberated Crusader Akko and even defeated the well-known Muslim leader, Saladin, on the battlefield. With Richard’s advance south, along the coastline, and his capture of Jaffa in 1191, it seemed that Jerusalem was already in his reach. We see his confidence in a letter that he wrote to his people in England:
“With God’s grace, we hope to recover the city of Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulcher within 20 days after Christmas, and then return to our own dominions.”
Richard didn’t know that his prediction would never be realized. Disagreements that arose in the Crusader camp and the slow advance of the army allowed the Muslim forces to recover. A year of battles without clear victories ensued and according to sources, when he alighted on his ship in the Akko port, his heart ached. He could see the Land of Israel becoming more distant, but continued to turn his gaze to the shore, and parted with the words:
“I still intend to save you.”
His promise to redeem the Land did not come to fruition. With his return to Europe, he was drawn into lengthy civil wars. In one of the battles, an arrow sliced through his chest, and thus he found his end.
Illustration from handwritten French manuscript, 14th century
Courtesy of Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris
Capture of Jerusalem by Godfrey de Bouillon, as depicted in a manuscript