"Reysa in laudem Dei et virginis Marie contra paganos:" The Experience of Crusading in Prussia during the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries


  • Gregory Leighton




This article analyzes crusading in Prussia (present-day Poland, Lithuania, and parts of Russia) as a specific form of experience, specifically by examining two elements of that experience: the use and function of relics, and the perception of crusading in Prussia as a pilgrimage. While the expeditions have been previously cited for their brutality and lack of connection to the ‘real’ crusades to Jerusalem or other theaters, like Spain (due to the lack of holy shrines in the region, and the motivations of their participants), this article presents a challenge to that narrative: relics and pilgrimage formed key elements to the crusading experience in Prussia from an early stage, developing over the course of a century. This article first addresses the contested issue of whether or not relics were used in the military expeditions by consulting not only the extensive primary sources available, but also the most recent and up-to-date scholarly research, concluding that they were, indeed, used on the battlefield. It also analyzes the role of other objects, namely banners and images, to as¬sess the religious elements of the crusade experience in Prussia. It then proceeds to the veneration of relics at shrines throughout Prussia by crusaders, demonstrating the role of these shrines in reinforcing the religious experience of crusading in Prussia. What emerges is a more complete picture of how people in the Middle Ages perceived crusading and holy war on the last pagan frontier of Europe.

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