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I am reading Simon Schama's A History of Britain Volume I, which often makes reference to this form of punishment. For example, on p144:

"The assassin's made for Yorkshire, where they lived untouched for a year. Eventually excommunicated, they were sentenced to take the Cross, and some of them died en route to the Holy Land."

Or same page:

"In 1172 the pope ordered [Henry II] to take the cross for three years as penance. He never went."

What exactly did this form of punishment entail?

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To "take the cross" is to take crusader vows and participate in a crusade to the Holy Land. It doesn't seem to have been a punishment exactly. It was intended as a form of penance so the wrongdoers could redeem themselves in the eyes of God (or, more accurately, the eyes of the Church) for their misdeeds.

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    I would not limit it to "crusader", as I think that implies participation in one of the organized military expeditions. I think a better term would be "pilgrim", as people would make pilgrimages there (and to other places, e.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camino_de_Santiago_(route_descriptions) ) at any time. – jamesqf May 18 at 17:41
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    @jamesqf - Making a pilgrimage would also be a penance, but is it described as "taking the Cross"? – Pere May 18 at 23:08
  • @Pere: I think so, but I'm no expert and can't find a source that isn't a book I don't have access to. Logically, it would not be of much use as a regular punishment, since crusades were sporadic. – jamesqf May 19 at 5:40
  • @KillingTime, "or, more accurately, the eyes of the Church" is unsubstantiated. The Church holds that penance removes the satisfaction due to God by man's sin -- it is atonement. It is not the Church who judges, but ultimately, God Himself. – user96931 May 21 at 16:59

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