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Pope Urban II

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Pope Urban II

How could a single man bring about the world-shaking event that was the Crusades? In this explanation, we will discuss who Pope Urban II was, why he was so powerful, and how he changed history during the Middle Ages.

Pope Urban II: a brief biography

Before diving into Pope Urban II's relationship to the Crusades, let's talk about the man behind the title.

Background

Pope Urban II, originally named Odo of Chatillon-sur-Marne, was born in 1035 in the Champagne region of France to a noble family. He took up theological studies in the Soissons and Reims regions of France and was eventually appointed archdeacon (assistant to a bishop) of Reims. The position held a considerable influence in the Middle Ages and meant that Odo of Chatillon-sur-Marne had been appointed by the Bishop of Reims to assist him in administration. He held this position from 1055-67 after which he was appointed prior superior at Cluny, a greatly influential centre of monasticism.

Pope Urban II Image StudySmarterPope Urban II, Wikimedia Commons.

The road to the papacy

In 1079 Pope Gregory VII, having recognised his service to the church, appointed him cardinal and Bishop of Ostia and in 1084 he was sent by Gregory VII as papal legate to Germany.

Legate

A member of the clergy who acts as the Pope’s representative.

During this time, Pope Gregory VII was in conflict with King Henry IV of Germany concerning lay investiture (the appointment of religious officials). Whereas Henry IV believed that as King he had the right to appoint church officials, Pope Gregory VII insisted that only the Pope and senior church officials should have that right. Odo demonstrated his loyalty by fully supporting Pope Gregory VII during his visit to Germany as papal legate.

Pope Gregory VII died in September 1085. He was succeeded by Victor III who died shortly after in 1087. Months of in-fighting ensued in which the cardinals on the side of Gregory VII tried to regain control of Rome, which was controlled by antipope Clement III, who had been appointed by Henry IV in 1080 to oppose Gregory VII in the Investiture Controversy.

Odo was finally elected Pope Urban II on 12 March 1088 in Terracina, south of Rome.

The birth and death of Pope Urban II

Pope Urban II was born around 1035 in France and died at 64 in 1099 in Rome.

What was Pope Urban II’s role in launching the Crusades?

Pope Urban II is most known for his role in the Crusades. Let’s study what he did.

Council of Piacenza

The Council of Piacenza was convened in March 1095 and was attended by a mix of church officials and laymen (people without an official position in the church). During the council, Urban II consolidated his authority by persuasively arguing for universal condemnation of simony, which was indeed later enacted.

Simony

The buying and selling of ecclesiastical privileges, like a pardon, which was meant to erase the sins of the buyer.

The most important attendees in the council were the ambassadors of Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos. Alexios had been excommunicated by Gregory VII in 1081 because he had seized the throne through a revolt. Nonetheless, Pope Urban II lifted the ex-communication when he became Pope in 1088 because he wanted to smooth out relations between the Western and Eastern Churches after the schism of 1054.

The Byzantine Empire had lost most of its territory in Anatolia after its defeat in the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 to the Seljuk Empire. The ambassadors asked for help from Pope Urban II to retake it. Urban was a tactical man and saw an opportunity to reunite the two churches under papal influence. As a result, he responded positively.

The Council of Clermont

Pope Urban II responded to Alexios’ request by convening a Council in Clermont, France in 1095. The council lasted 10 days, from 17-27 November. On 27 NovemAlexios I Image StudySmarterByzantine Emperor Alexios I, Wikimedia Commons.ber, Urban II delivered an inspiring sermon in which he called for arms to be taken up against the Seljuk Turks (to retake Jerusalem) and for the need to protect the Christians of the east.

Pope Urban II's quote

Regarding the fight against the Seljuk Turks, Pope Urban II argued that

a barbaric fury has deplorably afflicted and laid waste the churches of God in the regions of the Orient.

OrientThe Orient traditionally refers to any land that is located east in relation to Europe.

Pope Urban II was careful to reframe his call as a holy war. It would lead, he said, to the salvation of the participants and to protect the religion of the true God.

Pope Urban II: primary sources

There are different accounts of Pope Urban II's speech at the Council of Clermont from those who were present. You can read the different versions in Fordham University’s Medieval Sourcebook online.

The People’s March

Pope Urban II’s call for holy war became linked with the act of ‘taking up the cross’, a term that paralleled Christ’s carrying of his cross before his death. As a result, this war was called a crusade.

Pope Urban II planned to start the Crusade on 15 August 1096, on the Feast of the Assumption, but an unexpected army of peasants and petty nobles set off before the Pope’s army of aristocrats under the leadership of a charismatic priest, Peter the Hermit. Peter was not an official preacher sanctioned by the Pope, but he inspired fanatical enthusiasm for the Crusade, having in turn been inspired by Pope Urban’s calls to protect Christendom.

The march of these unofficial crusaders was punctuated by a lot of violence and quarrelling in the countries they crossed, especially Hungary, despite the fact they were on Christian territory. They wanted to force the Jews they encountered to convert, but this had not been encouraged by Pope Urban. Nevertheless, they killed the Jews who refused. The crusaders pillaged the countryside and killed those who stood in their way. Once they reached Asia Minor, most were killed by the more experienced Turkish army, for example at the Battle of Civetot in October 1096.

Pope Urban II and the First Crusade

Significantly, Pope Urban’s call for a religious war led to a series of four bloody and divisive campaigns to regain Jerusalem from the Seljuk Empire. During the First Crusade, which was a direct result of Pope Urban II’s rhetoric, four crusader armies numbering 70,000-80,000 marched towards Jerusalem. The crusaders laid siege in Antioch, Nicaea, and Jerusalem and succeeded in defeating the Seljuk army.

As a result, four Crusader States were established: the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch, and the County of Tripoli.

What was the legacy of Pope Urban II?

Pope Urban II died in 1099, just before Jerusalem was retaken. Though he never witnessed the full victory of his call to arms, the victory put him on a saintly pedestal. He was venerated by both the Western and Eastern Churches. He was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1881.

To venerate

To regard with great respect, revere.

Beatification

Declaration by the Pope (only in the Roman Catholic Church) that a dead person has entered heaven, constituting the first step towards their being declared a saint and permitting public veneration.

His call was so popular that it would echo for two more centuries and three more crusades. These, nonetheless, were much less successful, and none of them managed to retake Jerusalem. The division increased with each crusade and despite Pope Urban’s wish to unite the East and West, the crusaders eventually betrayed the Byzantine Emperor and attacked Constantinople in 1204, to set up a Latin Empire.

Pope Urban II - Key takeaways

  • Pope Urban II was born in 1035 in France and became Pope in 1088.
  • Pope Urban II was asked to help defeat the Seljuk Empire that was threatening the sovereignty of the Byzantine Empire in the Council of Piacenza in March 1095.
  • Pope Urban II quickly responded to the request by calling for the Council of Clermont in November 1095. At the council, he delivered an inspiring sermon in which he called for a crusade to retake Jerusalem.
  • His rhetoric led to an unofficial crusade, or the People's Crusade, led by Peter the Hermit.
  • The First Crusade was a direct result of Pope Urban II’s rhetoric and it was a success setting up 4 crusader states in the Middle East.

Frequently Asked Questions about Pope Urban II

Yes, Pope Urban II was declared a saint under the Catholic Church on 14 July 1881 Rome by Pope Leo XIII.

Pope Urban II is famous for initiating the First Crusade.

Pope Urban II promised that anyone who fought in the Crusades would go to heaven upon their death 

Pope Urban II

Final Pope Urban II Quiz

Question

When did Pope Urban II become a Pope?

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Answer

He was elected Pope Urban II on 12 March 1088 in Terracina, south of Rome.

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Question

What was the name of Pope Urban II before he became Pope?

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Answer

Odo of Chatillon-sur-Marne

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Question

When was Pope Urban II born?


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Answer

1035

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Question


What was the importance of the Council of Piacenza?

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Answer


 Pope Urban II and the Byzantine Emperor forged an alliance

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Question

When did the Council of Piacenza take place?

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Answer

1095

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Question

What is simony?


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Answer

Simony refers to the act of the buying and selling of ecclesiastical privileges, like a pardon, which was meant to erase the sins of the buyer

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Question

When did the Council of Clermont take place?

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Answer

1095

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Question

What did Pope Urban II argue during the Council of Clermont?


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Answer

Pope Urban II framed his call as a holy war. It would lead, he said, to the salvation of the participants as they were, and protect the religion of the true God.

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Question

When was the First Crusade to begin?

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Answer

15 August 1096

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Question

What was the People's March?


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Answer

The People's March was an unexpected army of peasants and petty nobles who set off before the Pope’s army of aristocrats under the leadership of a charismatic priest, Peter the Hermit. Peter was not an official preacher sanctioned by the Pope, but he inspired fanatical enthusiasm for the Crusade, having in turn been inspired by Pope Urban’s calls to protect christendom.

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Question


What was the result of the First Crusade?

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Answer

Four Crusader States were established: the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch and the County of Tripoli.

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Question

What legacy did Pope Urban II leave behind?


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Answer

The Pope's call for a crusade was so popular that it led to three more crusades.

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