Nowadays, the world hardly remembers Pope Urban II (1042-1099). Yet few people in history have had such an obvious and direct impact on their fellow man, for Urban II was the pope whose call to Christians to rid the Holy Land of Muslims inaugurated the Crusades.
Pope Urban, by his original name Odo de Lagery, was born around 1042 near the town of Chatillon-sur-Marne in France. He came from a large French noble family and received a distinguished education. In his youth he was archdeacon of Reims. He later became successively a clerical monk, second to the abbot, cardinal-bishop, and in 1088 was elected pope.
Huge crowds outside Clermont Cathedral in the Auvergne region of France were shivering with cold, weeping with religious fervour and smiling with greedy impatience as Pope Urban II launched his dramatic call for a holy crusade on this day.
Biography of Pope Urban
Full name: Pope Urban
Date of birth/ Feast Day: 1007 AD
Year of death: 1099 AD
Place of birth: Lagery, France
Father's name: Gui I de Chatillon
Mother's name: Guido de Châtillon-sur-Marne
Life accomplishments: He was the initiator of the first crusade. The First Crusade began in 1095, when European Christian armies responded to Pope Urban II's request to go to war against the Muslims in the Holy Land.
Death cause: Natural causes
What was Pope Urban known for?
“Jerusalem is the navel of the world,” declared the Pope, “. A land more fruitful than any other, a paradise of delights. This is the land which the Saviour of mankind enlightened by His coming, adorned by His life, sanctified by His passion, saved by His death and sealed by His burial. This royal city, situated in the middle of the world, is now held captive by its enemies. It is constantly begging you to come to its aid”.
According to historians, Pope Urban II is known for the fact that Urban was a powerful, effective pope, gifted with political intelligence, but that is not why he deserved his place in this book. The main action for which he is remembered by posterity dates from 27 November 1095. He convened a great church council, held in the town of Clermont in France.
There, in front of a crowd of thousands, Urban delivered perhaps the most effective speech in history – a speech that was to influence Europe for centuries. Here, Urban protested that the Seljuk Turks, who ruled the Holy Land, were desecrating the holy sites of Christianity and harassing pilgrims.
How many popes had the name Urban?
More than 2.3 billion Christians live in the world. More than half of them are Catholics or faithful of the Eastern Churches united with Rome. Today, the Roman Catholic Church is the largest denomination under a single leadership. More than 1.3 billion Catholics worldwide recognise the supreme authority of the pontiff in Rome.
According to sources and historical records, 8 Catholic priests have been declared popes with the name Urban.
Although the term “Pope ” is used in many churches to mark their high spiritual leaders, in English usage the title generally refers to the supreme head of the Roman Catholic Church. The title itself has been officially used by the head of the Roman Catholic Church since the pontificate of Pope Siricius.
What did Pope Urban V do?
Urban had been strongly influenced by an ascetic monk named Peter the Hermit. Who had visited the Holy Land the year before. His description of the misery of Christians and the desecration of Christian altars in Jerusalem. Inspired Urban to unite the faithful in a major effort to drive out the Seljuk Turks who controlled Palestine.
According to biblical scholars, Pope Urban V urged all Christendom to unite in a holy war – a great crusade to recapture the Holy Land. From 28 September 1362 to 19 December 1370 Pope Urban V was Pope of France in Avignon.
Urban was too clever to appeal to altruism alone. He pointed out that the Holy Land was fertile and rich – far richer than the overpopulated lands of Christian Europe. And finally, the pope announced that participation in the crusade would replace any kind of penance and the crusader would be absolved of all sins.
When did Pope Urban II die?
Urban’s brilliant speech, which appealed to both the most altruistic and the most selfish motivations of the listeners, generated feverish enthusiasm among the audience. Before he finished, the crowd chanted: Deus le volt! (It is God’s will.) These words were to become the battle cry of the crusaders.
As for Urban II himself, he died in 1099, two weeks after the Crusaders succeeded in recapturing Jerusalem, but before the news got out.
The First Crusade, which began within a few months, would be followed by a long series of Holy Wars (there were eight major crusades and a host of smaller ones), spanning more than two hundred years.
How many crusades have occurred?
Wearing the symbol of the white cross on their chests, the Crusaders immediately began to pillage and plunder the territories on their way to the Holy Land, encouraged by their battle cry Deus le volt! (“God wills it!”).
It is recorded that there were nine crusades aimed at conquering and maintaining occupation of Jerusalem, the last of which took place in 1365.
In June 1099, the Christian army, reduced in numbers, now numbering around 1,500 mounted soldiers and 12,000 foot soldiers, reached Jerusalem. On 15 July, the great walled city was occupied by the Crusaders, who slaughtered everything in their path. The First Crusade was triumphantly celebrating its end.
- Like all wars, they had a direct influence on the participants as well as the civilian populations caught in their path. In addition, the Crusades had the effect of bringing Western Europe into contact with the then much more advanced Byzantine and Islamic civilisations. This relationship helped smooth the path to the Renaissance, which in turn led to the flowering of modern European civilisation.
- Offering forgiveness of sins to all those who helped Christians in the East, Urban’s appeal met with an immediate and overwhelming response. Soon, an impressive force of some 4,000 mounted soldiers and 25,000 foot soldiers, mainly from France, Italy and the Germanic states, was being led to Constantinople on its way to the greatest adventure in Christian history.
- No king could have done it. (If a German emperor, for example, had declared holy war on the Turks and led his armies in a crusade, it’s hard to believe that many English knights would have joined him.)
Pope Urban II figures in history not only because of the enormous importance of the Crusades, but also because it is unlikely that they could have taken place without his inspiration. Obviously, the conditions were met; thus, the speech would not have been received. However, the initiation of a general European movement required a central figure to lead it.
Nor can it be said that any pope elected would have proposed a crusade to liberate the Holy Land. On the contrary, in many ways the call seemed hazardous. Most prudent leaders would not have made such a proposal, the consequences of which are always difficult to assess. But Urban II dared to act, and in doing so had a greater. And more lasting influence on human history than many incomparably more famous men.
- Baldwin, M. W. (1940). Some Recent Interpretations of Pope Urban II’s Eastern Policy. The Catholic Historical Review, 25(4), 459-466.
- Campbell, J. L. (1953). The Letter Sent by Iain Muideartach, Twelfth Chief of Clanranald, to Pope Urban VIII, in 1626. Innes Review, 4(2), 110-116.
- Cowdrey, H. E. J. (1970). Pope Urban II’s preaching of the first crusade. History, 55(184), 177-188.
- Gabriele, M. (2012). The last Carolingian exegete: Pope Urban II, the weight of tradition, and Christian reconquest. Church history, 81(4), 796-814.
- Munro, D. C. (1906). The Speech of Pope urban II. at clermont, 1095. The American Historical Review, 11(2), 231-242.