Pope Urban II

Pope Urban II Calls for a Crusade
Pope Urban II Calls for a Crusade

Born in France to a noble family, Urban II was elected pope in 1088 when the papacy was still in exile from Rome. He did not enter Rome as pope until 1094.

Urban had been educated in church doctrine and had served the church in France and Germany as a papal legate. Urban supported reforms to draw the clergy away from worldly pursuits and toward monasticism.

When Alexios I Komnenos, the emperor of the Byzantine Empire based in Constantinople, sent an urgent plea for military help in fighting the Seljuk Turks who had taken the holy sites in Jerusalem, Urban responded with a rousing speech at the Council of Clermont I 1095.

Addressing his audience in French, Urban called for the Franks, a “race chosen and beloved by God,” to take arms against the Muslim infidels. Urban directed his request to French Christians; Spanish Christians were expected to fight in Spain against Muslim control of the Iberian Peninsula.

Urban promised immediate remission of sins to all those who fought on the land or sea against “the pagans.” Reflecting the religious intolerance of the time, Urban cursed the Muslims as “a despised and base race, which worships demons” and urged those “who have been fighting against their brothers and relatives now to fight in a proper way against the barbarians.”

Thus Urban II launched the first of many Christian crusades against Muslim control over Palestine and the holy sites and set in motion a protracted period of conflict and, ironically, trade and transmission of ideas and culture, between Christian Europe and the mainly Muslim east.