In 1095, Pope Urban II summoned a Council to meet at Clermont, France. The church had fallen on hard times following the lifelong clash between Pope Hildebrand and Emperor Henry IV. Urban II was a vigorous leader and was trying to set things right. At the council, he promoted the concept of a "Truce of God" which would restrain violence at home; and he called for the first crusade.
On this day, November 27, 1095, a great crowd of laymen and clergy gathered in an open field to hear the pope speak. Exactly what he said we do not know. We have five accounts, but each is different from the others. Yet we can follow the gist of the speech.
Urban recounted the sad plight of the Mid East, now controlled by Moslems. Its churches had been converted to mosques and stables. The streets where Jesus walked were trampled by heathen feet. Christians were persecuted and tortured. Their women were raped. The power of formerly Christian kingdoms had been broken; they could not longer defend the holy places or Christians. Pilgrimages had become virtually impossible.
"To whom therefore has the labor of avenging these wrongs and of recovering the territory fallen, if not upon you? You, upon whom above other nations God has conferred remarkable glory in arms, great courage, bodily activity, and strength to humble the hairy scalp of those who resist you."
The Franks should put aside their squabbles and direct their energies to this task for the sake of Christendom, said Urban. Quoting scriptures, he admonished his listeners that anyone who held back for love of family was not worthy of Christ, whereas anyone who forsook this world's goods to crusade in the Holy Land would inherit eternal life. He promised remission of sins to anyone who would undertake the expedition to liberate the east.
"...advance boldly, as knights of Christ, and rush as quickly as you can to the defense of the Eastern Church. For she it is from whom the joys of your whole salvation have come forth, who poured into your mouths the milk of divine wisdom, who set before you the holy teachings of the gospel."
Moved by the pope's appeal, the crowd shouted with one voice, "It is the will of God! It is the will of God!"
Yes, answered the pope. It was the will of God. God had proven it by uniting them in their cry. Since God himself had placed this cry in their hearts, they were to use it as their battle cry. He also instructed them to embroider the sign of the cross on their clothes. The pope followed up the council with a letter to the crusaders, confirming the gist of his speech and recapped his promise of remission of sins.
- Bréhier, Louis. "Crusades." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
- Brusher, Joseph. Popes Through the Ages. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand, 1959.
- Butler, R. Urban. "Urban II, Pope Bl." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
- "Crusades" and "Urban II." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- Durant, Will. The Age of Faith. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1950.
- Freemantle, Anne and the editors of Time-Life. The Age of Faith. New York: Time Inc., 1965.
- Montor, Artaud de. The Lives and Times of the Popes. New York: The Catholic Publication Society of America, 1910 - 11.
- Peters, Edward. The First Crusade; the chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and other source materials. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971.
- Treece, Henry. The Crusades. New York: Mentor, 1962.
- Various encyclopedia and internet articles.
Last updated April, 2007.