The Crusade held by Urban II was as a result of a request made by Alexios I Komenes, the Byzantine Emperor, in form of a letter for aid from the West against Turks who had taken over almost all of Asia Minor from him. At the Council of Clermont, the Pope addressed a large crowd and urged all to go to the aid of Greeks and recover Palestine from the rule of the Muslims. This crusade was held from 18 to 28 November, 1095 in Clermont, France (Scutt & Lee 17).
It is important to note that there were no direct accounts of the original speech. However, four different accounts developed by churchmen present at the crusade at that time are available for analysis. The first of these accounts was by Fulcher of Chartres in 1101. According to his account, Pope Urban II addressed the duty of the church by using the biblical phrase ‘you are the salt of the earth’. He also sought to address the internal conflicts within the church to reclaim peaceful coexistence and ways to adopt so as to maintain the sanctity of the church (Scutt & Lee 25).
He also noted the crimes rampant in the world then such as violent robbery with its solution being the reenactment of the truce which would be kept in diocese. Worth noting also is the issue he addressed on Christianity suffering from a state of affairs of a serious nature. Brethren residing in the East had been attacked by Turks and Arabs and conquered the Romanian (Greek empire) territory extending to the Arm of St. George. They had killed, captured and destroyed the churches and devastated the empire.
Robert the Monk’s account is date around 1107. According to this account, the Pope’s crusade emanated from the scripture on bearing one’s cross. He stresses the fact that Jerusalem had been attacked by Persians, a race alienated from God. These attackers had caused deaths to Christians through the sword, pillage and fire, held others captive, destroyed the churches and alters of God and defiled them. The Pope therefore requested the congregants to take a step of rescuing the persecuted Christians and Jerusalem (Dana 5-8).
According to Balderic of Dol’s account (1108-1110), emphasis on the state of Jerusalem and the suffering endured by Christians was heavily accorded in the Pope’s speech. His main descriptions are on the forces made to Christians to be beggars as well as being enslaved in the Holy Land. Options such as going into hiding did not help them as Muslims constantly sought them out. He further describes the conversion of churches to animal stables and how ‘base and bustard Turks hold sway over our brothers’ and claims that Jerusalem had been reduced to paganism pollution. From this, it is gathered that the Pope’s address concerned a call to Christians to put aside their internal differences and help rescue Christian sites in the Holy Land (Krey 33-36).
From Guibert de Nogent, the last accounts perspective, the Pope recognized the foundation churches that contribute to the grace of redemption and the source of Christianity. The Antichrist dimension takes centre stage in this account and Jerusalem is said to be attacked by Gentiles. The people were still urged to rescue the city of Jerusalem and the persecuted Christians instead of waiting and watching while it all unraveled with immense destruction (Krey 37-42).
Saving Christians from continued assault by Muslim Turks, recapturing the Holy Land and securing it as a pilgrimage destination for Christians represented the unification of Europeans in the name of the highest ideals of the church. The Pontiff’s appeal was well responded by western Europeans stemming from every rank and nationality, however, their motives may not have been utterly selfless nor purely religious.
Dana, Munro. “Urban and the crusaders.” Translations from the Original Sources of European History 1 (1895).
Krey, August. The First Crusade: eyewitnesses and participants accounts. Princeton, 1921.
Scutt, Blainey I, and Lee, Anderson H. A Basis for Medieval History. New York: Scribner, 1999.