By Spencer Zakarin
The Yale Historical Review, Vol.1:3 (2010)
Introduction: Under Jesus Christ, our leader, may you struggle for your Jerusalem, in Christian battle-line, most invincible line, even more successfully than did the sons of Jacob of old – struggle, that you may assail and drive out the Turks, more execrable than the Jebusites, who are in this land, and may you deem it a beautiful thing to die for Christ in that city in which he died for us.
With these words, Pope Urban II opened what would become one of history’s most fascinating and compelling periods, the Crusades. His speech at the Council of Clermont on November 27, 1095 changed the course of history across continents, cultures, and centuries, leaving an indelible mark that exists to this day on Christian-Muslim and East-West relations. His call to arms to defend Christianity and free the Holy City of Jerusalem from the “heathen” hands of Muslim infidels resounded across Europe, uniting thousands under the banner of the Cross. Men and women, nobles and peasants, priests and soldiers all rallied to the Church.
Over the ensuing months, Christians throughout Western Europe prepared for the long journey to the East. Urban II declared that all property belonging to the Crusaders would be protected and that all interest on debts would be frozen while these devout Christian men and women performed God’s work. In August of 1096, nine months after Pope Urban II’s speech at Clermont, the Crusaders began their march across Europe to Jerusalem. The path was long and arduous, befitting a religious mission. Throughout their travels, the crusading masses maintained their devout belief that God was willing them onwards. Finally, on May 16, 1099, nearly three years after they first set forth from Europe, the Crusader forces began their final approach to Jerusalem.
To this day, it remains unclear what Pope Urban II actually intended the Crusaders to do once they arrived in Jerusalem. There is no universally accepted transcript of his speech, nor is there any record of his motives or intentions elsewhere. However, it is almost certain that he did not foresee the progression of events that ultimately occurred. The insinuation of small numbers of Western European Christians into a land of religious diversity led to the fascinating evolution of Frankish2 interactions with Muslims, native Christians, and Jews. At first, intense religious fervor propelled the Crusaders to commit horrendous acts of violence against these non-Franks. However, over time, a modus vivendi developed out of necessity and mutual self-interest.