The First Crusade: Pope Urban II and Jerusalem vs. Diplomatic Unification
By Alexandra Wurglics
Adelphi Honors College Student Journal of Ideas, Vol.15 (2015)
Introduction: Pope Urban II (1088-1099) could not have realized the enormity of his decision to call for the First Crusade. What was initially conceived of as a single, penitential expedition ended up sparking a long series of Holy Wars that shaped the culture, people, and history of Europe and the Middle East. The origins of crusading, fighting in God’s name, and the merging of feudal society with the Church, began to take shape in France in the middle of the 11th century during the time of Pope Urban’s upbringing. Securing the papacy and becoming the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Urban wielded great power which he used to promote crusading as he called for members of the Church to join together in the First Crusade. His famous speech at the Council of Clermont not only proved his power as pope, but also sparked great interest in the Crusade, more than he expected.
Once he witnessed the enthusiasm of the Crusaders, Pope Urban II realized that the goals of the Crusade, specifically the reconquest of Jerusalem, could be achieved. Historians posit that as a result of this positive reception, the papacy developed additional goals for the Crusade including the stabilization and unification of diplomatic relations between the Eastern and Western Churches in order to make the Church a stronger force in the East. Some historians, such as Carl Erdmann and Hans Mayer, view Pope Urban’s actions preceding the First Crusade as justification for this broader goal of unification, while others, such as H. E. J. Cowdrey and Johnathan Riley-Smith, argue that Urban’s speeches addressed the reconquest of Jerusalem as the Crusade’s main objective. Whatever his motives, Pope Urban II’s background, position as pope, and persuasive speeches created a climate of enthusiasm which helped persuade the Crusaders to take back Jerusalem.
Pope Urban II’s experiences and the events leading up to the official beginning of the First Crusade helped shape the motives and overall goals set by the papacy. Papal control was challenged during the 1080s when Archbishop Wibert of Ravenna named himself Pope Clement III (1080-1100) and challenged the Gregorian papacy. With two active popes, the Church’s power was compromised, and maintaining control was difficult. Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) was forced into exile to Salerno, Italy. Clement remained the anti-pope during Urban II’s entire reign, and he occupied Rome during the majority of Urban’s pontificate. Urban, however, often traveled outside of Italy in order to secure his relationships with churches and communities. In this way, he kept connected to many areas across Europe and helped create stability and control for the Church and the papacy.