Urban II

views updated May 21 2018

Urban II

c. 1042
Chätillon-sur-Marne, Champagne, France

July 29, 1099
Rome, Italy


the Internet Medieval Sourcebook, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/urban2,hy>fulcher.html">

"The Turks and Arabs have attacked....They have killed and captured many, and have destroyed the churches and devastated the empire.... On this account I, or rather the Lord, beseech you...to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends."

—Urban II, "Speech at Council of Clermont, 1095, according to Fulcher of Chartres"; quoted in the Internet Medieval Sourcebook, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/urban2,hy>fulcher.html.

Urban II, a French pope (head of the Catholic Church), ruled at the end of the eleventh century. He was known as an excellent organizer and tireless worker for renewed political power for the church. Following the rule of Gregory VII, who was pope from 1075 to 1085, Urban II helped solidify gains made for the papacy, or the office of the pope, against the political power of the kings of Europe. He developed a central governing structure for the church and ultimately made the papacy a powerful player in Europe, equal to the early monarchies, or kingdoms, of the continent. Clever in the use of the spoken word, Urban's most lasting achievement was his connection with the Crusades. Speaking at a meeting of church leaders held in 1095 in the southern French town of Clermont, he urged the crowd to spread the concept of a Crusade against the Arab and Turkish Muslims—the name for believers in Islam and the word of the prophet Muhammad—who had occupied Jerusalem and the Holy Land of Palestine. His call to arms brought about the First Crusade (1095–99) and resulted in two centuries of conflict between the Christian West and Islam. Although he did not live to witness the event, his speech inspired Crusader soldiers to capture Jerusalem in 1099.

Born Into the French Nobility

Born Eudes, or Odo, of Lagery, the man who would become Pope Urban II grew up in a French noble family in Rheims, located in the province of Champagne. Being the second son, it was assumed that his career would be in the church, since the firstborn son would inherit the lands. Odo studied at the Cathedral School of Rheims, where he learned the basic skills he would need to enter such a career. In the age in which Odo grew up, such skills included not just reading, writing, and a thorough knowledge of the Bible but also political skills and knowing how to accept and give orders. He was headed for greater things than being a parish, or local, priest. At Rheims he rose to the rank of archdeacon, a senior position in the church under the bishop, or head of a large religious district.

With this experience behind him, Odo left Rheims at age twenty-eight to become a monk, a member of the religious order at the famous monastery of Cluny, located in the French province of Burgundy. There he lived a strictly regulated religious life, working under the abbot Hugh, who was the head of the monastery. Ultimately he rose to the rank of prior, just below the abbot. The monastery of Cluny was known for producing monks with great ambition and a strong belief in reforming the church. These reforms included not only improving the moral lives of those inside the church but also making the church more powerful in the secular, or nonreligious, world.

Assistant to the Pope

Odo was sent by the abbot Hugh to work as an assistant to Gregory VII, one of the most important popes the church has ever produced. Gregory VII was trying to push through reforms in the church that would increase its power over the princes of Europe. His major rival in this effort was Henry IV, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, a loose collection of German kingdoms that lasted from the tenth to the nineteenth century. This emperor claimed secular power over his subjects, which for Henry IV meant appointing bishops of the church in his lands. Gregory VII opposed this, telling the emperor that any power he had came from God and that he, Gregory VII, was God's messenger on earth. Thus, the church was more powerful than the state. Such a position was sure to bring Gregory VII into conflict not only with the emperor but with many other kings and princes in Europe as well.

In his position as assistant to Gregory VII, Odo represented the pope on missions in France and Germany, working to strengthen the role of the church in these lands. He made sure to promote bishops who displayed a sense of loyalty toward Gregory VII and who agreed with his plans for a bigger, stronger papacy, getting rid of those who did not. This work earned Odo his own promotion; he became a cardinal bishop, the step just before becoming a cardinal, an office second in power to the pope. (The cardinals elect the pope.) Odo showed that he was not afraid to act against the emperor. On one occasion he was imprisoned by Henry IV but was soon released.

At large church meetings held throughout Europe, Odo also became a tireless spokesperson for reform and directly criticized Henry IV and Clement III, the man whom Henry IV had elected as the so-called antipope, in opposition to Gregory VII. This election of a competing pope by the emperor led to fighting in and around Rome in the 1080s. The emperor's army fought the pope's hired soldiers, or Normans, who had created a kingdom in Sicily, in the south of Italy. These Norman fighters were of Viking origin and were hard to control. At one point it looked as if they would succeed in capturing Rome for Gregory VII, but they ended up destroying the city, and Gregory was forced to go into exile, eventually dying in 1085 without retaking Rome.

From Odo to Urban II

With the death of Gregory VII, the church needed to elect a new pope. Although he was nominated to become the next pope, Odo lost to Victor III, who was not terribly eager to accept the job. Rome lay in ruins, and there was still fighting going on between the church's forces and the emperor's army. Victor III held the position of pope for only three years, dying in 1088. Odo was again nominated and this time won, choosing Urban II as his official church name. His first act was to tell the world that he would continue the policies of Gregory VII. This was easier said than done. The pope's Norman armies were now fighting among themselves in Sicily, forcing him to go there to try to make peace, so that he could use the Normans for his own needs. He was successful in this endeavor, and by late 1088 he entered Rome with Norman troops at his side. Most of the city, however, was still in the hands of Clement III, the antipope. Urban II excommunicated, or excluded from the church, both the emperor and his antipope. He then went on to win a crucial battle. Urban II was now in control of Rome.

Urban II set about making friends and allies of various princes of Europe so that they would aid him in his fight against the emperor. He arranged marriages and made treaties with the Lombard League, consisting of the cities of northern Italy, to combat the power of Henry IV. While Urban II was traveling, Rome was again occupied by the antipope. He had to wander through Italy for three years before once again assembling enough forces to take the city back in time for the Easter celebrations of 1094.

By threatening excommunication for all who opposed him, Urban II managed to keep the princes and kings of Europe in line. He also spoke out against priests wishing to marry and criticized the practice of simony, or buying and selling pardons and church offices. He established a center of church government in Rome, promoting church law that increased the power of the papacy. Urban II was very modern in his approach to spreading his message. Throughout the eleven years he served as pope, Urban II traveled around Europe, organizing great councils that included the entire populace in order to advertise and popularize his reforms; the major councils were held at Piacenza (March 1095), Clermont (November 1095), Rome (1097 and 1099), and Bari (1098).

Urban II Calls for a Crusade

One of those rulers Urban II wanted to befriend was Alexius I (see entry), emperor of Byzantium, the eastern portion of the old Roman Empire whose capital was in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, in Turkey). This eastern Christian empire was coming under attack by a new force in the Middle East, the Seljuk Turks, who emerged from Central Asia and subsequently converted to Islam. Under such leaders as Alp Arslan (see entry), the Seljuks were chipping away at the eastern portions of the Byzantine Empire and had even managed to take the holy city of Jerusalem. Alexius I sent messengers to Urban II asking him to help fight these Seljuk invaders. Urban considered this request at the meeting in Piacenza, but it was at the Council of Clermont, also held in 1095, that he made his most urgent plea for help for the eastern Christians.

This council met from November 18 to November 28, and among other business it conducted was the excommunication of France's King Philip I for having relations with a woman outside marriage. During this council Urban II also reminded the world that the pope and the papacy had ultimate power over the church. The most important speech he gave occurred on November 27, when he proclaimed the need for a holy war against the infidels (non-Christians) who held Jerusalem and Palestine. He told the Christians present that it was their duty to go to the Holy Land and fight in the name of God.

Europe during the Middle Ages was filled with knights, specially trained mounted soldiers who were bound to behave honorably. However, too often knights spent their days killing one another in battle or in tournaments. In his proclamation at Clermont, quoted in the Internet Medieval Sourcebook, Urban II told these knights to turn their weapons against the enemies of the Christian faith.

Let those who for a long time have been robbers now become knights. Let those who have been fighting against their brothers and relatives now fight in a proper way against the barbarians. Let those who have been serving as mercenaries [paid soldiers] for small pay now obtain eternal reward. Let those who have been wearing themselves out in both body and soul now work for a double honor.

Urban promised that those who "took the cross" and became Crusaders would be forgiven all their sins if they died on the way to or in the Holy Land. The crowd, numbering some several thousand, cheered his speech and shouted "God wills it," promising to join a Crusade.

The Deadly Years

When Urban II called for a Crusade against the infidels, or Muslims, in the Holy Land in 1095, his timing could not have been better. The Islamic world had just lost some of its strongest leaders. In fact, between 1092 and 1094 all of the major political leaders in the Near and Middle East and North Africa had died. The Seljuk Turks, who threatened the Byzantine Empire and caused Emperor Alexius I to plead to the pope for help, lost their actual ruler in 1092 when Nizam al-Mulk, the vizier, or chief counsel, was killed; he had skillfully advised Seljuk sultans for three decades. Just one month after his death, Malik-Shah, the reigning Seljuk sultan, died mysteriously, ending a rule that had lasted two decades. His death was followed by those of his wife, grandson, and others close to the throne.

Two years later even worse tragedy struck during what Muslims call the "year of the death of religious and military leaders." At this time Islam was divided into two separate religious groups: the Shiites, whose Fatimid dynasty had its power base in Egypt, and the Sunnis, who were represented by the Abbasid dynasty in Baghdad. In that single year the rulers of Egypt lost their caliph (successor to the throne) when al-Mustansir died after almost sixty years in power; his vizier died shortly afterward. The Abbasid rulers likewise found themselves without experienced leaders when their caliph al-Muqtadi died. Thus, Urban II could not have picked a better time to send a Crusader army to fight Islam, for the Islamic world in 1095 was in a state of chaos as a result of these losses.

After this rousing beginning, Urban II appointed a bishop to lead the formation of a Crusader army. This was another blow to the power of the Holy Roman Emperor, for Urban II excluded Henry IV from this great gathering and the preparations for war while he continued to travel throughout Europe preaching the need for a Crusade. A Crusader army was finally assembled by 1096 and headed for the Holy Land. Urban II was more or less in control of the papacy now, though the antipope continued to cause problems until the very end of his life. While Urban II held additional large councils in 1098 and 1099, the Crusader army reached the Holy Land and captured the cities of Nicaea and Antioch (both in modern-day Turkey). On July 15, 1099, they took the big prize of Jerusalem. Ironically, the man who inspired the Crusades never learned of this triumph. Urban II died two weeks later, on July 29, before the news of the recapture of Jerusalem reached him.

Throughout his rule as pope, Urban II managed to continue to strengthen the reforms of his predecessor, Gregory VII. If he had simply succeeded in winning new power for the church and the papacy against the rising power of kings and princes, that would have been enough to guarantee Urban II a place in history. However, his call to arms, which started the Crusader movement, is what most people remember about this pope. In 1881 Urban II was beatified, the first step in becoming a saint, yet he is not without his critics. Most historians agree that his emotional speech at the Council of Clermont was full of half-truths about supposed atrocities (evil deeds) committed by Muslims against Christians. Many think that Urban's real motive in launching the Crusades was to extend the power of the Roman Catholic Church into the Near and Middle East. Some think that Urban II was secretly hoping to reunify the eastern and western churches. Still others believe that he was just trying to stop the fighting among landowners and princes in Europe and aim such aggression against an outside force. Whatever his motives, the fact remains that Urban II began a very costly series of wars: There were seven Crusades over the next two centuries, with numerous smaller battles in between, which took countless lives from both sides and created friction between the Christian and Islamic worlds that was still being felt in the early twenty-first century.

For More Information


Bainton, Roland H. The Medieval Church. Princeton, NJ: Von Nostrand, 1962.

Baldwin, Marshall. The Medieval Papacy in Action. New York: Macmillan, 1940.

Barraclough, Geoffrey. The Medieval Papacy. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1968.

Cheetham, Nicolas. Keepers of the Keys: The Pope in History. New York: Scribner, 1982.

Cowdrey, H. E. J. Popes, Monks and Crusaders. London: Hambledon Press, 1984.

Morris, Colin. The Papal Monarchy: The Western Church from 1050 to1250. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Web Sites

"Pope Bl. Urban II." New Advent.http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15210a.htm (accessed on July 22, 2004).

"Pope Urban II—1042–1099." Templar History.http://www.templarhistory.com/urbanii.html (accessed on July 22, 2004).

"Speech at Council of Clermont, 1095, according to Fulcher of Chartres." Internet Medieval Sourcebook.http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/urban2-fulcher.html (accessed on July 22, 2004).

Urban II

views updated May 11 2018

Urban II

Circa 1042–1099


Family Business . The characteristic activity of the second son of virtually any large medieval family was as a member of the Church. This type of activity was carried out to the fullest by Eudes or Odo of Lagery, after his able “apprenticeship” with Bruno, head of the Cathedral School of Reims; Hugh, abbot of Cluny; and Pope Gregory VII. Scholars know about his life from his own writings and administrative papers as Canon and Archdeacon at Reims, Prior at Cluny, Cardinal Bishop of Ostia, Papal Legate in France and Germany, and Pope Urban II, as well as from the accounts of many others writing of events between 1065 and 1099. Eudes was from a family of established noble knights in service to the counts of Semur, and his earliest education at the Cathedral School in Reims was almost certainly arranged by his pious parents.

Three Essential Skills . Generations of medieval families had sought education for their sons in the hopes each would become pope, and Eudes too was set on the path of training for the same occupation as a matter of the ultimate course. As a boy, he learned the three essential skills for high religious life—reading, writing, and resilience, probably including compliance—spending eight to ten years at the feet of Bruno, the re-established head of the episcopal school. By about the age of twenty-eight, Eudes had completed his education in Reims, as well as a period there as canon and archdeacon. With his family based in Chatillon-sur-Mame in Champagne, Eudes next maintained a pious presence at Cluny, the famous Cistercian monastery in central Burgundy, where he followed a strict spiritual life under the great abbot Hugh and came to hold the office of prior. The standard product of Cluny at the time was a reform-minded monk. As one of a group of monks sent to provide assistance as bishops for Pope Gregory VII in the difficult task of reforming the Church, Eudes ended up continuing to spend much of his time outside Rome, either in Ostia, or traveling in papal convoy as legate in France and Germany. Within ten years he had become so firmly established as a resourceful papal strategist that he himself was nominated and elected pope of Rome.

Pope and Partners . From the time of his election in 1088, Eudes of Lagery, now Urban II, became Gregory VII’s confident successor (once removed) in policy and image. He was then forty-six years old and had received sound training as canon, monk, and resilient politician. His first job was to supervise Rome: to enter the city itself, make it safe for others, and create peace between the political factions along its borders, including reconciling Norman princes and making sure the Holy Roman Emperor could not support an antipope in the Eternal City. He arranged for Emperor Henry IV and Antipope Guibert of Ravenna to be excommunicated and sought restitution from Guibert in a three-day encounter between papal and antipapal troops. In addition to subduing imperial and antipapal forces, Urban II also gathered seventy bishops, as well as other Church officials, to a synod at Melfi in 1089. Their agenda was, however, in Urban II’s hands, and, if he were to have had difficulty obtaining collective decrees against simony and clerical marriage, he would have simply sent for the bishops of the sees in Saxony that he had filled in 1084-1085 with men faithful to Gregory. Urban II acted initially as a stand-in for the emperor’s son Conrad, and Matilda, Countess of Tuscany and Welf V, heir to Bavaria and Este in these important initial moments of his papacy, vis-à-vis the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV. The Lombard League cities—Milan, Lodi, Piacenza, and Cremona—came finally to welcome Conrad, and he was crowned king in Milan, the center of the imperial power in Italy. It is clear from Urban II’s correspondence that he consulted bishops and abbots on both German and French soil on financial matters and issues of judgment. The French abbot, Gregory of Vendôme, hearing of Urban II’s plight on the outskirts of Rome against Antipope Guibert, thought of a “business activity” to provide for a papal residence, so “that he might become a sharer of his [the Pope’s] sufferings and labour and relieve his want”: with the money Gregory obtained by selling certain possessions of his monastery, the Pope was able to purchase the Lateran palace on payment of a large sum of money. In his letters, the papal and quasi-personal news of Urban II are mingled with rhetorical flourish and firm evocations of events, such as Urban II’s entering the Lateran in time for the Paschal solemnity of 1094 and his sitting for the first time on the papal throne six years after his election. Urban II signed his name, “Urban, by the permission of God chief bishop and prelate over the whole world” or “Urban, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to all the faithful, both princes and subjects …; greeting, apostolic grace, and blessing.” Thus, although the contents of the Pope’s missives were often filled with advice, it was always conveyed with his deference as servant of God and leader of the faithful.

Piety and Work Ethic . Reform and peace were both priorities for Urban II, who infused his own piety into all activities. He thanked God for the successes in Rome and began to use Church councils, loaded with supportive bishops, for the continued well-being of the Church institutions in Rome and the spirituality of its followers throughout Christendom. He believed that God would reward marital fidelity, not the dynastic goals of contemporary royalty, and although the subject reached into the courts of both Henry IV, King of the Germans and King Philip I of France to restrain them from what they considered their purview, Urban II had his next council at Piacenza address the matter and summon both kings to the council. At this council Urban II was also able to broach the subject of the Crusades for the first time. As the Seljuk Turks continued seriously to menace the Empire of Constantinople, a worried Eastern Emperor, Alexius I, turned to the Pope asking for help. In a following council at Cler-mont in 1095, Urban II used his wonderful gifts of eloquence to the utmost, to depict the captivity of the Sacred City where Christ had suffered and died and encourage the faithful to rescue it from harm: “Let them [Christian knights] turn their weapons dripping with the blood of their brothers against the enemy of the Christian Faith. Let them—oppressors of orphans and widows, murderers and violaters of churches, robbers of the property of others, vultures drawn by the scent of battle—let them hasten, if they love their souls, under their captain Christ to the rescue of Sion.”

Sense of Accomplishment . Pope Urban II’s successes, and those of his ambassadors, gave him an enviable position of power. Urban II had never liked the life of tension, however. Its one advantage, he believed, was that hard work of any kind (military, constructional, and so forth) keeps one from the temptations caused by human vices. It was by God’s great mercy, he felt, however, that he had become the spiritual leader rather than the knightly leader of the First Crusade (1095–1099), which role fell to Ademar, the Bishop of Le Puy. Urban II also disliked being on the road all the time, constantly faced with difficult local decisions. By 1098 he was able to enjoy a brief period of repose after a life of incessant activity and fierce strife, which had brought exile and want. With the presence of well-disciplined troops, under the most distinguished knights of Christendom, returning from the Crusade through Rome, Urban II finally acquired the military resources to strike terror into the wild partisans of any lingering antipope. In October 1098 the Pope held a council at Bari with 180 bishops in attendance with the intent of reconciling the Greek and Latin Churches on the doctrinal issue of the relation of the “Son” to the Father in the Holy Trinity. The Pope then returned to Rome to the more settled life of a pontif secure in the Papal States. He died nine months later, having lived just long enough to hold his last council in Rome in April, 1099 at which he once more raised his eloquent voice on behalf of the Crusades. Although Urban II would not live to hear of the Crusaders’ victory in Jerusalem, with new response in April to his call for more Crusaders, Urban II undoubtedly died with some sense of accomplishment in Western Christianity’s defense of the Holy Land. On virtually every other front, without Urban II’s persistent work, most of the reform efforts of his predecessor Gregory VII would probably have been extremely ephemeral.


Alfons Becker, Papst Urban II (1088–1099) (Stuttgart: A. Hiersemann, 1964-1988).

Charles Morris, The Western Church from 1050 to 1250 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).

Urban II

views updated Jun 08 2018

Urban II

Urban II (1042-1099) was pope from 1088 to 1099. He laid the foundations for the papal monarchy, and his pontificate marked a turning point in the institutional organization of the papacy and in papal-imperial relations.

Otto (or Odo) de Lagery, who became Urban II, was born near Châtillon-sur-Marne of a great French noble family. He grew up at Reims, where he became archdeacon, and at Cluny, where he became a monk and then prior. In 1078 Gregory VII created him cardinal bishop of Ostia. Loyally supporting Gregory's reforming ideals, he represented the Pope on numerous successful missions to France and Germany.

On March 12, 1088, Otto was elected pope and took the name Urban II. Though he was a convinced Gregorian, he was less fiery and passionate than Gregory VII and more politically astute about realizing a program of reform. Whereas Gregory VII had neglected the ties that bound the papacy and southern Italy, Urban II carefully cultivated them, seeing in them a political means for resisting the German emperor.

Soon after his election Urban went to Sicily to renew the alliance with Roger Guiscard and to establish one with the Greek emperor, thus laying the foundations for the good relations that obtained between Rome and Byzantium throughout his pontificate.

In November 1088 Urban reestablished himself in Rome with the aid of Norman troops, which he used against the imperial antipope Clement III. Ten months later Urban left Rome for southern Italy to preside over a council of 70 bishops concerned with lay investiture. Together with comparable later councils in northern Italy, Germany, and France, this meeting symbolized Urban's effort to reform the Church throughout Europe along Gregorian lines, especially by isolating the hostile German emperor Henry IV. To further his aims against Henry, Urban sanctioned political marriages and formulated military alliances, chiefly the first Lombard League (1093). In November 1093 an assembly of rebellious German nobles made common cause with the Pope at Ulma, swearing obedience to his representative.

In March 1095 at Piacenza, Urban officiated at a reunion of the entire reform-oriented episcopate—by a chronicler's estimate a gathering of more than 4, 000 prelates and 30, 000 laymen. Also in attendance (and further bearing witness to the power of the Pope) were Henry IV's estranged wife, Praxedis, an embassy from Philip I of France, and an embassy from the Greek emperor seeking help against the Turks.

After the council adjourned, Urban triumphantly proceeded north, continuing with the work of restoring papal authority wherever it had been usurped by secular power. From Nov. 18 to Nov. 28, 1095, he convened a council at Clermont, France, where, in addition to excommunicating King Philip I of France, he reaffirmed the primacy of papal power over the entire Church. On November 27 Urban solemnly proclaimed the First Crusade against the infidels. By mobilizing Europe's chivalric elements to his cause, Urban proved that he had not only excluded the German emperor but that he had displaced him as leader of Europe. On July 15, 1099, the crusaders entered Jerusalem; but Urban died on July 29, 1099, before the news reached him. He was beatified on July 14, 1881.

Urban left behind the solid foundations of emerging papal monarchy. In seeking to create for the papacy a central governmental structure modeled on that of the French royal court, he invented the papal curia—an organ that put the papacy on an equal footing with the emerging feudal monarchies of Europe. His organizational efforts also included the discovery and use of legal texts for bolstering papal authority. In 1140 they were systematized in the famous Decretum of Gratian, which, because it emphasized the pope's legislative and dispensatory powers, became the starting point for 12th-century ecclesiastical law.

Further Reading

Virtually all studies of Urban II are in French or German. Good general studies in English which include Urban II are Henry Hart Milman, History of Latin Christianity (8 vols., 1861-1862; 4th ed., 9 vols., 1872); Ferdinand Gregorovius, History of the City of Rome in the Middle Ages (trans., 8 vols., 1894-1902); and Geoffrey Barraclough, The Medieval Papacy (1968). □

Urban II

views updated May 14 2018

Urban II (1035–99) Pope (1088–99), b. Odo of Châtillon-sur-Marne. Urban carried on the reforms begun by Pope Gregory VII. In 1095, at the Council of Clermont, he launched the idea of the First Crusade. His work as a reformer encouraged the development of the Curia Romana and the formation of the College of Cardinals.

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