Pope Urban II

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Urban II
Bishop of Rome
Statue of Urban II in Clermont-Ferrand, France.
Church Catholic Church
Diocese Rome
See Holy See
Papacy began12 March 1088
Papacy ended29 July 1099
Predecessor Victor III
Successor Paschal II
Ordinationc. 1068
Consecration20 July 1085
Created cardinal1073
by Gregory VII
Personal details
Birth nameOdo
Bornc. 1035 [1]
Lagery, County of Champagne, Kingdom of France
Died(1099-07-29)29 July 1099 (aged 64)
Rome, Papal States, Holy Roman Empire
Previous post(s)
Feast day29 July
Venerated in Catholic Church
Beatified14 July 1881
by  Pope Leo XIII
Other popes named Urban

Pope Urban II (Latin : Urbanus II; c.1035 – 29 July 1099), otherwise known as Odo of Châtillon or Otho de Lagery, [2] [upper-alpha 1] was the head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 12 March 1088 to his death. He is best known for initiating the Crusades. [3] [4]


Pope Urban was a native of France, and was a descendant of a noble family from the French commune of Châtillon-sur-Marne. [5] [6] Reims was the nearby cathedral school where he began his studies in 1050. [7]

Before his papacy, Urban was the grand prior of Cluny and bishop of Ostia. [8] As pope, he dealt with Antipope Clement III, infighting of various Christian nations, and the Muslim incursions into Europe. In 1095 he started preaching the First Crusade (1095–99). He promised forgiveness and pardon for all of the past sins of those who would fight to reclaim the holy land from Muslims and free the eastern churches. [9] This pardon would also apply to those that would fight the Muslims in Spain. While the First Crusade resulted in the liberation of Jerusalem from the Fatimids, Pope Urban II died before he could receive this news.

He also set up the modern-day Roman Curia in the manner of a royal ecclesiastical court to help run the Church. [10]

He was beatified by Pope Leo XIII on 14 July 1881.

Bishop of Ostia

Urban, baptized Eudes (Odo), was born to a family of Châtillon-sur-Marne. [11] [12] He was prior of the abbey of Cluny, [11] later Pope Gregory VII named him cardinal-bishop of Ostia c.1080. He was one of the most prominent and active supporters of the Gregorian reforms, especially as legate in the Holy Roman Empire in 1084. He was among the three whom Gregory VII nominated as papabile (possible successors). Desiderius, the abbot of Monte Cassino, was chosen to follow Gregory in 1085 but, after his short reign as Victor III, Odo was elected by acclamation at a small meeting of cardinals and other prelates held in Terracina in March 1088.


Struggle for authority

From the outset, Urban had to reckon with the presence of Guibert, the former bishop of Ravenna who held Rome as the antipope "Clement III". Gregory had repeatedly clashed with the emperor Henry IV over papal authority. Despite the Walk to Canossa, Gregory had backed the rebel Duke of Swabia and again excommunicated the emperor. Henry finally took Rome in 1084 and installed Clement III in his place.

A 19th-century stained-glass depiction of Urban receiving St Anselm, exiled from England by William the Red amid the Investiture Controversy Quimper - Cathedrale Saint-Corentin - PA00090326 - 040.jpg
A 19th-century stained-glass depiction of Urban receiving St Anselm, exiled from England by William the Red amid the Investiture Controversy

Urban took up the policies of Pope Gregory VII and, while pursuing them with determination, showed greater flexibility and diplomatic finesse. Usually kept away from Rome, [13] Urban toured northern Italy and France. A series of well-attended synods held in Rome, Amalfi, Benevento, and Troia supported him in renewed declarations against simony, lay investitures, clerical marriages (partly via the cullagium tax), and the emperor and his antipope. He facilitated the marriage of Matilda, countess of Tuscany, with Welf II, duke of Bavaria. He supported the rebellion of Prince Conrad against his father and bestowed the office of groom on Conrad at Cremona in 1095. [14] While there, he helped arrange the marriage between Conrad and Maximilla, the daughter of Count Roger of Sicily, which occurred later that year at Pisa; her large dowry helped finance Conrad's continued campaigns. [14] The Empress Adelaide was encouraged in her charges of sexual coercion against her husband, Henry IV. He supported the theological and ecclesiastical work of Anselm, negotiating a solution to the cleric's impasse with King William II of England and finally receiving England's support against the Imperial pope in Rome.

Urban maintained vigorous support for his predecessors' reforms, however, and did not shy from supporting Anselm when the new archbishop of Canterbury fled England. Likewise, despite the importance of French support for his cause, he upheld his legate Hugh of Die's excommunication of King Philip over his doubly bigamous marriage with Bertrade de Montfort, wife of the Count of Anjou. (The ban was repeatedly lifted and reimposed as the king promised to forswear her and then repeatedly returned to her. A public penance in 1104 ended the controversy, [15] although Bertrade remained active in attempting to see her sons succeed Philip instead of Louis. [16] )

First Crusade

Urban II's movement took its first public shape at the Council of Piacenza, where, in March 1095, [17] Urban II received an ambassador from the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos asking for help against the Muslim Seljuk Turks who had taken over most of formerly Byzantine Anatolia. [18] A great council met, attended by numerous Italian, Burgundian, and French bishops in such vast numbers it had to be held in the open air outside[ citation needed ] the city of Clermont. Though the Council of Clermont held in November of the same year was primarily focused on reforms within the church hierarchy, Urban II gave a speech on 27 November 1095 to a broader audience. [19] Urban II's sermon proved highly effective, as he summoned the attending nobility and the people to wrest the Holy Land, and the eastern churches generally, from the control of the Seljuk Turks. [20] This was the speech that triggered the Crusades.

Urban at Clermont (14th-century miniature) Urban2 a.jpg
Urban at Clermont (14th-century miniature)

There exists no exact transcription of the speech that Urban delivered at the Council of Clermont. The five extant versions of the speech were written down some time later, and they differ widely from one another. [21] All versions of the speech except that by Fulcher of Chartres were probably influenced by the chronicle account of the First Crusade called the Gesta Francorum (written c. 1101), which includes a version of it. [22] Fulcher of Chartres was present at the Council, though he did not start writing his history of the crusade, including a version of the speech until c. 1101. [23] Robert the Monk may have been present, [24] but his version dates from about 1106. The five versions of Urban's speech likely reflect much more clearly what later authors thought Urban II should have said to launch the First Crusade than what Urban II actually did say.

As a better means of evaluating Urban's true motives in calling for a crusade to the Holy Lands, there are four extant letters written by Pope Urban himself: one to the Flemish (dated December 1095); [25] one to the Bolognese (dated September 1096); one to Vallombrosa (dated October 1096); and one to the counts of Catalonia (dated either 1089 or 1096–1099). However, whereas the three former letters were concerned with rallying popular support for the Crusades, and establishing the objectives, his letters to the Catalonian lords instead beseech them to continue the fight against the Moors, assuring them that doing so would offer the same divine rewards as a conflict against the Seljuks. [26] It is Urban II's own letters, rather than the paraphrased versions of his speech at Clermont, that reveal his actual thinking about crusading. Nevertheless, the versions of the speech have had a great influence on popular conceptions and misconceptions about the Crusades, so it is worth comparing the five composed speeches to Urban's actual words. Fulcher of Chartres has Urban saying that the Lord and Christ beseech and command the christians to fight and reclaim their land. [27]

The chronicler Robert the Monk put this into the mouth of Urban II:

... this land which you inhabit, shut in on all sides by the seas and surrounded by the mountain peaks, is too narrow for your large population; nor does it abound in wealth; and it furnishes scarcely food enough for its cultivators. Hence it is that you murder one another, that you wage war, and that frequently you perish by mutual wounds. Let therefore hatred depart from among you, let your quarrels end, let wars cease, and let all dissensions and controversies slumber. Enter upon the road to the Holy Sepulchre; wrest that land from the wicked race, and subject it to yourselves ... God has conferred upon you above all nations great glory in arms. Accordingly undertake this journey for the remission of your sins, with the assurance of the imperishable glory of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Robert continued:

When Pope Urban had said these ... things in his urbane discourse, he so influenced to one purpose the desires of all who were present, that they cried out "It is the will of God! It is the will of God!". When the venerable Roman pontiff heard that, [he] said: "Most beloved brethren, today is manifest in you what the Lord says in the Gospel, 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them.' Unless the Lord God had been present in your spirits, all of you would not have uttered the same cry. For, although the cry issued from numerous mouths, yet the origin of the cry was one. Therefore I say to you that God, who implanted this in your breasts, has drawn it forth from you. Let this then be your war-cry in combats, because this word is given to you by God. When an armed attack is made upon the enemy, let this one cry be raised by all the soldiers of God: It is the will of God! It is the will of God!" [28]

Pope Urban II preaching the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont B Urban II2.jpg
Pope Urban II preaching the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont

Within Fulcher of Chartres account of pope Urban’s speech there was a promise of remission of sins for whoever took part in the crusade.

All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested. [27]

It is disputed whether the famous slogan "God wills it" or "It is the will of God" (deus vult in Latin, Dieu le veut in French) in fact was established as a rallying cry during the Council. While Robert the Monk says so, [29] it is also possible that the slogan was created as a catchy propaganda motto afterwards.

Urban II's own letter to the Flemish confirms that he granted "remission of all their sins" to those undertaking the enterprise to liberate the eastern churches. [9] One notable contrast with the speeches recorded by Robert the Monk, Guibert of Nogent, and Baldric of Dol is the lesser emphasis on Jerusalem itself, which Urban only once mentions as his own focus of concern. In the letter to the Flemish he writes, "they [the Turks] have seized the Holy City of Christ, embellished by his passion and resurrection, and blasphemy to say—have sold her and her churches into abominable slavery." In the letters to Bologna and Vallombrosa he refers to the crusaders' desire to set out for Jerusalem rather than to his own desire that Jerusalem be freed from Muslim rule. It was believed that originally that Urban wanted to send a relatively small force to aid the Byzantines, however after meeting with two prominent members of the crusades Adhemar of Puy and Raymond of Saint-Guilles, Urban decided to rally a much larger force to retake Jerusalem. [30] Urban II refers to liberating the church as a whole or the eastern churches generally rather than to reconquering Jerusalem itself. The phrases used are "churches of God in the eastern region" and "the eastern churches" (to the Flemish), "liberation of the Church" (to Bologna), "liberating Christianity [Lat. Christianitatis]" (to Vallombrosa), and "the Asian church" (to the Catalan counts). Coincidentally or not, Fulcher of Chartres's version of Urban's speech makes no explicit reference to Jerusalem. Rather it more generally refers to aiding the crusaders' Christian "brothers of the eastern shore," and to their loss of Asia Minor to the Turks. [31]

It is still disputed what Pope Urban's motives were as evidenced by the different speeches that were recorded, all of which differ from each other. Some historians believe that Urban wished for the reunification of the eastern and western churches, a rift that was caused by the Great Schism of 1054. Others believe that Urban saw this as an opportunity to gain legitimacy as the pope as at the time he was contending with the antipope Clement III. A third theory is that Urban felt threatened by the Muslim incursions into Europe and saw the crusades as a way to unite the christian world into a unified defense against them. [32]

The most important effect of the First Crusade for Urban himself was the removal of Clement III from Rome in 1097 by one of the French armies. [33] His restoration there was supported by Matilda of Tuscany. [34]

Urban II died on 29 July 1099, fourteen days after the fall of Jerusalem to the Crusaders, but before news of the event had reached Italy; his successor was Pope Paschal II.


Urban also gave support to the crusades in Spain against the Moors there. Pope Urban was concerned that the focus on the east and Jerusalem would neglect the fight in Spain. He saw the fight in the east and in Spain as part of the same crusade so he would offer the same remission of sin for those that fought in Spain and discouraged those that wished to travel east from Spain. [35]


Urban received vital support in his conflict with the Byzantine Empire, Romans and the Holy Roman Empire from the Norman of Campania and Sicily. In return he granted Roger I the freedom to appoint bishops as a right of ("lay investiture"), to collect Church revenues before forwarding to the papacy, and the right to sit in judgment on ecclesiastical questions. [36] Roger I virtually became a legate of the Pope within Sicily. [37] In 1098 these were extraordinary prerogatives that Popes were withholding from temporal sovereigns elsewhere in Europe and that later led to bitter confrontations with Roger's Hohenstaufen heirs.


Pope Urban was beatified in 1881 by Pope Leo XIII with his feast day on 29 July. [38] [39]

See also


  1. Alternatively, Otto, Odo, or Eudes.

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  1. Key Figures in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia: "Urban II, Pope (c.1035-1099, r.1088-1099)"
  2. Celli-Fraentzel 1932, p. 97.
  3. Richard Urban Butler (1912). "Pope Bl. Urban II". In Catholic Encyclopedia. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  4. Theodore Freylinghuysen Collier (1911). "Urban (popes)". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 27. (11th ed.), Cambridge University Press. pp. 789-792.
  5. Key Figures in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia - Page 641
  6. Kleinhenz, Ch.Medieval Italy: An Encyclopedia
  7. Gabriele, p. 796.
  8. Becker & 1:24–90.
  9. 1 2 Peters 1971, p. 16.
  10. McBrien 2000, p. 182.
  11. 1 2 McBrien 2000, p. 190.
  12. Kleinhenz 2004, p. 1112.
  13. Peters 1971, p. 33.
  14. 1 2 Robinson, I.S. (2003-12-04), Henry IV of Germany, 1056–1106, p. 291, ISBN   9780521545907 .
  15. Philip I of France and Bertrade, Dissolving Royal Marriages: A Documentary History, 860–1600, ed. David d'Avray, (Cambridge University Press, 2014), 47.
  16. Orderic Vitalis.
  17. The synod took place on 1–7 March 1095; the Pope stayed in Piacenza until the second week in April: P. Jaffé, Regesta pontificum Romanorum, editio secunda, I (Leipzig 1885), p. 677.
  18. Peters 1971, p. xiv.
  19. Peters 1971, p. 1.
  20. Peters 1971, p. xvi, 1-15.
  21. Peters 1971, p. 1-15.
  22. Peters 1971, p. 2-10.
  23. Peters 1971, p. 23.
  24. Peters 1971, p. 2.
  25. Peters 1971, p. 15-16.
  26. H.E.J. Cowdrey, "Pope Urban II's Preaching of the First Crusade," History, 55 (1970), p. 185-7.
  27. 1 2 Fulcher of Chartres' account of Urban's speech, Urban II: Speech at Council of Clermont, 1095, Five versions of the Speech (available as part of the Internet Medieval Sourcebook).
  28. Robert the Monk's account of Urban's speech, Urban II: Speech at Council of Clermont, 1095, Five versions of the Speech (available as part of the Internet Medieval Sourcebook).
  29. Peters 1971, p. xix.
  30. Baldwin, Marshall W. (1940). "Some Recent Interpretations of Pope Urban II's Eastern Policy". The Catholic Historical Review. 25 (4): 459–466. JSTOR   25013850.
  31. Quotes from Urban II's letters taken from "Crusades, Idea and Reality, 1095–1274"; Documents of Medieval History 4; eds. Louise and Johnathan Riley-Smith, London 1981, 37–40.
  32. Baldwin, Marshall W. (1940). "Some Recent Interpretations of Pope Urban II's Eastern Policy". The Catholic Historical Review. 25 (4): 462–466. JSTOR   25013850.
  33. Peters 1971, p. 33-34.
  34. Peters 1971, p. 34.
  35. Chevedden, Paul E. (2011). "The View of the Crusades from Rome and Damascus: The Geo-Strategic and Historical Perspectives of Pope Urban II and ʿAlī ibn Ṭāhir al-Sulamī". Oriens. 39 (2): 270–271. doi:10.1163/187783711X588132. JSTOR   23072750.
  36. Loud 2013, p. 231-232.
  37. Matthew 1992, p. 28.
  38. McBrien 2000, p. 192.
  39. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-12-06. Retrieved 2008-08-22.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)


Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Victor III
Succeeded by
Paschal II