Pope Urban II (Latin: Urbanus II; c. 1042 – 29 July 1099), born Odo of Châtillon or Otho de Lagery, was Pope from 12 March 1088 to his death in 1099. He is best known for initiating the First Crusade (1096–99) and setting up the modern-day Roman Curia in the manner of a royal ecclesiastical court to help run the Church.
Pope Urban II was a native of France. He was a descendant of a noble family in Châtillon-sur-Marne.
Bishop of Ostia
Urban, baptized Eudes (Odo), was born to a family of Châtillon-sur-Marne. He was prior of the abbey of Cluny, 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 four 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.
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.
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, 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, crowning him King of the Romans at Milan in 1093 and receiving the office of the groom from him at Cremona in 1095. 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. The Empress Adelaide was encouraged in her charges of sexual coercion against her husband. 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, although Bertrade remained active in attempting to see her sons succeed Philip instead of Louis.)
"Urban II's problems included war with Germany, conflict in France, a rival pope and Christians in the East under siege. Perhaps a massive pilgrimage (the word 'crusade' had not yet been invented) may solve these problems." The Pope's movement took its first public shape at the Council of Piacenza, where, in March 1095, Urban II received an ambassador from the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos asking for help against Muslim (Seljuk) Turks who had taken over most of formerly Byzantine Anatolia. 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 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. 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.
There exists no exact transcription of the speech that Urban delivered at the Council of Clermont on 27 November 1095. The five extant versions of the speech were written down some time later, and they differ widely from one another. 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. 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. Robert the Monk may have been present, but his version dates from about 1106. The five versions of Urban's speech reflect much more clearly what later authors thought Urban II should have said to launch the First Crusade than what Urban II himself actually did say. As a better means of evaluating Urban's true motivations in calling for a crusade to the Holy Lands, there are four extant letters written by Pope Urban II himself: one to the Flemish (dated December 1095); 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). 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 say this:
I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ's heralds to publish this everywhere and to perse all people of whatever rank, foot-soldiers and knights, poor and rich, to carry aid promptly to those Christians and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends. I say this to those who are present, it is meant also for those who are absent. Moreover, Christ commands it.
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.
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!"
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. O what a disgrace if such a despised and base race, which worships demons, should conquer a people which has the faith of omnipotent God and is made glorious with the name of Christ! With what reproaches will the Lord overwhelm us if you do not aid those who, with us, profess the Christian religion! Let those who have been accustomed unjustly to wage private warfare against the faithful now go against the infidels and end with victory this war which should have been begun long ago. 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 for small pay now obtain the eternal reward. Let those who have been wearing themselves out in both body and soul now work for a double honor. Behold! on this side will be the sorrowful and poor, on that, the rich; on this side, the enemies of the Lord, on that, his friends. Let those who go not put off the journey, but rent their lands and collect money for their expenses; and as soon as winter is over and spring comes, let them eagerly set out on the way with God as their guide.
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, it is also possible that the slogan was created as a catchy propaganda motto afterward.
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. 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. 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 Catalonian 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.
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. His restoration there was supported by Matilda of Tuscany.
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 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. Roger I virtually became a legate of the Pope within Sicily. In 1098 these were extraordinary prerogatives that Popes were withholding from temporal sovereigns elsewhere in Europe and later to 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.