WHAT MOTIVES DID POPE URBAN APPEAL TO WHEN PREACHING THE FIRST CRUSADE?
Pope Urban’s ‘Mount Sermon’ in which he preached the first Crusade to the public at Clermont in 1095 was a significant moment in the history of medieval religious wars. It was the first successful attempt at official public incitement to Christian ‘Just War’ in the Middle East. This essay explores how Urban motivated the public to take part. There is no surviving contemporary transcript of Pope Urban’s speech. Therefore we have to rely on accounts written after the event, together with Urban’s own letters, to piece together his message. This essay uses four key sources: Priest Fulcher of Chartres’ recollections of the speech, (recorded in 1106), Pope Urban’s letters to Flanders (December 1095), which were written shortly after the speech and were for public consumption, Robert the Monk’s later record (1107) which is likely to be a compilation of (claimed) witness stories and finally, Urban’s letter to the Churches of Bologna (September 1096). These sources offer the opportunity to explore with reasonable accuracy, the motives which Urban appealed to, prior to the First Crusade.
Probably the most significant issue raised in Urban’s speech was the prospect of assisting fellow Christians and avenging the wrong done to them. This features in all of the above sources in some form. Both Fulcher and Robert make detailed reference to it, saying: “your brethren in the East are in urgent need of your help” (Fulcher) and “what peril is threatening you and all the faithful…they destroy altars…torture people…rapes of women” (Robert). These emotive claims would be likely to appeal to Christians sympathetic to the plight of fellow Christians.
However, perhaps the most attractive prospect for Christians considering the crusade was remission of their sins. Urban promised this in his letter to Flanders, with “immediate” effect (according to Fulcher) and in his letter to Bologna, Urban states Christians can “substitute this journey (the crusade) for all penance”. As heaven was seen as the ultimate goal it is…