Pope Urban Sets The Crusading Era in Motion

Pope Urban II was the man who set the crusading era in motion. However, did he truly expect peasants and labourers to take up the cross and fight the Muslims alongside the most wealthy, powerful Lords of the land, and other highly skilled soldiers? Many historians maintain the belief that Pope Urban did in fact urge everyone, regardless of rank, to take part in the crusade. Urban’s very words as recorded by Robert the Monk: ‘And we do not command or advise that the old or feeble, or those unfit for bearing arms, undertake this journey; nor ought women to set out at all, without their husbands or brothers or legal guardians. For such are more of a hindrance than aid, more of a burden than advantage…’ implies that Pope Urban addressed only the aristocracy and knightly class to make the armed pilgrimage. Though, Robert’s account was written in around 1116, twenty-one years after Urban’s speech at Clermont.

Regardless of Pope Urban’s real intentions, he inspired tens of thousands of men, women and even children to take up the cross. Peace reigned and every human mind, how great or simple, was renewed with passion, hope and a sense of purpose. Everywhere, knights’ and princes’ swords were blessed by their priests with these words: “Take this sword and these arms in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost! May they and it serve you in this good cause, but never may they shed innocent blood!”

Entire families abandoned their professions so they could prepare for the long journey to the Holy Land. “The Welshman left his Hunting, the Dane his drinking party, and the Norwegian his raw fish–all eager to join the expedition to the Holy Land,” said William of Malmesburry.

One reason why Urban had managed to gain tremendous support from kings, nobles and peasants was because his speech addressed the mentality of the time. Eleventh century Christianity was extremely black and white. King, noble and peasant alike lived in perpetual fear of sin. They were surrounded by sin. Failure to repent would lead to an eternity of excruciating suffering. But repentance lead to the promise of eternal salvation and peace with Christ in heaven. People were continually seeking perfection, closeness to God and absolution from any and all sins they committed.

God and Church were one and Popes believed that they were descendents of St. Peter; they had been given the keys to heaven. They appointed other men (clergy) to do God’s will on earth. The Medieval Catholic Church upheld the firm belief that it was up to God’s disciples to feed the people with God’s word, while requiring the people, including kings, to submit entirely to the teachings of the Church. In order to seek forgiveness, one must seek out a priest or bishop to confess to. In the eleventh century, the idea of a ‘personal relationship with God’ did not exist. People took the pope’s word as the truth and based their faith on his teachings.

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