This colorful image, attributed to the French artist Jean Colombe (c. 1430–1493), comes from an illuminated manuscript of Sébastien Mamerot’s Les Passages d’Outremer. Pope Urban II (r. 1088-1099) is the featured speaker in the painting, depicted standing at the podium before a room of onlookers. During that speech, delivered at Clermont in 1095, Pope Urban would plant an idea in the heads of his followers that would usher in a new chaotic age for Christendom. If the face of Helen of Troy was the visage that began the Trojan War, then it was the face of Pope Urban II that began the Crusades. After talking of the gains that Muslim armies had been making against the Christian empire of Constantinople in Anatolia, Pope Urban reportedly suggested that Christians should fight to secure the holy land, and that God would forgive all sins involved with accomplishing such a task, as well as forgiveness for other sins crusaders might have committed before deciding to make their armed pilgrimage. Fulcher of Chartres (c. 1059-1127), a clergyman and soon-to-be crusader who was present at the 1095 Council of Clermont, recorded an account of the pope’s speech:
“I [Pope Urban], with suppliant prayer—not I, but the Lord—exhort you, heralds of Christ, to persuade all of whatever class, both knights and footmen, both rich and poor, in numerous edicts, to strive to help expel that wicked race from our Christian lands before it is too late. I speak to those present, I send word to those not here; moreover, Christ commands it. Remission of sins will be granted for those going thither, if they end a shackled life either on land or in crossing the sea, or in struggling against the heathen. I, being vested with that gift from God, grant this to those who go” (Chronicle, book I, chapter 3, section 4-5).
Soon after that speech, the First Crusade began (c. 1095/1096-1099). It was the start of a trend that would last for centuries, with Crusades being launched against several targets with varying success. In time, Crusades would also be launched against Christian heretics, and even Constantinople—the imperial city that Pope Urban II wanted to aid—would ultimately be captured by Crusaders in 1204, causing a great disturbance in the region until the Crusader regime was forced out in 1261.
Written by C. Keth Hansley
- The First Crusade: The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and Other Source Materials (Second Edition) by Edward Peters. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.