Present expert interview with Pope Urban II is made to research into some of the most crucial issues relating to The First Crusade, crusade’s theory and Urban II legacy. The questions asked refer to religious and material preconditions for the First Crusade and Pope’s role in its organization, the role of pilgrimage in fostering mass recruitment of Crusaders etc. Moreover, some questions are asked to establish historical facts about Council of Clermont and Pope Urban II policies in Sicily and Campania.
Pope Urban II biography
Pope Urban II (1042- 1099) was an influential Pope from 1008 to 1099, best known for his initiating of the First Christian Crusade in 1095 and laying foundations for the Roman Curia in the form of royal court (Bull 34-37).
As far as religious politics is concerned, his declarations against clerical marriages, lay investiture and simony were widely supported as well as his long-standing opposition against Emperor Henry IV. Among the major political achievements of Pope Urban II was bringing Sicily and Campania in the sphere of Catholic influence after many years of Byzantine control.
Expert interview with Pope Urban II
Interviewer: Your Holiness, your historical significance, as we see it, is mainly premised on your role in organization of the First Christian Crusade to the Holy Land. Moreover, you managed to see Jerusalem’s fall to Christian Crusaders, which happened on July 29 1099. Your Holiness, we understand that ideology of this Crusade was based on Christian religion and great faith in God you have given to people. However, now, when the battlefield of faith is already cold, can you give us historical explanation of material impulses and reasons, which made this historical event possible?
Pope Urban II: Your question is really interesting and some kernels of truth may be found in it. You see, that God Providence dominates the world and creates conditions for history to be realized. History is basically God Providence embedded in Time. As far as The First Crusade’s causes are concerned, one should discriminate between faith and material interests. The cause of faith was obviously dominant for those thousands, who embarked on Christian Crusade (Bull, 1997 12).
They felt guilty for their bloody struggle with Christian brothers, merciless killings of people of the same faith. Therefore, they saw Crusade as a means for expiation and we promised it to them (James 39). I remember myself saying to them at the Council of Clermont: “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” (Pope Urban II’s speech).
Moreover, our Church had its own interests in this Crusade: it was impossible to stay still, while the Holy Land was in hands of barbarians, which suppressed our Christian Byzantine friends. You also mentioned material reasons: of course, they had place as well. I mentioned in my sermon that the lands, inhabited by Christians are not vast enough, food and resources are scarce: hence, the Crusade could meet population’s economic needs simultaneously with resolving paramount religious problems (Asbridge 154).
Interviewer: Modern historians often refer to so called theory of the crusade and study crucial, but difficult questions. I would like to ask you one of them: what was the role of pilgrimage in stimulating popular masses to participate in The First Crusade (Riley-Smith 98).
Pope Urban II: Obviously, the role of pilgrimage was enormous; I would say it was even more important, than material gains, wealth, tax and obligation reductions and social prestige.
Pilgrimage was and may be is the primary tool for articulating people’s devotion and faith. Jerusalem, which is the Holy Land for all Christians, hence, was always regarded as pilgrimage destination, but not only because of its shrines and sacred texts, but because of its spiritual importance, understandable for people without additional explanations (Bull, 1997 14). For noblemen and chivalry, spiritual status of Jerusalem was supplemented by its commercial and trade importance, or simply put – wealth.
Interviewer: Your Holiness, thank you so much for the answer. Our thoughts on this issue are the same, however, with essential historical corrections. To finish our conversation on the First Crusade, I would like to ask you about the issue, which bothered historians for many years. Did you actually say ‘God wills it’ during Council of Clermont or this slogan was created later for propaganda?
Pope Urban II: Basically, this detail is not as significant as it might seem. The thing is that my general appeal in the sermon contained the thought of God’s will to begin the Crusade. Whatever words I used to explain this, they bore this common meaning.
Interviewer: Your Holiness, much of the modern discussions of your legacy deal with the issue of expanding Catholic sphere to Sicily and Campania. In particular, it is interesting what political strategies and tactics you applied to achieve your religious goals (Kuttner 46-58).
Pope Urban II: As you know, Sicily and Campania were for a long period under the rule of Fatimid and Aghlabid emirs and Byzantine Empire. To protect the interests of faith and God on these lands I had to enlist the support of Roger I, the Norman ruler. This, of course, required some political maneuvers and concessions. Concessions and prerogatives, which we gave to Roger I were the deposit of stability and peace.
Nowhere in Europe did sovereigns have such kind of prerogatives, including lay investiture, free collection of Church revenues and free judgment of religious questions. But these prerogatives guaranteed Church’s strong positions and reestablishments of Church’s rule over these lands after centuries of barbarian domination.
I will tell you the truth, if I say that Roger I was easy to control, because he was just a vassal of man, who in his turn was indebted to us, and besides this, his skills of military commander were credited. In sum, all these made us believe that it was quite safe to give him so much power.
Interviewer: Your Holiness, thank you so much for the time you spent for this interview.
Pope Urban II: Thank you for your interesting questions and remember, that time does not matter – the truth does.
Asbridge, T. (2004) The First Crusade: A New History. London, Free Press.
Bull, M. (1997, March). The Pilgrimage Origins of the First Crusade. History Today, 47, 10-17.
Bull M.G. (1993). Knightly Piety and the Lay Response to the First Crusade. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
James, D. (2005). Christians and the First Crusade: Douglas James Explain Why So Many in the Christian West Answered Urban II’s Call to Arms Following the Council of Clermont in 1095. History Review, (53), 34-57.
Fulcher of Chartres account of Urban’s speech. Urban II: Speech at Council of Clermont, 1095, Five versions of the Speech. Retrieved November 28, 2008 from
Kuttner S. Urban II and the Doctrine of Interpretation: A Turning Point?’”, Studia Gratiana, 15 (1972), 55-86 (repr. in id., The History of Ideas and Doctrines of Canon Law in the Middle Ages [Variorum Reprints CS 113; London, 1980], 2nd ed. with ‘New Retractationes’, 1992]).
Riley-Smith J.S.C. (1995). Cross-Cultural Consequences in the Crusading Period. New York, Palgrave.
Somerville, R., & Kuttner, S. (1996). Pope Urban II, the Collectio Britannica, and the Council of Melfi (1089). Oxford: Clarendon Press.