Council of Clermont

For the earlier Council of Clermont, see Council of Clermont (535).
Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont, given a late Gothic setting in this illumination from the Livre des Passages d'Outre-mer, of c 1474 (Bibliothèque nationale)
Pope Urban II preaches the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont.

The Council of Clermont was a mixed synod of ecclesiastics and laymen of the Catholic Church, which was held from November 18 to November 28, 1095 at Clermont, France. Pope Urban II's speech on November 27 was the starting point of the First Crusade.


In 1095 Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenus sent envoys to the west requesting military assistance against the Seljuk Turks.[1] The message was received by Pope Urban II at the Council of Piacenza.[1] Later that year, in November, Urban called the Council of Clermont to discuss the matter further. In convoking the council, Urban urged the bishops and abbots whom he addressed directly, to bring with them the prominent lords in their provinces.

The Council lasted from 18 November to 28 November,[2] and was attended by nearly 300 clerics from throughout France. Urban discussed Cluniac reforms of the Church, and also extended the excommunication of Philip I of France for his adulterous remarriage to Bertrade of Montfort. On November 27, Urban spoke for the first time about the problems in the east. He promoted Western Christians' fight against the Muslims who had occupied the Holy Land and were attacking the Eastern Roman Empire.

Included in measures passed at the Council was the Truce of God, which declared that it was not allowed for Christians to fight one another except on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.[3] This measure was put in place in part to encourage Christians to go fight the enemy in the east instead.[4]

Six sources

There are six main sources of information about this portion of the council: the anonymous Gesta Francorum ("The Deeds of the Franks" dated c. 1100/1101),[5] which influenced all versions of the speech except that by Fulcher of Chartres, who was present at the council; Robert the Monk, who may have been present; Baldric, archbishop of Dol; and Guibert de Nogent, who were not present at the council. All of these accounts were written down quite a bit later than the council; they follow different literary traditions and differ consequently widely from one another.[6] More important than the five composed speeches from the later sources, which tend to be colored by the authors' own views of crusading, is a letter that was written by Urban himself in December of 1095 referring to the council.


According to Fulcher of Chartres who wrote a version of the speech in Gesta Francorum Jerusalem Expugnantium, Urban addressed various abuses of the church such as simony and the lack of adherence to the Peace of God:

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.[7]

In Fulcher's version of the speech, Urban does not mention Jerusalem at all. Urban does however cite the need of the eastern Byzantine Empire for aid against Muslim attack:

Freshly quickened by the divine correction, you must apply the strength of your righteousness to another matter which concerns you as well as God. For your brethren who live in the east are in urgent need of your help, and you must hasten to give them the aid which has often been promised them. For, as the most of you have heard, the Turks and Arabs have attacked them and have conquered the territory of Romania [the Greek empire] as far west as the shore of the Mediterranean and the Hellespont, which is called the Arm of St. George. They have occupied more and more of the lands of those Christians, and have overcome them in seven battles. They have killed and captured many, and have destroyed the churches and devastated the empire. If you permit them to continue thus for awhile [sic] with impunity, the faithful of God will be much more widely attacked by them. On this account I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ's heralds to publish this everywhere and to persuade 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.[7]

A call for Orthodoxy

In Historia Iherosolimitana by Robert the Monk, writing in 1106/7, an extended version of the speech presents the call to the "race of the Franks" as a peroration climaxing Urban's call for orthodoxy, reform and submission to the Church. Robert records that the pope asked western Christians, poor and rich, to come to the aid of the Greeks in the east, because "Deus vult," ("God wills it"), the rousing cry with which Urban ended his final address. Robert records that Urban promised remission of sins for those who went to the east, although the 'Liber Lamberti', a source based on the notes of Bishop Lambert of Arras, who attended the Council, indicates that Urban offered the remission of all penance due from sins, what later came to be called an indulgence.[8] Robert makes Urban deliver a classical battle speech; he emphasizes reconquering the Holy Land more than aiding the Greeks; the intervening decades, and the events of the First Crusade had certainly shifted the emphasis. According to Robert, Urban listed various gruesome offenses of the Muslims: They circumcise the Christians, and the blood of the circumcision they either spread upon the altars or pour into the vases of the baptismal font.[7] and more alleged atrocities expressed in inflammatory images that were derived from hagiography. Perhaps with the wisdom of hindsight, Robert makes Urban advise that none but knights should go, not the old and feeble, nor priests without the permission of their bishops, "for such are more of a hindrance than aid, more of a burden than advantage... nor ought women to set out at all, without their husbands or brothers or legal guardians."

About the same time, Baldrick, archbishop of Dol, also basing his account generally on Gesta Francorum, reported an emotional sermon focusing on the offenses of the Muslims and the reconquest of the Holy Land in terms likely to appeal to chivalry. Like Fulcher he also recorded that Urban deplored the violence of the Christian knights of Gaul. "It is less wicked to brandish your sword against Saracens," Baldrick's Urban cries, comparing them to the Amalekites. The violence of knights he wanted to see ennobled in the service of Christ, defending the churches of the East as if defending a mother. Baldrick asserts that Urban, there on the spot, appointed the bishop of Puy to lead the crusade.

Guibert, abbot of Nogent also made that Urban emphasize the reconquest of the Holy Land more than help to the Greeks or other Christians there. This emphasis may, as in the case of Robert and Baldric, be due to the influence of the Gesta Francorum's account of Jerusalem's reconquest. Urban's speech, in Guibert's version, emphasized the sanctity of the Holy Land, which must be in Christian possession so that prophecies about the end of the world could be fulfilled.

On the last day of the council, a general call was sent out to the knights and nobles of France. Urban apparently knew in advance of the day that Raymond IV of Toulouse, exemplary for courage and piety, was fully prepared to take up arms. Urban himself spent a few months preaching the Crusade in France, while papal legates spread the word in the south of Italy, during which time the focus presumably turned from helping Alexius to taking Jerusalem. The general population, upon hearing about the Council, likely understood this to be the point of the Crusade in the first place.

Urban's own letter, addressed to the faithful "waiting in Flanders," does lament the fact that Turks, in addition to ravaging the "churches of God in the eastern regions," have seized "the Holy City of Christ, embellished by his passion and resurrection—and blasphemy to say it—have sold her and her churches into abominable slavery." Yet he does not explicitly call for the reconquest of Jerusulem. Rather he explicitly calls for the military "liberation" of the Eastern Churches, and appoints Adhemar of Le Puy to lead the Crusade, to set out on the day of the Assumption of Mary, August 15.[9]


  1. 1 2 Helen J. Nicholson, The Crusades, (Greenwood Publishing, 2004), 6.
  2. E. Glenn Hinson, The Church Triumphant: A History of Christianity Up to 1300, (Mercer University Press, 1995), 387.
  3. Peters 1971, p. 18.
  4. Peters 1971, p. 17.
  6. Georg Strack, The sermon of Urban II in Clermont 1095 and the Tradition of Papal Oratory, in: Medieval Sermon Studies 56 (2012), S. 30-45. (
  7. 1 2 3
  9. Quotes from Urban's letter in Riley-Smith, Louise; Riley-Smith, Johnathan, eds. (1981). The Crusades: Idea and Reality, 1095-1274. Documents of Medieval History. 4. London: E. Arnold. p. 38. ISBN 0-7131-6348-8.


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