Urban II started his reign as pope in 1088 where he is recorded on the Bible Timeline with World History. He guided the Roman Catholic Church until his death in 1099. His reign was described as turbulent because of the schemes of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV and the presence of Urban’s rival, the antipope Clement III. Pope Urban was also instrumental in rallying the European nobles (mostly French, Norman, Lombard, and German aristocrats) in taking part in the First Crusade between 1095 and 1099.
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Pope Urban II was born around 1042 at Châtillon-sur-Marne in the Champagne region near the city of Reims. His devout parents, Eucher and Isabella of Lagery, called their son Odo (or Otho). He descended from a well-to-do aristocratic family. As a boy, he studied under the brilliant Bruno of Cologne (later canonized as a saint) who founded the Carthusian Order of monks. He later entered the Cluny Abbey in 1070 to become a monk. Odo trained as a monk under Abbot Hugh and became friends with the monks of Cluny, especially the novice master Peter Pappacarbone.
In 1076, he was appointed as Grand-Prior by Abbot Hugh and was elevated as chief adviser and Bishop of Ostia by Pope Gregory VII in 1078. During the last three years of Gregory VII in office (1082-1085), Odo served as a papal legate. It was during this time that he was imprisoned by Henry IV in 1083 but released later in 1084. Gregory died in 1085. Desiderius of Monte Cassino was chosen to succeed the deceased pope. Desiderius, however, did not last long in the position as he was deposed shortly and Henry elected Clement III as the new Roman pontiff (considered as an antipope).
Election as Pope and Alliances
Deterred by the presence of Pope Clement III and Henry IV in Rome, a group of bishops unanimously elected Urban as pope in the coastal town of Terracina in 1088. He adopted the name Urban II thereafter. With few troops of his own, the newly elected Pope Urban II knew that he needed to strengthen his alliance with the pragmatic Normans who could supply him with troops that he needed so he could retake Rome. The Normans, however, were divided after the death of Robert Guiscard. So the pope headed south and helped reconcile the Norman lord’s heirs, Bohemond and his brother Roger. Urban enlisted the help of their uncle, the Count Roger. The reconciliation was accomplished one year later.
Urban left Sicily and returned to Rome shortly after he brokered the peace between Bohemond and Roger. He was escorted by Norman troops that would help him assert his rights as pope against Clement III. However, this show of force was not enough, and he had to live (temporarily) on the Pierleoni family estate on the island of Saint Bartholomew on the Tiber river. In 1089, Henry gained the upper hand in his war against the Saxons after the death of their leaders. To counter this, Urban issued a letter of excommunication against the German king. The antipope Clement III convened a synod in Rome in response to Urban’s excommunication of Henry, but his efforts came to nothing as he and his troops were driven out of the city on the 30th of June, 1089.
With the antipope out of Rome, Urban was at last free to rule as a duly elected Pope. However, he still spent the next four years struggling against Henry and Clement III until the German king’s power finally waned and both men were forced to flee north. In 1095, Urban issued an additional condemnation of Henry for his alleged mistreatment of his wife, the Empress Adelaide (Eupraxia of Kiev); the pope also issued the anathematization of simony, clerical marriage, and additional condemnation against the deposed Clement III and the heretical teachings of Berengarius.
The First Crusade
With Rome temporarily quiet, Urban spent the months between 1095 and 1096 touring France where a letter from the Byzantine emperor Alexius I Komnenus reached him. The letter contained Alexius’ simple request for additional troops to bolster his depleted army against the overwhelming strength of the Seljuk Turks who, by then, had conquered a great part of Asia Minor. Urban promised religious rewards to anyone who answered the call. It was a hit, especially among the nobles, and some of the first to respond to the call were Robert, Duke of Normandy; Hugh of Vermandois; and Stephen, Count of Blois. Laypeople, ordinary soldiers, and peasants also left Europe to go on a pilgrimage-turned-military adventure in the Levant in what would be called as the First Crusade.
The Fall of Henry and Urban II
By 1097, Henry’s power had completely weakened until he was nothing more than a wandering pariah in Germany. His own son, Conrad, had rebelled against him and turned to Pope Urban II for an alliance. To strengthen their alliance against Henry, Urban arranged for Conrad to marry Count Roger of Sicily’s daughter Maximilla and appointed the count as a papal legate in 1098. He also held a council in Rome between April 24 and 30 in 1099 to promote the First Crusade among the Italian nobles. It was his last council as on July 29, 1099. Pope Urban II died in the Pierleoni family estate. His remains were buried in Saint Peter’s beside the tomb of Pope Hadrian I.
Picture By Francisco de Zurbarán – John N.D. Kelly (1997) Encyklopedia papieży, Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, p. 498 ISBN: 83-06-02633-0., Public Domain, Link
Mann, Horace K. The Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages. Vol. VII. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1925.
Kelly, J. N. D., and Michael J. Walsh. The Oxford Dictionary of Popes. New York, NY.: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.
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