The Pilgrimage Origins of the First Crusade
On November 27th, 1095, at Clermont in central France, Pope Urban II delivered the sermon which launched the expedition now known as the First Crusade. He called on the faithful, in particular the lords and knights who formed society's military élites, to relieve the oppression of Eastern Christians and to liberate the Holy Places by means of an armed pilgrimage, participation in which would earn remission of one's penances because of the great hardships which would be faced. The pope's message was bold and challenging, and it received an enthusiastic response; according to Robert the Monk, one of the chroniclers who described the scene, everyone shouted 'God wills it! ' once Urban stopped speaking.
Why was this speech important? Urban was a good communicator, but what he said was as much a briefing as a piece of oratory. His audience mostly comprised bishops and abbots who had assembled some days earlier for a church council. Not many lay people were present, and only a small minority of those who went on the crusade could claim that they had heard the CIermont speech. Nor was Urban's message a one-off, for it was repeated many times in the following months by the pope himself and by other churchmen. Many people learned about the crusade from popular preachers and through other unofficial channels. So the pope's initial speech was just one small part of a much wider recruitment effort. None the fess, contemporaries soon came to remember Urban's sermon as a great defining moment; the myriad complexities of the preaching and organisation of an expedition which involved tens of thousands of people from many parts of Europe could be understood more easily by focusing on the rousing events at Clermont and the emotions they released.
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