Christians and the First Crusade

Douglas James explains why so many in the Christian West answered Urban II’s call to arms following the Council of Clermont in 1095.

The motivations for this mass of humanity to embark on such a journey are manifold. As Hans Mayer has concluded, both spiritual and social motives coalesced to ‘produce a spark of spontaneous success, as well as to light a fire that would burn for two hundred years’. Whilst the letter appealing for help against the Seljuk Turks sent by the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus perhaps encapsulates this spark, contextually, it could be argued that the fire Mayer proposes was an inevitable occurrence. The First Crusade has come to exemplify the religious fervour that enveloped Christendom, the policies of an aggressive Papacy, and the newly spawned concept of Holy War – which was dramatically exploited by the Church in its offer of the (plenary) Indulgence. The crusades were presented as penitential acts of devotion and powerful inducements for the atonement of all worldly sins. The notion of crusade arguably united a series of interlinked ideals, both those inherent within the people and those spawned through an astute and cogent programme of preaching.

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