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Pope Urban II

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Pope Urban II

By -- Urban II, né Otho of Lagery (or Otto or Odo) (1042 - July 29, 1099), pope from 1088 to July 29, 1099, was born into nobility in France at Lagery (near Châtillon-sur-Marne) and was church-educated. He was archdeacon of Reims when, under the influence of St. Bruno his teacher, he resigned and entered the cloister at Cluny where he rose to be prior. In 1078, Gregory VII summoned him to Italy and made him cardinal-bishop of Ostia.

He was one of the most prominent and active supporters of the Gregorian reforms, especially as legate in Germany in 1084, and was among the few whom Gregory nominated as possible successors to be Pope. Desiderius, abbot of Monte Cassino (who took the name Victor III) was chosen Pope initially, but after his short reign Odo was elected by acclamation (March 1088) at a small meeting of cardinals and other prelates held in Terracina. He took up the policies of Pope Gregory VII, and while pursuing them with determination showed greater flexibility and diplomatic finesse. At the outset he had to reckon with the presence of the powerful Antipope Clement III in Rome; but a series of well-attended synods held in Rome, Amalfi, Benevento, and Troia supported him in renewed declarations against simony, lay investiture, and clerical marriages, and a continued opposition to Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor.

In accordance with this last policy, the marriage of the countess Matilda of Tuscany with Guelph of Bavaria was promoted, Prince Conrad was helped in his rebellion against his father and crowned King of the Romans at Milan in 1093, and the empress (Adelaide or Praxedes) encouraged in her charges against her husband. In a protracted struggle also with Philippe I of France, whom he had excommunicated for his adulterous marriage to Bertrade de Montfort, Urban II finally proved victorious.


Urban is best known for starting the First Crusade.

Urban's crusading movement took its first public shape at the Council of Piacenza, where in March 1095 Urban received an ambassador from the Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenus, asking for help against the Muslims. A great council met, attended by numerous Italian, Burgundian, and French bishops in such vast numbers it had to be held in the open air outside the city. At the Council of Clermont held in November of the same year, Urban's sermon proved the most effective single speech in European history, as he summoned the French people to wrest the Holy Land from the hands of the Turks. France, he said, was already overcrowded and the holy lands of Canaan were overflowing with milk and honey. He asked the Frenchmen to turn their swords in favour of God's service, and the assembly replied Dieu le veult! -- "God wills it!"

Urban II died on July 29, 1099, fourteen days after the fall of Jerusalem to the Crusaders, but before news of the event had reached Italy; his successor was Paschal II.

Urban II and Sicily

Far more subtle than the Crusades, but far more successful over the long run, was Urban's program of bringing Campagna and Sicily firmly into the Catholic sphere, after generations of control from the Byzantine Empire and the hegemony of Arab emirs in Sicily. His agent in the Sicilian borderlands was the Norman ruler Roger I. In 1098 Urban bestowed on Roger extraordinary prerogatives, some of the very same rights that were being withheld from temporal sovereigns elsewhere in Europe. Roger was to be free to appoint bishops ("lay investiture"), free to collect Church revenues and forward them to the papacy (always a lucrative middle position), and free to sit in judgment on ecclesiastical questions. Roger was to be virtually a legate of the pope within Sicily. In re-Christianizing Sicily, seats of new dioceses needed to be established, and the boundaries of sees established, with a church hierarchy re-established after centuries of Muslim domination. Roger's Lombard consort Adelaide brought settlers from the valley of the Po to colonize eastern Sicily. Roger as secular ruler seemed a safe proposition, as he was merely a vassal of his kinsman the Count of Apulia, himself a vassal of Rome, so as a well-tested military commander it seemed safe to give him these extraordinary powers, which were later to come to terminal confrontations between Roger's Hohenstaufen heirs and the 13th-century Papacy.

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