The Council of Clermont (1095)
The Council of Clermont was a mixed synod of ecclesiastics and laymen of the Roman Catholic Church, which was held in November 1095 and triggered the First Crusade.
In 1095 Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenus sent envoys to the west requesting military assistance against the Seljuk Turks. The message was received by Pope Urban II at the Council of Piacenza; 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 November 18 to November 28, and was attended by about 300 clerics from throughout France. Urban discussed Clunian 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, as he declared bellum sacrum against the Moslems that occupied the Holy land.
There are six main sources of information about this portion of the council: the anonymous Gesta Francorum ("The Deeds of the Franks") influencing others: Fulcher of Chartres, Robert the Monk, Baldric, archbishop of Dol, and Guibert de Nogent, who were apparently present at the council; also a letter survives that was written by Urban himself in December of 1095.
Gesta Francorum presents the call to the "race of the Franks" as a peroration climaxing Urban's call for orthodoxy, reform and submission to the Church:
"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."
According to Fulcher, Urban addressed various abuses of the church such as simony and the lack of adherence to the Peace of God. He then 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. Fulcher records that Urban promised remission of sins for those who went to the east, although he probably did not mean what later came to be called indulgences.
Robert the Monk, writing, about 20 years after the council, an extended version of the speech in Gesta Francorum, recorded that Urban's emphasis was on reconquering the Holy Land rather than aiding the Greeks. 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") and more atrocities in images derived from hagiography, but did not mention indulgences. 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, focused 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, was an eye witness; he also recorded that Urban's emphasis was reconquest of the Holy Land, but not necessarily to help the Greeks or other Christians there; Urban's speech, in Nogent'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, the count 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, probably 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 not mention Jerusalem at all; he only calls for help for 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.