Who was Pope Urban II?
Pope Urban II was the pope from 1088 to 1099. He was known for his diplomatic skills and remarkable ambition. He was also one of the ardent supporters of the Gregorian reforms. During his time as the pope, he dealt with various issues such as transforming the Roman Curia to a royal ecclesiastical court that would help run the church, the infighting between Christian nations, and the Muslim invasions into Europe. He played a huge part in initiating the first crusade at the end of the 11th century. With a highly controversial yet influential speech, he gathered hordes of people to take part in the crusade and promised them eternal salvation as their reward. An influential cleric, Urban’s war cry helped mobilize about 60,000 to 100,000 people, who marched to reclaim Jerusalem, the Holy City. This helped Urban to reinforce the strength of the papacy as a political entity, and he was able to unite the Christians across Europe. Even though they were beaten back initially, the Christians fought back in numbers and eventually came out victorious. But Pope Urban II died before news of the fall of Jerusalem could reach Europe. He was formally beatified by Pope Leo XIII many years after his death.
Childhood & Early Life
Pope Urban II was born in 1035 as Otho de Lagery to a noble family in Châtillon-sur-Marne, the Champagne region of France.
He studied under St. Bruno at Reims, where he would later become the canon and archdeacon. His role was to assist the bishops in the administrative matters of the diocese. Otho held this position from 1055 to 1067.
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Otho eventually became a monk and then the prior superior at Cluny. It was during his service in Reims and Cluny that he gained significant experience in ecclesiastical policy and administration. In 1079, Otho left for Rome, where he would become the cardinal and bishop of Ostia.
In 1084, Pope Gregory VII sent Otho to Germany and France as a papal legate. During Gregory VII’s struggle with Roman Emperor Henry IV, Otho remained extremely loyal to legitimate papacy. During this period, while returning to Rome, he was imprisoned by Henry IV but was soon liberated.
After the death of Pope Gregory VII in 1085, Otho also served his successor, Victor III. After Victor III’s death in 1087, the reform cardinals regained control of Rome from Pope Clement III and decided to elect Otho as the pope.
After a small meeting of cardinals and other prelates held at Terracina in March 1088, Otho was elected as the successor to Victor III. His initial challenge was to face the presence of Guibert of Ravenna, the antipope “Clement III,” who had the backing of Emperor Henry IV.
Otho took over the papacy as Pope Urban II on 12 March 1088. He gave great importance to the policies of Gregory VII and decided to pursue them with determination. He was usually kept away from Rome, but a series of synods held in Rome, Amalfi, Benevento, and Troia declared their support for him.
His policies against simony, lay investitures, clerical marriages, the emperor, and his antipope garnered plaudits from all sides. He also facilitated the marriage of Matilda, the Countess of Tuscany, with Welf II, the Duke of Bavaria.
Pope Urban II also supported the rebellion of Prince Conrad against his father. In 1095, he helped arrange the marriage between Conrad and Maximilla, who was the daughter of Count Roger of Sicily.
He also encouraged Empress Adelaide on her charges of sexual compulsion against her husband, Emperor Henry IV. Even though Pope Urban II maintained his strong support for his predecessors’ reforms, he never shied away from supporting the theological and ecclesiastical work of Anselm, who was the archbishop of Canterbury.
When Anselm fled England due to some conflict with King William II, it was Urban who negotiated and proposed a solution to it, thereby receiving support from England against the antipope of Rome. He also upheld the excommunication of King Philip over his doubly bigamous marriage.
Pope Urban II also played a pivotal role in the First Crusade. In March 1095, he received the Byzantine ambassador sent by Emperor Alexios I Komnenos. He was seeking Urban’s help against the Muslim Seljuk Turks. In the Council of Clermont, he summoned the people to fight for the Holy Land.
Pope Urban II wrote four letters, one each to the Flemish, the Bolognese, the Vallombrosa, and the counts of Catalonia. The first three letters were about rallying popular support for the crusades, while the final letter, written to the Catalonian lords, was to encourage them in their fight against the Moors.
Through his sermons and letters, Pope Urban II emphasized the importance of the Holy Crusade and how taking part in it would lead to eternal salvation. All this garnered substantial public support for him and helped to gain legitimacy for the papacy. In 1097, Clement III was removed by one of the French armies.
Death & Legacy
Even though Jerusalem fell before the attack of the crusaders, Pope Urban II did not live to hear the news. On 29th July 1099, he died in the house of Pierleone. His remains could not be buried in the Lateran because Guibert’s followers were present in the city.
His beatification did not take place until the pontificate of Leo XIII. He was beatified on 14th July 1881. His feast day is celebrated on 29th July.
The figures painted in the apse of the oratory constructed by Calixtus II in the Lateran Palace feature Pope Urban II with the words “Sanctus Urbanus Secundus” inscribed underneath it. A square nimbus crowns the head, and the pope is pictured at the feet of the Blessed Virgin Mary.