"Then Jesus said to his disciples ‘If any would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever seeks to spare his own life shall lose it; but whoever shall lose his life for my sake will find it”- CHRIST ADDRESSES HIS DISCIPLES (MATTHEW 16:24-25)
At the turn of the eleventh century Anno Domini the Eastern Roman Empire, the last great remnant of the Ancient Roman Empire, was in decline, slowly worn down by relentless attack at the hands of the Turks. Yet even then, it was the great Christian superpower of the world, and Constantinople was by far the largest and richest city on Earth, the great bastion and defender of Christendom in the face of the rising power of Islam in the East. Though the days when the Caesars ruled from Rome were a distant memory, the power, prestige and the dream that was Rome lived on. Until the fateful day of the 26th of August 1071. For on that day began a chain of events culminating in a day which changed the world forever, and whose effects are felt stronger today than ever, on the 27th November 1095.
|Gold Solidus of the Emperor Romanus IV|
|A Christian Knight departs for the Crusades|
Taken from the Westminster-Psalter.
When the clergy and laymen gathered on the 18th of November 1095, all were expecting further discourse on ecclesiastical affairs and discussion of healing the rifts caused by corruption in the Church. So the Council progressed, until it came to the last item on the agenda. All assembled were struck dumb by Urban II’s closing speech. The Vicar of Christ rose and launched a scathing attack on his flock:
“Listen and learn! You, girt about with the badge of knighthood, are arrogant beyond great pride; you rage against your brothers and cut each other asunder. This, which rends asunder the sheep-fold of the Redeemer... This is not the soldiery of Christ!... You, the oppressors of children, plunderers of widows; you, guilty of homicide, of sacrilege, robbers of another’s rights; you, who await the pay of thieves for the shedding of Christ’s blood!”- POPE URBAN II DENOUNCES VIOLENCE AGAINST FELLOW CHRISTIANS
Never before had a Pope so masterfully struck at the conscience of his subjects, tearing forth their guilt from the depths of their depravity. His words turned to the plight of Christendom in the East:
|Pope Urban II preaches the Crusade|
Taken from the Livre des Passages d'Outre-mer.
“From the confines of Jerusalem and the city of Constantinople a horrible tale has gone forth... a race from the kingdom of the Persians, an accursed race, a race utterly alienated from God... has invaded the lands of those Christians and has depopulated them by the sword, pillage and fire... it has destroyed the churches of God!”- POPE URBAN II TURNS TO THE PLIGHT OF THE EAST
Here Urban refers to the destruction of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, torn down at the orders of the Caliph Al-Hakim in 1009. It does not take a stretch of the imagination to see already the beginnings of the violent tensions between East and West right now in 2010. The Bishop of Rome turned his cry to Jerusalem, the land which ‘floweth with milk and honey’, given by God to the children of Israel in the Old Testament. He implores the men of Christendom to liberate the land from the infidel:
“Nay, more, the sorrowful here will be glad there, the poor here will be rich there, and the enemies of the Lord here will be His friends there!”- POPE URBAN II SPEAKS OF THE REWARDS OF THE CRUSADE
Doubtless, even the most materialistic of those present’s ears would have pricked up at the mention of untold riches in the East. Europe was a desolate land in the 11th century, a land dominated by the right of primogeniture – a law that decreed that only the firstborn son would inherit. This left a great deal of sons destitute and envious, and ready to cause trouble at a moment’s notice. If what the Pope said was true, even a peasant here could be a lord in the Holy Lands. Then came Urban II’s dramatic finale:
“Let therefore hatred depart from among you, let your quarrels end, let wars cease, and let all dissensions slumber. Enter upon the road to the Holy Sepulchre; wrest that land from the wicked race, and subject it to yourselves...Undertake this journey for the remission of your sins, with the assurance of the imperishable glory of the Kingdom of Heaven!”- POPE URBAN II CALLS CHRISTENDOM TO THE CRUSADE
|The Archangel Michael casts Satan down from Heaven|
Artist unknown. Taken by author in Pinacoteca Gallery
of the Vatican Museums.