The Failure of Blessed Urban II’s Italian Launching of the Crusades

March 15, 2018

Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos

In the midst of this general excitement, Alexius Comnena, who was threatened by the Turks, sent ambassadors to the pope [Urban II], to solicit the assistance of the Latins. Some time before this embassy he had addressed letters to the princes of the West, in which he had described to them, in a most lamentable manner, the conquests of the Turks in Asia Minor. These savage hordes, in their debauches and in the intoxication of victory, had outraged both nature and humanity. They were now at the gates of Byzantium, and, without the prompt assistance of all the Christian states, Constantinople must fall under the most frightful domination of the Turks….In compliance with the prayers of Alexius and the wishes of the faithful, the sovereign pontiff convoked a council at Plaisance, in order there to expose the dangers of the Greek and Latin Churches in the East. The preachings of Peter had so prepared the minds and animated the zeal of the faithful, that more than two hundred bishops and archbishops, four thousand ecclesiastics, and thirty thousand of the laity obeyed the invitation of the Holy See. The council was so numerous that it was obliged to be held in a plain in the neighborhood of the city.

Monument of Bl. Pope Urban II at Châtillon-sur-Marne, France. Photo by Nelson Minar.

At this assembly all eyes were turned upon the ambassadors of Alexius; their presence in the midst of a Latin council, announced sufficiently plainly the disastrous condition of the East. When they had exhorted the princes and the warriors to save Constantinople and Jerusalem, Urban supported their discourse and their prayers with all the reasons which the interests of Christianity and the cause of religion could furnish. The council of Plaisance, however, came to no determination upon the war against the infidels. The deliverance of the Holy Land was far from being the only object of this council; the declarations of the empress Adelaide, who came to reveal her own shame, and that of her husband, anathemas against the emperor of Germany and the anti-pope, Guibert, occupied, during several days, the attention of Urban and the assembled fathers.It must be added, too, that among the states of Italy, in which country this council was held, the spirit of commerce and liberty began to weaken the enthusiasm of religion. The greater part of the cities only thought of the advantages that might accrue to them as a means of securing their independence, and none yielding so freely as other nations to the influence of the popes.

Whilst the Christian world revered in Urban the formidable successor of Gregory, the Italians, whose charity he had frequently implored, were best acquainted with his disgraces and misfortunes: his presence did not in any degree warm their zeal, and his decrees were not always laws for them, who had seen him, from the depths of misery and in exile, launch his thunders against the thrones of the West. The prudent Urban avoided trying to arouse the ardor of the Italians; he did not think their example at all likely to lead on other nations. In order to take a decided part in the civil war, and to interest all Europe in its success, he resolved to assemble a second synod, in the bosom of a warlike nation, which, from the most distant times, had been accustomed to give impulsion to Europe.

Joseph François Michaud, The History of the Crusades of the Crusades, trans. W. Robson (New York, Redfield, 1853), vol. I, 44-6.

Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 617



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