Post-classical history

Clermont, Council of (1095)

A church council held at Clermont (mod. Clermont-Ferrand, France) in the Auvergne (18-28 November 1095), at which Pope Urban II called on nobles and knights to liberate the Christians of the East from the Turks. This expedition, which has since come to be known as the First Crusade (1096-1099), can be regarded as inaugurating the crusade movement.

Urban II was able to return to Rome in 1093 after his imperialist rival, Clement III (Guibert of Ravenna), withdrew from the city. Two years later the pope left Rome on an extended journey to France, planned at least since 1091 as part of a wider plan of calming the unsettled state of affairs in the church in the aftermath of the death of Pope Gregory VII (1085). The Council of Clermont had originally been planned for Vézelay, then for Le Puy, but by the summer of 1095 Urban had summoned the bishops of France and some of the surrounding areas to meet at Clermont. All of the sessions except the final one took place either in the cathedral of Clermont or in the suburban church of Notre-Dame-du- Port. Among the ecclesiastical participants, of whom either 182 or 184 are known by name, were many representatives from French sees, but the Italian delegation (which included the papal entourage) and the Spanish delegation were also very numerous.

Urban II was focused on the reform of the French church, as revealed by the legislation of the council; also of prime importance was the settlement of the marital problems of King Philip I of France. The assembly decided at least 61 decrees or canons, including the renewal of Urban’s legislation from his earlier synods, and concluded several lawsuits, as was usual at councils of this period.

The crusade to the East was not proclaimed until the speech with which Urban concluded the council (27 November 1095). It was made outdoors in order to accommodate the great throngs of clergy and laity and men and women of all ages and classes who had come to hear the pope. No official record of the papal address has been preserved.

Urban II preaching the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont. In contrast to the portrayal in this fourteenth-century miniature painting, the sermon took place outdoors. (Archivo Iconograpfico, S.A./Corbis)

Urban II preaching the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont. In contrast to the portrayal in this fourteenth-century miniature painting, the sermon took place outdoors. (Archivo Iconograpfico, S.A./Corbis) 

Accounts of it were given in chronicles later written by Robert of Rheims, Baldric of Dol, Fulcher of Chartres, and Guibert of Nogent, but it is uncertain which one of these reflects most accurately what Urban actually said.

Nevertheless, it is clear that Urban called on the Christians of the West to come to the aid of fellow Christians in the East who were victims of the invading Saljūq Turks and whose churches had been destroyed. Like his immediate predecessors, Urban had long been interested in the relationship between the Greek and the Latin churches, a problem that was urgent as far as southern Italy and Sicily were concerned, but the idea of military assistance for the Byzantines probably had not arisen before an embassy from the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos approached the pope at the Council of Piacenza in March 1095. There can be no doubt, though, of the overwhelming and unexpected success of Urban’s call. A huge number of those present came forward to ask permission to go to the East: they included Adhe- mar, bishop of Le Puy, and representatives of Raymond IV of Saint-Gilles, count of Toulouse.

The canons of the council would have been recited in one of the closing sessions. It is unknown whether participants received copies of the decisions or took notes during the lengthy reading; in any event, some participants did copy what was of interest to them and brought these texts back home, omitting the rest of the legislation. Some of this material was then included in the canonical collections or in chronicle narratives and has thus survived in different forms; additional stipulations may well have been lost, and the number sixty-one arrived at by Robert Somerville should be considered a minimum. No single official record is still extant, although Somerville, who edited the texts from several different manuscript families, could show that ten of its decrees appear to have been preserved in an official style, thus indicating official records of the Roman Curia as the most likely original source. But the official canons of Clermont probably never circulated as a group. Bishop Lambert of Arras and his entourage returned from the council with extensive, varied materials, some of which have been preserved in a document named after Lambert, the Liber Lam- berti. It opens with a canon promulgating a Peace and Truce regulation for monks, clerics, women, and those who accompanied them. The second item is the famous decree granting a penitential indulgence as reward for having undertaken the journey to Jerusalem to those who “purely on the grounds of faith, not for the sake of glory or money, set out for Jerusalem in order to free the church of God” [Somerville, Councils of Urban II, p. 74]. One other decree transmitted elsewhere placed the goods of crusaders under the protection of the Peace of God.

The majority of the canons, however, confronted issues that were relevant in the context of the eleventh-century church reform, such as the prohibition of liege homage by bishops or priests to the king or any layman, of investiture with ecclesiastical honors by kings or laymen, and of the possession of altars by laymen, as well as the prohibition of simony (the payment of money for spiritual gifts) and of clerical marriage or concubinage; the sons of such unions were not to be promoted to ecclesiastical offices unless they became monks. To the faithful in general the eating of meat during Lent was prohibited; traditional rights of asylum were upheld; marriages were prohibited within seven degrees of consanguinity. It is obvious that Urban set out to reform the moral as well as the institutional life of Christianity in general; the call for the armed pilgrimage to Jerusalem formed only part of his program, yet it had the widest echo.

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