The first Crusade

What is called the First Crusade began in 1096, the immediate outgrowth of an appeal by Pope Urban II in a stirring sermon at a synod at Clermont, in France, in November of the preceding year. The congregation, deeply moved, is said to have boomed out; "Dens vult" ("God wills it") and this was made the slogan of the enterprise. The Pope had been asked by the Eastern Emperor for aid against the Seljuk Turks. He was nor the first Byzantine Emperor to seek such help. A predecessor had made a similar plea to Gregory VII, whom we are to meet again, as we also are Urban II, as a leader in reform in the Western Church and in seeking to enhance the power of the Church in the affairs of men. Urban called on the Christians of Western Europe to go to the succour of their Eastern brethren and also to free the holy places from the hands of the infidels. "Plenary indulgence," of which we are to hear more later, was promised to all who took part and eternal life to those who lost their physical lives in the enterprise. The cross was worn as a symbol by those who responded.

Preachers, conspicuous among them Peter the Hermit, spread the message through much of Western Europe. Popular enthusiasm mounted. Throngs, poorly organized, set forth, some of them attacking the Jews or pillaging fellow Christians as they went. Most of this wave perished, some before reaching Constantinople and others nor long after they had crossed into Asia. Much better organized armies left in the summer of 1096, arrived in Constantinople that winter and the next spring, fought their way through Asia Minor, captured Antioch in June, 1098, with great slaughter, and the following year took Jerusalem, putting many of its inhabitants to the sword.

The most respected of the crusading leaders, Godfrey of Bouillon, was made Protector of the Holy Sepulchre. After his early death he was succeeded by a brother who had the title King of Jerusalem. Crusaders established themselves in various centres in Syria and Palestine, where the ruins of their strongholds can still be seen. Their political structure was feudal, as was natural for those coming from the Western Europe of that day. Rome appointed a Patriarch of Jerusalem and several bishoprics and archbishoprics were set up. Although reunion of all the Eastern Churches had not been accomplished under the sgis of Rome, the Western Church had largely extended its holdings, and in the East. The Crusaders were far from being ideal exemplars of the faith which they professed and few if any willing conversions from Islam were made by them.

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