Popes in a Year
#159 - Blessed Pope Urban II
Pope from March 12, 1088 - July 29, 1099
Lived: c. 1040 - July 29, 1099
Birth name: Odo of Chatillan
Give me the scoop on Urban II.
Blessed Pope Urban II was born Odo of Chatillan, a native of France and son of a noble family. Urban was educated by St. Bruno, founder of the Carthusian order, after which he entered the monastic life in Cluny. The abbey’s boss was St. Hugh, who also happened to be a right-hand man to Pope St. Gregory VII. This connection helped Urban move up the ranks and become a trusted and wise adviser himself. He served as Cardinal-bishop of Ostia until his 1088 election.
As pope, though Urban had great personal holiness and found some administrative success to boot, diplomacy didn’t seem to be his strong suit. He had run-ins with the king of England, William Rufus, over the latter’s disagreements with St. Anselm, and also was forced to excommunicate King Philip I of France (perhaps begrudgingly) over a second-marriage controversy. He was at least able to navigate the Church through some problems with Antipope Clement III and the former emperor, Henry IV. Urban II died in 1099, having served 11 years as pope. Beatified in 1881 by Pope Leo XIII, Urban’s feast day is July 29.
What was he known for?
Hands down, Urban II is best known for sending Catholic pilgrims Crusading for the first time. When the Islamic Seljuk Turks had conquered most of Asia Minor, the Byzantine emperor wrote to Urban asking for help to retake the Holy Land for Christendom. The pope promptly convened the Council of Clermont in 1095, laying out the East’s dire situation and delivering a rousing speech to the bishops, priests, and laymen gathered there.
Here’s an excerpt, directed towards bishops, from
that very speech
, recorded by Fulcher of Chartres:
“God has put you as stewards over his family to minister to it. Happy indeed will you be if he finds you faithful in your stewardship. You are called shepherds; see that you do not act as hirelings. But be true shepherds, with your crooks always in your hands. Do not go to sleep, but guard on all sides the flock committed to you. For if through your carelessness or negligence a wolf carries away one of your sheep, you will surely lose the reward laid up for you with God.”
Bl. Pope Urban II
The First Crusade began in 1095 and reached its culmination in 1099, just two weeks before Urban’s death, when the Christian army was able to liberate Jerusalem.
Nearly 80 percent
of soldiers had either died, were missing, or had deserted during three unimaginably difficult years of fighting.
In a rather remarkable stroke of coincidence, Blessed Pope Urban II is the first of
popes who have “the Second” after their names. The streak lasted over 50 years, ending with Pope Lucius II, who died in 1145.
What else was going on in the world at the time?
In 1091, London Bridge was indeed falling down. A massive tornado swept through the area that year, and is thought to be the most severe twister the city has ever seen. The tornado’s severity, classified as a T8 on the
, would have had wind speeds upward of
210 miles per hour
and contained enough power to hurl automobiles great distances.
Coming tomorrow...Pope Paschal II
SOURCES (and further reading)
John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
Pope Blessed Urban II -
Pope Urban II -
London tornado of 1091 -
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Sent by Matthew Sewell on Thursday, August 3 at 2:00AM