Readers’ Forum

A Speech Whose History Lives On Today

To The Reader’s Forum:

Americans are ending an election year in which there has been no shortage of political speeches, most of which were quite mundane.

However, if we could travel backward in time 925 years to the 27th of November, 1095, in Clermont, France, we might have heard what some historians claim was the single most effective speech in history.

With the tomb of Jesus in the hands of infidels and the Byzantine Empire overrun by Seljuk Turks, Pope Urban II summoned Christian warriors to take up the cross and their swords against the Turks and then recover the holy city of Jerusalem from Islam. Before a crowd of thousands, Urban protested that the Seljuk Turks, who were occupying the Holy Land, were defiling Christian holy places and threatening Christian pilgrims. Urban’s brilliant speech appealed to his listeners’ highest motives and to their most selfish ones. It aroused passionate enthusiasm in his audience, and before he had finished, the multitude was shouting, ‘Deus le volt!” (God wills it) which would become the battle cry of the crusaders. Within months, the First Crusade was under way. It was to be followed by eight major holy wars over the next 200 years.

The crusades became the stuff of romantic legend, but in reality they were a series of extremely savage battles carried out in the name of Christian piety to advance the power of the Western Church. Their legacy of religious violence is still felt today as the age-old conflict of Christians, Jews and Muslims persists.

Dr. James Dahlie,



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