The First Crusade Begins
After centuries of Islamic rule, it seemed as if Christian Jerusalem was a mere dream. Though various sects of Christianity still worshiped within the walls of the city, and the Christian holy sites still stood, Jerusalem was now unquestionably Al-Quds, site of the Remote Mosque. But in 1095, Pope Urban II called upon the Christians of Europe to do battle with Islam and conquer the Holy Land, and his oratory spread like wildfire amid nobles and peasants alike. Now all eyes—and all weapons—were trained toward the east. Amid a storm of blood, the Crusaders marched on Palestine, and above all, on the holy city of Jerusalem.
So it was at the Council of Clermont in November, 1095, that the pope delivered a sermon to French nobility and clergy that was to change the face of three continents forever. His impassioned rhetoric most probably encompassed more than political concerns, climbing into the realms of religion. The Holy Land of antiquity was occupied by the forces of Islam, and this could not be permitted to continue.
Thus the original impetus of a military excursion was soon transformed into one of religious fervor: It became vitally important to the Christians of Europe to conquer the Holy Land from Islam, as well as to liberate eastern Christians from Islamic rule. And at the center of it all, as always, Jerusalem—the Holy City, where the tomb of Christ lay enshrined.
Crusader Armies Set Out
This fervor quickly translated into action, and in spring of 1096, thousands of soldiers set out toward Jerusalem. Many of them died in the perilous trek east, but were soon replenished by thousands more. Most of these armies were also accompanied by peasants, women and children.
It was a German detachment of these armies that gained infamy by massacring German communities in Worms, Mainz, and along the Rhine. These massive pogroms were a precursor to many other anti-semitic pogroms in years to come.
It was only the later armies—those did not turn aside for random butchery—who had the efficiency to reach Constantinople. The wars that ensued between the Crusaders and the Turks were to resonate through history for years to come. After three years of bitter battles, the Crusaders emerged victorious. And so in 1099, the Crusader armies reached the goal that represented the pinnacle of their ambitions: The gates of Jerusalem, the Holy City.