The Kiss of Peace depicted in a relief sculpture in the tympanum of the church of Anzy-le-Duc, Saône-et-Loire, Burgundy. Probably eleventh century

You, girt about with the badge of knighthood, are arrogant with great pride; you rage against your brothers and cut each other in pieces. This is not the true soldiery of Christ!

From Pope Urban II’s sermon at Clermont, from the version of Baldric of Dol.

Western Europe, in the late eleventh century, was a dangerous place. A baby boom had occurred among the nobility, leaving a surplus of sons without lands who were quite prepared to undertake wars on their brothers for possession of small fiefs, and despite an upturn in the agrarian economy the lot of the average person remained miserable, as it was routinely shattered by internecine warfare.

There were impositions of truces on holy days by baronies, and preaching of an Augustinian deprecation of war for personal gain by the Church but the chaos continued. In 1063 the Bishop of Terouanne and Count Baldwin of Hainault issued edicts prohibiting unlawful war along with draconian penalties for breaking the truce: exile for 30 years, excommunication and denial of burial. It was not enough to forestall the endemic violence of the time.

The ‘Kiss of Peace’ was another attempt to ensure more orderly and unwarlike relations between the petty nobles but even this, though it lasts until today in the practice of many Christian communities, was not enough. In this little sculpture the embrace seems genuine but this was not commonly the case. ‘He offers the kiss of peace, and then belches in your face,’ as one writer had it.

The expeditio announced by Urban II and promulgated by a well-ordered clergy, the creation of Gregory VII, was a possible outlet for a society which was certainly growing in confidence but which was also tearing itself apart.

Progenitors of the ideal Crusader already existed in the form of the knights of the Reconquista and also in the ‘swords for the faith’, those knights and lords who fought for the pope against the Holy Roman Emperor in the Conflict of Investitures. During the eleventh century the papacy had been reliant upon Norman military power to maintain its cause but in the 1060s Gregory VII had reached out to all of knighthood. This involved the blessing of battle banners and weapons, and a call to dedicated service of the Church by Milites Sancti Petri, the ‘Knights of St Peter’. The tale of the expulsion of the Antipope’s forces from Rome by the crusading Prince Hugh of Vermandois, who fought under the banner of Saint Peter, is almost certainly apocryphal but shows how the French nobility were ready to undertake a collective penitence and to follow the Pope as the leader of an army of the faithful.


Urban II called upon this body of warriors to take the Cross, with the promise of indulgences guaranteeing absolution of all sins to those who fulfilled their pledge, and beseeched them to ride ‘under their Captain Christ to the rescue of Sion!’

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