Tuesday, October 23, 2012


The announcement for the First Crusade was made from Clermont in France. The name "Clermont" came from the Latin clarus mons (clear/plain + mountain), originally the name of a castle because of the dormant volcano next door, and later the name of the city it overlooked. But that wasn't until the 9th century. It had a much earlier name in the 2nd century, Arvernis, because it was the capital of the Gallic tribe the Arverni, whose leader Vercingetorix united several Gallic tribes under one banner to fight Julius Caesar. The name "Arverni" lives on in the modern French name of the region, the Auvergne.

Vercingetorix, honored by France in 1966
As one of the oldest established cities in France, it has a long and noble history. In the 5th century it had a large enough Christian population that it earned its own cathedral and bishop. It fought against Visigothic expansion numerous times, until in the late 5th century the Roman emperor gave up on it and let the Visigoths have it. Eventually it fell under Frankish rule.

It also became notable as a location for religious reform and advancement. The announcement of the First Crusade took place at the Second Council of Clermont. The First Council of Clermont took place in 535 and established several points, such as:
  • Marriages between Christians and Jews were forbidden
  • Marriages between relatives were discouraged
  • Priests may not appeal to secular lords for help against their bishop
  • Clerics who attempt to cheat their way to a bishopric will be excommunicated
(The medieval attitude toward Jews was further acted upon in 570, when then-Bishop Avitus offered Jew in Arverni the same deal offered by Edward I in England in 1290: baptism or expulsion.)

The First Council was hosted by the bishop of Arverni, Bishop Gal I. Later, he would be canonized as St. Gal, not to be confused with St. Gall of monastic architecture fame. Although Gal I defended the church steadfastly, and was known at the time for his amazingly even-tempered approach to conflict and personal injury (when struck on the head, his calm response completely disarmed the attacker and defused the situation), he is not well known these days. Connected with him, however, is a true "local boy makes good" story. I am referring to Gal's nephew and pupil, Gregory of Tours, who was not named Gregory and did not come from Tours. But that's a story for tomorrow.

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