Born in Pisa, Italy in the late eleventh century, he became a monk at Clairvaux in the 1130's due to the tremendous influence of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and remained there until Pope Innocent II asked Bernard to send Cistercians to Rome. Eugene was the first, heading a band of monks who settled at the Monastery of Saints Vincenzo and Anastasio just outside Rome. The fruits of his work were already evident in increasing vocations when Eugene was taken from the cloistered walls to the throne of Peter. Fearing reprisal from the Pierleoni mob and escorted by their rival - the Frangipani soldiers, the cardinals escorted Eugene to Farfa just north of Rome so that he could officially be consecrated Pope without incident. There he remained until Roman envoys offered a peace treaty, inviting him to return to Rome for they had come to realize that the Patrician Giordano Pierleoni was not living up to his promises and had let Rome fall more into ruin than before his takeover. The populace had turned against the brother of the now-deceased antipope Anacletus II. Hope sprung on the horizon when Eugene returned to Rome to celebrate Christmas in 1145 for it looked as though the Pierleoni power had run its course. Though the people were able to depose Giordano's office of Patrician, they were so unorganized with no one in charge that chaos eventually gained the upper hand. Less than a month later, seeking a more peaceful atmosphere, Eugene vacated Rome once again, opting to return to Viturbo. During his short stay in Rome Eugene received the alarming news that the Turks had captured the crusader stronghold at Edessa in southeast Turkey. Moved to respond, he issued a papal bull, sending it to King Louix VII of France and Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III of Germany, proclaiming the formation of a second crusade with St. Bernard commissioned to preach the crusade.
The word "Crusade" was taken from the Latin for "to mark with a cross" which was cruciare, and the French croisade as well as the Spanish cruzada. Hence the word "crusade" became a household word. In short it became a crusade to crusade for the Crusades. Every Crusader's emblem carried a cross emblazoned on their chest, shield and/or banner. The first stage of the Second Crusade had been initiated by Pope Celestine II but that ended in disaster when the troops, marching from Constantinople (Byzantium) in 1143 to Edessa, met their waterloo there in the early winter of 1145. Pope Eugene III felt that the first had not been properly organized and so he sought not only the military leadership and strength of France and Germany through the coaxing of St. Bernard, but also of South Italy in the person of Roger II of Sicily. The latter pressed to march on Byzantium and both Louis and St. Bernard shared his sentiments. Though Eugene was hesitant, feeling the crusaders would be spreading themselves too thin if they marched on Byzantium, he gave in. He should have rethinked his strategy. The result was disastrous. Though Louis and Conrad were capable rulers, they were terrible military strategists and suffered heavy casualties as the guerilla-like Turks took no prisoners. Both Louis and Conrad limped into Jerusalem in 1148, not victoriously, but baffled and battle-worn. Eugene's grand plan had met with grand disaster.
Godincidently, it was at the very time that Eugene was planning his crusade that the Mother of God was appearing to Saint Simon Stock in England, bestowing on him the Scapular for protection. If only Eugene's warriors had had the scapular earlier, the entire course of history might have been changed and reunion with the Eastern church might have become a reality. But alas, God had other plans and no human can perceive the omniscient knowledge of the Almighty.
Disallusioned by defeat, Eugene forsook the cause of the crusades. The next Crusade would not be launched for another forty years. Turning his attention to matters of the Church, Eugene returned to Rome in June 1148 and proved much more capable. Prompted by St. Bernard, Eugene was a crusader for reform in the fashion of Pope Gregory VII and staunchly defended Holy Mother Church against those who would undermine her including the radical reformer Arnold of Brescia who had denounced Eugene as the "blood pope." Eugene called the Council of Rheims, condemning Trinitarianism and also completed the institution of the Sacred College. Throughout his pontificate there were skirmishes with the Roman clans and finally, in 1149 Eugene summoned the help of Roger II to quell any uprising. However, all the warring within the city caused him to once again flee Rome. While waiting to return he carried on communications with Conrad III, seeking to reinstall dignity in the German emperor who had been badly humiliated from the defeat of the crusades. Eugene planned a huge celebration in the fall of 1152 where the Holy Roman Emperor would be feted and crowned king, but Conrad died in mid February of that year and there would be no celebration. Conrad's successor Frederick I Barbarossa followed up by sending word to Eugene and the two mutually agreed to protect each other's soveriegn rights at the Treaty of Constance on March 23, 1153. Frederick made plans to come to Rome to be crowned by Eugene but this time the Holy Father would not be there for his arrival. He died at Tivoli at the height of the summer - July 8, 1153. With him went the last vestiges of the reform popes and his close confessor and counselor St. Bernard, himself a staunch crusader for reform, also passed on to his eternal reward six weeks later on August 20th. Blessed Eugene was laid to rest in St. Peter's next to Pope Gregory III in the shadows of the new Papal Palace construction that Eugene had initiated. Soon after his death, countless stories began circulating as to miracles attributed to him for intercession. Seven hundred and nineteen years later he was beatified by Pope Pius IX in 1872.
To review all past installments of this on-going series, go to Archives beginning with the inaugural A CALL TO PEACE internet issue in January 1996. volume 7, no. 1.