Conrad of Urach was the son of Count Egino the Bearded of Urach; his mother came from the family of the dukes of Zähringen. His birth fell before 1170. Apparently determined for a clerical career early on, he received his training at the cathedral school of Liège (St. Lambert’s), where his maternal great-uncle, Rudolf of Zähringen, sat as bishop 1167–1191. At some point (probably while his uncle was still bishop), Conrad acquired a canonate in the cathedral; in 1196 he appears as cathedral dean, charged with maintaining order among the community. That the canons were in need of reform can be seen from the statutes issued in 1202 by Cardinal legate Guy Poré. By that time, however, Conrad had left the chapter.
Conrad’s uncle, Duke Berthold V of Zähringen, was a candidate for the throne of Germany in the disputed election which followed the untimely death of Henry VI in 1197. As guarantees that he would produce the money needed to secure his election, Berthold offered his nephews—Conrad and Berthold of Urach—to the archbishops of Cologne and Trier; meanwhile, most other German princes had elected Philip of Swabia, brother of the deceased king. Hearing this, the duke renounced his claims, but the two archbishops retained their hostages for some time longer. This use of them as pawns in the political game of chess apparently had a profound effect upon both hostages: should they be released, they vowed to become monks, and, in fact, both became Cistercians. In 1199, Conrad entered the Cistercian house at Villers-on-the-Dyle in Brabant.
Meanwhile, on February 1, 1200, Albert of Cuyck, the successor to Rudolf of Zähringen as bishop of Liège, died, and the see was left vacant. Part of the cathedral chapter elected Conrad of Urach, who had not yet made his final profession at Villers, as bishop; another faction elected an archdeacon who was studying at Paris at the time. Conrad renounced any claim to the office, however, apparently preferring the vita contemplativa (contemplative life) to the vita activa (active life) required of a German prince bishop. He made his final vows at Villers. His family ties, as well as his obvious abilities, led to his becoming prior at Villers by ca. 1204, and in 1208/1209 he was elected abbot. His reputation as an ardent reformer and as a rigorous administrator led to his elevation as abbot of Clairvaux in 1214, and, as such, he attended the Fourth Lateran Council.
Despite his having become a monk, Conrad could not escape the responsibilities placed on him as one of the most influential individuals in the Latin Christendom of his day. In December 1216, he was sent with Abbot Arnald of Citeaux to Philip II and Louis of France to negotiate peace with England. In 1217 Conrad became abbot of Citeaux and general of the Cistercian Order; he probably assumed offi ce at the general meeting of the chapter of the order held at the end of the year.
In January 1219, Pope Honorius III consecrated Conrad as cardinal bishop of Porto and San Rufi na. At the time, there were twenty members of the College of Cardinals: four cardinal bishops, eight cardinal priests, and eight cardinal deacons. Of these, sixteen were from Italian provinces, two from Iberia, one from England, and one from Languedoc. Conrad thus joined the college as its only German member and remained so thus until 1225. During Lent 1220, he was appointed as the successor of Cardinal Bertrand as legate to the Albigensian lands, and given a mandate to support Amalrich de Montfort against Count Raymond of Toulouse. His fame spread, to the extent that soon thereafter, he was nominated to the archbishopric of Besançon. Honorius III would not allow this, however, claiming that Conrad’s talents were needed throughout the Church.
In 1224 Conrad was given the legation as crusade preacher in Germany, but he also participated in various other activities, such as the condemnation of the accused renegade prior Henry Minneke at Hildesheim in October 1224, the national synod held at Mainz in November and December 1225, and the burial of Archbishop Engelbert of Cologne in December 1225. By May 1226 he was back in Rome, and he was present on March 18, 1227, when Honorius III died. According to tradition, Conrad was the fi rst to be offered the tiara, but, again, he rejected an episcopal offi ce. Only then was Gregory IX chosen. Even had Conrad accepted, however, his pontifi cate might well have been a brief one: he died on September 29, 1227, and was buried at Clairvaux, at the side of the smaller altar.
Neiningen, Fulk. Konrad von Urach (†1227): Zähringer, Zisterzienser, Kardinallegat. Paderborn: Schöningh, 1994.
Pixton, Paul B. “Cardinal Bishop Conrad of Porto and S. Rufina and the Implementation of Innocent Ill’s Conciliar Decrees in Germany, 1224–1226.” In Proceedings of the Tenth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law [. . .] 1996.
Schreckenstein, Karl Heinrich Freiherr Roth von. “Konrad von Urach, Bischof von Porto und S. Rufi na, als Cardinallegat in Deutschland 1224–1226.” Forschungen zur deutschen Geschichte, 7 (1867):319–393.
Winter, F. “Ergänzungen der Regesten zur Geschichte des Cardinallegaten Conrad von Urach, Bischof von Porto und St. Rufina.” Forschungen zur deutschen Geschichte 11(1871):631–632.