« Prev The Later Avignon Popes Next »

§ 10. The Later Avignon Popes.

The bustling and scholastic John XXII. was followed by the scholarly and upright Benedict XII., 1334–1342. Born in the diocese of Toulouse, Benedict studied in Paris, and arose to the dignity of bishop and cardinal before his elevation to the papal throne. If Villani is to be trusted, his election was an accident. One cardinal after another who voted for him did so, not dreaming he would be elected. The choice proved to be an excellent one. The new pontiff at once showed interest in reform. The prelates who had no distinct duties at Avignon he sent home, and to his credit it was recorded that, when urged to enrich his relatives, he replied that the vicar of Christ, like Melchizedek, must be without father or mother or genealogy. To him belongs the honor of having begun the erection of the permanent papal palace at Avignon, a massive and grim structure, having the features of a fortress rather than a residence. Its walls and towers were built of colossal thickness and strength to resist attack. Its now desolated spaces are a speechless witness to perhaps the most singular of the episodes of papal history. The cardinals followed Benedict’s example and built palaces in Avignon and its vicinity.

Clement VI., 1342–1352, who had been archbishop of Rouen, squandered the fortune amassed by John XXII. and prudently administered by Benedict. He forgot his Benedictine training and vows and was a fast liver, carrying into the papal office the tastes of the French nobility from which he sprang. Horses, a sumptuous table, and the company of women made the papal palace as gay as a royal court.213213    Pastor, I. 76, says, "Luxury and fast living prevailed to the most flagrant degree under Clement’s rule." For detailed description of Avignon and the papal palace, see A. Penjon, Avignon, la ville et le palais des papes, pp. 134, Avignon, 1878; F. Digonnet: Le palais des papes en Avignon, Avignon, 1907. Nor were his relatives allowed to go uncared for. Of the twenty-five cardinals’ hats which he distributed, twelve went to them, one a brother and one a nephew. Clement enjoyed a reputation for eloquence and, like John XXII., preached after he became pope. Early in his pontificate the Romans sent a delegation, which included Petrarch, begging him to return to Rome. But Clement, a Frenchman to the core, preferred the atmosphere of France. Though he did not go to Rome, he was gracious enough to comply with the delegation’s request and appoint a Jubilee for the deserted and impoverished city.

During Clement’s rule, Rome lived out one of the picturesque episodes of its mediaeval history, the meteoric career of the tribune Cola (Nicolas) di Rienzo. Of plebeian birth, this visionary man was stirred with the ideals of Roman independence and glory by reading the ancient classics. His oratory flattered and moved the people, whose cause he espoused against the aristocratic families of the city. Sent to Avignon at the head of a commission, 1343, to confer the highest municipal authority upon the pope, he won Clement’s attention by his frank manner and eloquent speech. Returning to Rome, he fascinated the people with visions of freedom and dominion. They invested him on the Capitol with the signiory of the city, 1347. Cola assumed the democratic title of tribune. Writing from Avignon, Petrarch greeted him as the man whom he had been looking for, and dedicated to him one of his finest odes. The tribune sought to extend his influence by enkindling the flame of patriotism throughout all Italy and to induce its cities to throw off the yoke of their tyrants. Success and glory turned his head. Intoxicated with applause, he had the audacity to cite Lewis the Bavarian and Charles IV. before his tribunal, and headed his communications with the magnificent superscription, "In the first year of the Republic’s freedom." His success lasted but seven months. The people had grown weary of their idol. He was laid by Clement under the ban and fled, to appear again for a brief season under Innocent V.

Avignon was made papal property by Clement, who paid Joanna of Naples 80, 000 florins for it. The low price may have been in consideration of the pope’s services in pronouncing the princess guiltless of the murder of her cousin and first husband, Andreas, a royal Hungarian prince, and sanctioning her second marriage with another cousin, the prince of Tarentum.

This pontiff witnessed the conclusion of the disturbed career of Lewis the Bavarian, in 1347. The emperor had sunk to the depths of self-abasement when he swore to the 28 articles Clement laid before him, Sept. 18, 1343, and wrote to the pope that, as a babe longs for its mother’s breast, so his soul cried out for the grace of the pope and the Church. But, if possible, Clement intensified the curses placed upon him by his two predecessors. The bull, which he announced with his own lips, April 13, 1346, teems with rabid execrations. It called upon God to strike Lewis with insanity, blindness, and madness. It invoked the thunderbolts of heaven and the flaming wrath of God and the Apostles Peter and Paul both in this world and the next. It called all the elements to rise in hostility against him; upon the universe to fight against him, and the earth to open and swallow him up alive. It blasphemously damned his house to desolation and his children to exclusion from their abode. It invoked upon him the curse of beholding with his own eyes the destruction of his children by their enemies.214214    This awful denunciation runs: Veniat ei laqueus quem ignorat, et cadat in ipsum. Sit maledictus ingrediens, sit maledictus egrediens. Percutiat eum dominus amentia et caecitate ac mentis furore. Coelum super eum fulgura mittat. Omnipotentis dei ira et beatorum Petri et Pauli ... in hoc et futuro seculo exardescat in ipsum. Orbis terrarum pugnet contra eum, aperiatur terra et ipsum absorbeat vivum. Mirbt: Quellen, p. 153. See Müller: Kampf Ludwigs, etc., II. 214.

During Clement’s pontificate, 1348–1349, the Black Death swept over Europe from Hungary to Scotland and from Spain to Sweden, one of the most awful and mysterious scourges that has ever visited mankind. It was reported by all the chroniclers of the time, and described by Boccaccio in the introduction to his novels. According to Villani, the disease appeared as carbuncles under the armpits or in the groin, sometimes as big as an egg, and was accompanied with devouring fever and vomiting of blood. It also involved a gangrenous inflammation of the lungs and throat and a fetid odor of the breath. In describing the virulence of the infection, a contemporary said that one sick person was sufficient to infect the whole world.215215    Quoted by Gasquet, Black Death, p. 46. The patients lingered at most a day or two. Boccaccio witnessed the progress of the plague as it spread its ravages in Florence.216216    Whitcomb, Source Book of the Renaissance, pp. 15-18, gives a translation. Such measures of sanitation as were then known were resorted to, such as keeping the streets of the city clean and posting up elaborate rules of health. Public religious services and processions were appointed to stay death’s progress. Boccaccio tells how he saw the hogs dying from the deadly contagion which they caught in rooting amongst cast-off clothing. In England all sorts of cattle were affected, and Knighton speaks of 5000 sheep dying in a single district.217217    Knighton’s account, Chronicon, Rolls Series II. 58-65. The mortality was appalling. The figures, though they differ in different accounts, show a vast loss of life.

A large per cent of the population of Western Europe fell before the pestilence. In Siena, 80,000 were carried off; in Venice, 100,000; in Bologna, two-thirds of the population; and in Florence, three-fifths. In Marseilles the number who died in a single month is reported as 57,000. Nor was the papal city on the Rhone exempt. Nine cardinals, 70 prelates, and 17,000 males succumbed. Another writer, a canon writing from the city to a friend in Flanders, reports that up to the date of his writing one-half of the population had died. The very cats, dogs, and chickens took the disease.218218    Quoted by Gasquet, p. 46 sqq. At the prescription of his physician, Guy of Chauliac, Clement VI. stayed within doors and kept large fires lighted, as Nicolas IV. before him had done in time of plague.

No class was immune except in England, where the higher classes seem to have been exempt. The clergy yielded in great numbers, bishops, priests, and monks. At least one archbishop of Canterbury, Bradwardine, was carried away by it. The brothers of the king of Sweden, Hacon and Knut, were among the victims. The unburied dead strewed the streets of Stockholm. Vessels freighted with cargoes were reported floating on the high seas with the last sailor dead.219219    Gasquet, p. 40. Convents were swept clear of all their inmates. The cemeteries were not large enough to hold the bodies, which were thrown into hastily dug pits.220220    Thorold Rogers saw the remains of a number of skeletons at the digging for the new divinity school at Cambridge, and pronounced the spot the plague-pit of this awful time. Six Centuries of Work and Wages, I. 157. The danger of infection and the odors emitted by the corpses were so great that often there was no one to give sepulture to the dead. Bishops found cause in this neglect to enjoin their priests to preach on the resurrection of the body as one of the tenets of the Catholic Church, as did the bishop of Winchester.221221    Gasquet, p. 128. In spite of the vast mortality, many of the people gave themselves up without restraint to revelling and drinking from tavern to tavern and to other excesses, as Boccaccio reports of Florence.

In England, it is estimated that one-half of the population, or 2,500,000 people, fell victims to the dread disease.222222    These are the figures of Jessopp, Coming of the Friars, Gasquet, p. 226, and Cunningham, Growth of English Industries and Commerce, p. 275. Thorold Rogers, however, in Six Centuries of Work, etc., and England before and after the Black Death, Fortnightly Review, VIII. 190 sqq. reduces the number. Jessopp bases his calculations upon local documents and death lists of the diocese of Norwich and finds that in some cases nine tenths of the population died. The Augustinians at Heveringland, prior and canons, died to a man. At Hickling only one survived. Whether this fell mortality among the clergy, especially the orders, points to luxuriant living and carelessness in habits of cleanliness, we will not attempt to say. According to Knighton, it was introduced into the land through Southampton. As for Scotland, this chronicler tells the grewsome story that some of the Scotch, on hearing of the weakness of the English in consequence of the malady, met in the forest of Selfchyrche—Selkirk—and decided to fall upon their unfortunate neighbors, but were suddenly themselves attacked by the disease, nearly 5000 dying. The English king prorogued parliament. The disaster that came to the industries of the country is dwelt upon at length by the English chroniclers. The soil became "dead," for there were no laborers left to till it. The price per acre was reduced one-half, or even much more. The cattle wandered through the meadows and fields of grain, with no one to drive them in. "The dread fear of death made the prices of live stock cheap." Horses were sold for one-half their usual price, 40 solidi, and a fat steer for 4 solidi. The price of labor went up, and the cost of the necessaries of life became "very high."223223    Knighton, II. 62, 65. The effect upon the Church was such as to interrupt its ministries and perhaps check its growth. The English bishops provided for the exigencies of the moment by issuing letters giving to all clerics the right of absolution. The priest could now make his price, and instead of 4 or 5 marks, as Knighton reports, he could get 10 or 20 after the pestilence had spent its course. To make up for the scarcity of ministers, ordination was granted before the canonical age, as when Bateman, bishop of Norwich, set apart by the sacred rite 60 clerks, "though only shavelings" under 21. In another direction the evil effects of the plague were seen. Work was stopped on the Cathedral of Siena, which was laid out on a scale of almost unsurpassed size, and has not been resumed to this day.224224    Gasquet, p. 253. This author, pp. viii, 8, compares the ravages of the bubonic plague in India, 1897-1905, to the desolations of the Black Death. He gives the mortality in India in this period as 3,250,000 persons. He emphasizes the bad effects of the plague in undoing the previous work of the Church and checking its progress.

The Black Death was said to have invaded Europe from the East, and to have been carried first by Genoese vessels.225225    Ralph, bishop of Bath and Wells, in a pastoral letter warned against the "pestilence which had come into a neighboring kingdom from the East." Knighton refers its origin to India, Thomas Walsingham, Hist. Angl., Rolls Series I. 273, thus speaks of it: "Beginning in the regions of the North and East it advanced over the world and ended with so great a destruction that scarcely half of the people remained. Towns once full of men became destitute of inhabitants, and so violently did the pestilence increase that the living were scarcely able to bury the dead. In certain houses of men of religion, scarcely two out of twenty men survived. It was estimated by many that scarcely one-tenth of mankind had been left alive." Its victims were far in excess of the loss of life by any battles or earthquakes known to European history, not excepting the Sicilian earthquake of 1908.

In spite of the plague, and perhaps in gratitude for its cessation, the Jubilee Year of 1350, like the Jubilee under Boniface at the opening of the century, brought thousands of pilgrims to Rome. If they left scenes of desolation in the cities and villages from which they came, they found a spectacle of desolation and ruin in the Eternal City which Petrarch, visiting the same year, said was enough to move a heart of stone. Matthew Villani226226    Muratori, XV. 56. cannot say too much in praise of the devotion of the visiting throngs. Clement’s bull extended the benefits of his promised indulgence to those who started on a pilgrimage without the permission of their superiors, the cleric without the permission of his bishop, the monk without the permission of his abbot, and the wife without the permission of her husband.

Of the three popes who followed Clement, only good can be said. Innocent VI., 1352–1362, a native of the see of Limoges, had been appointed cardinal by Clement VI. Following in the footsteps of Benedict XII., he reduced the ostentation of the Avignon court, dismissed idle bishops to their sees, and instituted the tribunal of the rota, with 21 salaried auditors for the orderly adjudication of disputed cases coming before the papal tribunal. Before Innocent’s election, the cardinals adopted a set of rules limiting the college to 20 members, and stipulating that no new members should be appointed, suspended, deposed, or excommunicated without the consent of two-thirds of their number, and that no papal relative should be assigned to a high place. Innocent no sooner became pontiff than he set it aside as not binding.

Soon after the beginning of his reign, Innocent released Cola di Rienzo from confinement227227    Cola had roamed about till he went to Prag, where Charles IV. seized him and sent him to Avignon in 1352. Petrarch, who corresponded with him, speaks of seeing him in Avignon, attended by two guards. See Robinson, Petrarch, pp. 341-343 sqq. and sent him and Cardinal Aegidius Alvarez of Albernoz to Rome in the hope of establishing order. Cola was appointed senator, but only a few months afterwards was put to death in a popular uprising, Oct. 8, 1354. He dreamed of a united Italy, 500 years before the union of its divided states was consummated, but his name remains a powerful impulse to popular freedom and national unity in the peninsula.

Tyrants and demagogues infested Italian municipalities and were sucking their life-blood. The State of the Church had been parcelled up into petty principalities ruled by rude nobles, such as the Polentas in Ravenna, the Malatestas in Rimini, the Montefeltros in Urbino. The pope was in danger of losing his territory in the peninsula altogether. Soldiers of fortune from different nations had settled upon it and spread terror as leaders of predatory bands. In no part was anarchy more wild than in Rome itself, and in the Campagna. Albernoz had fought in the wars against the Moors, and had administered the see of Toledo. He was a statesman as well as a soldier. He was fully equal to his difficult task and restored the papal government.228228    The full term of Albernoz’ service in Italy extended from 1353-1368. By his code, called the Aegidian Constitutions, he became the legislator of the State of the Church for centuries. For text, see Mansi, XXVI. 299-307. Gregorovius, VI. 430, calls him "the most gifted statesman who ever sat in the college of cardinals," and Wurm, his biographer, "the second founder of the State of the Church."

In 1355, Albernoz, as administrator of Rome, placed the crown of the empire on the head of Charles IV. To such a degree had the imperial dignity been brought that Charles was denied permission by the pope to enter the city till the day appointed for his coronation. His arrival in Italy was welcomed by Petrarch as Henry VII.’s arrival had been welcomed by Dante. But the emperor disappointed every expectation, and his return from Italy was an inglorious retreat. He placed his own dominion of Bohemia in his debt by becoming the founder of the University of Prag.229229    In 1334 Clement had set off the diocese of Prag from the diocese of Mainz and made it an archbishopric. It was he also who, in 1356, issued the celebrated Golden Bull, which laid down the rules for the election of the emperor. They placed this transaction wholly in the hands of the electors, a majority of whom was sufficient for a choice. The pope is not mentioned in the document. Frankfurt was made the place of meeting. The electors designated were the archbishops of Mainz, Treves, and Cologne, the Count Palatine, the king of Bohemia, the Margrave of Brandenburg, and the duke of Saxony.230230    Bryce, ch. XIV., says well that the Golden Bull completed the Germanization of the Holy Roman Empire by separating the imperial power from the papacy. See Mirot, La politique pontificale, p. 2.

Urban V., 1362–1370, at the time of his election abbot of the Benedictine convent of St. Victor in Marseilles, developed merits which secured for him canonization by Pius IX., 1870. He was the first of the Avignon popes to visit Rome. Petrarch, as he had written before to Benedict XII. and Clement VI., now, in his old age, wrote to the new pontiff rebuking the curia for its vices and calling upon him to be faithful to his part as Roman bishop. Why should Urban hide himself away in a corner of the earth? Italy was fair, and Rome, hallowed by history and legend of empire and Church, was the theocratic capital of the world. Charles IV. visited Avignon and offered to escort the pontiff. But the French king opposed the plan and was supported by the cardinals in a body. Only three Italians were left in it. Urban started for the home of his spiritual ancestors in April, 1367. A fleet of sixty vessels furnished by Naples, Genoa, Venice, and Pisa conducted the distinguished traveller from Marseilles to Genoa and Corneto, where he was met by envoys from Rome, who put into his hands the keys of the castle of St. Angelo, the symbol of full municipal power. All along the way transports of wine, fish, cheese, and other provisions, sent on from Avignon, met the papal party, and horses from the papal stables on the Rhone were in waiting for the pope at every stage of the journey.231231    Kirsch: Rückkehr, etc., pp. xii, 74-90. During the stop of five days at Genoa, Urban received timely help in the payment of the feoffal tax of Naples, 8000 ounces of gold. Kirsch, in his interesting and valuable treatment, publishes the ledger entries made in the official registers, deposited in Rome and Avignon and giving in detail the expenses incurred on the visits of Urban and Gregory XI. Gregorovius, VI. 430 sqq., gives an account of Urban’s pilgrimage in his most brilliant style.

At Viterbo, a riot was called forth by the insolent manners of the French, and the pope launched the interdict against the city. The papal ledgers contain the outlay by the apothecary for medicines for the papal servants who were wounded in the melee. Here Albernoz died, to whom the papacy owed a large debt for his services in restoring order to Rome. The legend runs that, when he was asked by the pope for an account of his administration, he loaded a car with the keys of the cities he had recovered to the papal authority, and sent them to him.

Urban chose as his residence the Vatican in preference to the Lateran. The preparations for his advent included the restoration of the palace and its gardens. A part of the garden was used as a field, and the rest was overgrown with thorns. Urban ordered it replanted with grape-vines and fruit trees. The papal ledger gives the cost of these improvements as 6,621 gold florins, or about $15,000. Roofs, floors, doors, walls, and other parts of the palace had to be renewed. The expenses from April 27, 1367, to November, 1368, as shown in the report of the papal treasurer, Gaucelin de Pradello, were 15,559 florins, or $39,000.232232    The accounts are published entire by Kirsch, pp. ix sqq. xxx, 109-165.

During the sixty years that had elapsed since Clement V. fixed the papal residence in France, Rome had been reduced almost to a museum of Christian monuments, as it had before been a museum of pagan ruins. The aristocratic families had forsaken the city. The Lateran had again fallen a prey to the flames in 1360. St. Paul’s was desolate. Rubbish or stagnant pools filled the streets. The population was reduced to 20,000 or perhaps 17,000.233233    Döllinger, The Church and the Churches, Engl. trans., 1862, p. 363, puts the population at 17,000. Gregorovius, VI. 438, makes the estimate somewhat higher The return of the papacy was compared by Petrarch to Israel returning out of Egypt.

Urban set about the restoration of churches. He gave 1000 florins to the Lateran and spent 5000 on St. Paul’s. Rome showed signs of again becoming the centre of European society and politics. Joanna, queen of Naples, visited the city, and so did the king of Cyprus and the emperor, Charles IV. In 1369 John V. Palaeologus, the Byzantine emperor, arrived, a suppliant for aid against the Turks, and publicly made solemn abjuration of his schismatic tenets.

The old days seemed to have returned, but Urban was not satisfied. He had not the courage nor the wide vision to sacrifice his own pleasure for the good of his office. Had he so done, the disastrous schism might have been averted. He turned his face back towards Avignon, where he arrived "at the hour of vespers," Sept. 27, 1370. He survived his return scarcely two months, and died Dec. 19, 1370, universally beloved and already honored as a saint.

« Prev The Later Avignon Popes Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |