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§ 11. The Re-establishment of the Papacy in Rome. 1377.

Of the nineteen cardinals who entered the conclave at the death of Urban V., all but four were Frenchmen. The choice immediately fell on Gregory XI., the son of a French count. At 17 he had been made cardinal by his uncle, Clement VI. His contemporaries praised him for his moral purity, affability, and piety. He showed his national sympathies by appointing 18 Frenchmen cardinals and filling papal appointments in Italy with French officials. In English history he is known for his condemnation of Wyclif. His pontificate extended from 1370–1378.

With Gregory’s name is associated the re-establishment of the papacy in its proper home on the Tiber. For this change the pope deserves no credit. It was consummated against his will. He went to Rome, but was engaged in preparations to return to Avignon, when death suddenly overtook him.

That which principally moved Gregory to return to Rome was the flame of rebellion which filled Central and Northern Italy, and threatened the papacy with the permanent loss of its dominions. The election of an anti-pope was contemplated by the Italians, as a delegation from Rome informed him. One remedy was open to crush revolt on the banks of the Tiber. It was the presence of the pope himself.234234    Pastor, Hergenröther-Kirsch, Kirsch, Rückkehr, p. xvii; Mirot, p. viii, 7 sq., and other Catholic historians agree that this was Gregory’s chief motive. Mirot, pp. 10-18, ascribes to Gregory three controlling ideas—the reform of the Church, the re-establishment of peace with the East as a preliminary to a new crusade against the Turks, and the return of the papacy to Rome.

Gregory had carried on war for five years with the disturbing elements in Italy. In the northern parts of the peninsula, political anarchy swept from city to city. Soldiers of fortune, the most famous of whom was the Englishman, John Hawkwood, spread terror wherever they went. In Milan, the tyrant Bernabo was all-powerful and truculent. In Florence, the revolt was against the priesthood itself, and a red flag was unfurled, on which was inscribed the word "Liberty." A league of 80 cities was formed to abolish the pope’s secular power. The interdict hurled against the Florentines, March 31, 1376, for the part they were taking in the sedition, contained atrocious clauses, giving every one the right to plunder the city and to make slaves of her people wherever they might be found.235235    Baluz, I. 435, Gieseler, IV. 1, p. 90 sq., give the bull. Genoa and Pisa followed Florence and incurred a like papal malediction. The papal city, Bologna, was likewise stirred to rebellion in 1376 by its sister city on the Arno.

Florence fanned the flames of rebellion in Rome and the other papal towns, calling upon them to throw off the yoke of tyranny and return to their pristine liberty. What Italian, its manifesto proclaimed, "can endure the sight of so many noble cities, serving barbarians appointed by the pope to devour the goods of Italy?"236236    Quoted by Mirot, p. 48, and Gregorovius, VI. 466 sqq. But Rome remained true to the pope, as did Ancona. On the other hand, Perugia, Narni, Viterbo, and Ferrara, in 1375, raised the banner of rebellion until revolt threatened to spread over the whole of the papal patrimony. The bitter feeling against the French officials was intensified by a detachment of 10,000 Breton mercenaries which the pope sent to crush the revolution. They were under the leadership of Cardinal Robert of Geneva,—afterward Clement VII.,—an iron-hearted soldier and pitiless priest. It was as plain as day, Pastor says, that Gregory’s return was the only thing that could save Rome to the papacy.

To the urgency of these civil commotions were added the pure voices of prophetesses, which rose above the confused sounds of revolt and arms, the voices of Brigitta of Sweden and Catherine of Siena, both canonized saints.

Petrarch, who for nearly half a century had been urging the pope’s return, now, in his last days, replied to a French advocate who compared Rome to Jericho, the town to which the man was going who fell among thieves, and stigmatized Avignon as the sewer of the earth. He died 1374, without seeing the consuming desire of his life fulfilled. Guided by patriotic instincts, he had carried into his appeals the feeling of an Italian’s love of his country. Brigitta and Catherine made their appeals to Gregory on higher than national grounds, the utility of Christendom and the advantage of the kingdom of God. Emerging from visions and ecstatic moods of devotion, they called upon the Church’s chief bishop to be faithful to the obligations of his holy office.

On the death of her husband, St. Brigitta left her Scandinavian home and joined the pilgrims whose faces were set towards Rome in the Jubilee year of 1350.237237    Brigitta was born near Upsala, 1303. See Gardner, St. Catherine of Siena, p. 44 sqq. Döllinger has called attention to the failure of her prophecies to be fulfilled, Fables and Prophecies of the Middle Ages, trans. by Prof. Henry B. Smith, pp. 331, 398. Arriving in the papal city, the hope of seeing both the emperor and the pope once more in that centre of spiritual and imperial power moved her to the devotions of the saint and the messages of the seer. She spent her time in going from church to church and ministering to the sick, or sat clad in pilgrim’s garb, begging. Her revelations, which were many, brought upon her the resentment of the Romans. She saw Urban enter the city and, when he announced his purpose to return again to France, she raised her voice in prediction of his speedy death, in case he persisted in it. When Gregory ascended the throne, she warned him that he would die prematurely if he kept away from the residence divinely appointed for the supreme pontiff. But to her, also, it was not given to see the fulfilment of her desire. The worldliness of the popes stirred her to bitter complaints. Peter, she exclaimed, "was appointed pastor and minister of Christ’s sheep, but the pope scatters them and lacerates them. He is worse than Lucifer, more unjust than Pilate, more cruel than Judas. Peter ascended the throne in humility, Boniface in pride." To Gregory she wrote, "in thy curia arrogant pride rules, insatiable cupidity and execrable luxury. It is the very deepest gulf of horrible simony.238238    Vorago pessima horribilis symoniae, Brigitta’s Revelationes, as quoted by Gieseler, Haller, p. 88, and Gardner, p. 78 sq. Thou seizest and tearest from the Lord innumerable sheep." And yet she was worthy to be declared a saint. She died in 1373. Her daughter Catherine took the body to Sweden.

Catherine of Siena was more fortunate. She saw the papacy re-established in Italy, but she also witnessed the unhappy beginnings of the schism. This Tuscan prophetess, called by a sober Catholic historian, "one of the most wonderful appearances in history,"239239    Pastor, I. 103. wrote letter after letter to Gregory XI. whom she called "sweet Christ on earth," appealing to him and admonishing him to do his duty as the head of the Church, and to break away from his exile, which she represented as the source of all the evils with which Christendom was afflicted. "Be a true successor of St. Gregory," she wrote. "Love God. Do not bind yourself to your parents and your friends. Do not be held by the compulsion of your surroundings. Aid will come from God." His return to Rome and the starting of a new crusade against the Turks, she represented as necessary conditions of efficient measures to reform the Church. She bade him return "swiftly like a gentle lamb. Respond to the Holy Spirit who calls you. I tell you, Come, come, come, and do not wait for time, since time does not wait for you. Then you will do like the Lamb slain, whose place you hold, who, without weapons in his hands, slew our foes. Be manly in my sight, not fearful. Answer God, who calls you to hold and possess the seat of the glorious shepherd, St. Peter, whose vicar you are."240240    Scudder: Letters of St. Catherine, p. 132 sq.; Gardner, pp. 158, 176, etc.

Gregory received a letter purporting to come from a man of God, warning him of the poison which awaited him at Rome and appealing to his timidity and his love of his family. In a burning epistle, Catherine showed that only the devil or one of his emissaries could be the author of such a communication, and called upon him as a good shepherd to pay more honor to God and the well-being of his flock than to his own safety, for a good shepherd, if necessary, lays down his life for the sheep. The servants of God are not in the habit of giving up a spiritual act for fear of bodily harm.241241    Scudder, p. 182 sqq.

In 1376, Catherine saw Gregory face to face in Avignon, whither she went as a commissioner from Florence to arrange a peace between the city and the pope. The papal residence she found not a paradise of heavenly virtues, as she expected, but in it the stench of infernal vices.242242    This was Catherine’s deposition to her confessor. See Mirbt: Quellen, p. 154, in romana curia, ubi deberet paradisus esse caelicarum virtutum, inveniebat faetorem infernalium vitiarum. The immediate object of the mission was not accomplished; but her unselfish appeals confirmed Gregory in his decision to return to Rome—a decision he had already formed before Catherine’s visit, as the pope’s own last words indicate.243243    Mirot, p. 101, is quite sure Catherine had no infuence in bringing Gregory to his original decision. So also Pastor and Gardner.

As early as 1374, Gregory wrote to the emperor that it was his intention to re-establish the papacyon the Tiber.244244    Later biographers tell of a vow made by Gregory at the opening of his pontificate to return to Rome, but no contemporary writer has any reference to it, Mirot, p. 62. A member of the papal household, Bertrand Raffini, was sent ahead to prepare the Vatican for his reception. The journey was delayed. It was hard for the pope to get away from France. His departure was vigorously resisted by his relatives as well as by the French cardinals and the French king, who sent n delegation to Avignon, headed by his brother, the duke of Anjou, to dissuade Gregory from his purpose.

The journey was begun Sept. 13, 1376. Six cardinals were left behind at Avignon to take care of the papal business. The fleet which sailed from Marseilles was provided by Joanna of Naples, Peter IV. of Aragon, the Knights of St. John, and the Italian republics, but the vessels were not sufficient to carry the large party and the heavy cargo of personal baggage and supplies. The pope was obliged to rent a number of additional galleys and boats. Fernandez of Heredia, who had just been elected grand-master of the Knights of St. John, acted as admiral. A strong force of mercenaries was also required for protection by sea and at the frequent stopping places along the coast, and for service, if necessary, in Rome itself. The expenses of this peaceful Armada—vessels, mercenaries, and cargo—are carefully tabulated in the ledgers preserved in Avignon and the Vatican.245245    Kirsch, pp. 169-264, gives a copy of these ledger entries. One set contains the expenses of preparation, one set the expenses from Marseilles to Rome, and a third set, the expenses after arriving in Rome. Still another gives the espenses of repairing the Vatican—the wages of workmen and the prices paid for lumber, lead, iron, keys, etc. On the back of this last volume, which is in the Vatican, are written the words, "Expensae palatii apostolici, 1370-1380." The first entries of expense are for the large consignments of Burgundy and other wines which were to be used on the way, or stored away in the vaults of the Vatican.246246    Kirsch, pp. xviii, 171, Mirot, p. 112 sq., says, Les vins paraissent avoir tenu une grande place dans le rétour, et, à la veille du départ, on s’occupa tant d’assurer le service de la bouteillerie durant le voyage, que de garnir en prévision de l’arrivée, les caves du Vatican. The cost of the journey was heavy, and it should occasion no surprise that the pope was obliged to increase the funds at his control at this time by borrowing 30,000 gold florins from the king of Navarre.247247    Kirsch, p. 184. For other loans made by Gregory, e.g. 30,000 florins in 1374 and 60,000 in 1376, see Mirot, p. 36. The papal moneys, amounting to 85,713 florins, were carried from Avignon to Marseilles in twelve chests on pack horses and mules, and in boats. To this amount were added later 41,527 florins, or, in all, about $300,000 of our present coinage. The cost of the boats and mercenaries was very large, and several times the boatmen made increased demands for their services and craft to which the papal party was forced to accede. Raymund of Turenne, who was in command of the mercenaries, received 700 florins a month for his "own person," each captain with a banner 24 florins, and each lance with three men under him 18 florins monthly. Nor were the obligations of charity to be overlooked. Durandus Andreas, the papal eleemosynary, received 100 florins to be distributed in alms on the journey, and still another 100 to be distributed after the party’s arrival at Rome.248248    Kirsch, pp. xx, xxii, 179.

The elements seemed to war with the expedition. The fleet had no sooner set sail from Marseilles than a fierce storm arose which lasted several weeks and made the journey tedious. Urban V. was three days in reaching Genoa, Gregory sixteen. From Genoa, the vessels continued southwards the full distance to Ostia, anchorage being made every night off towns. From Ostia, Gregory went up the Tiber by boat, landing at Rome Dec. 16, 1377. The journey was made by night and the banks were lit up by torches, showing the feverish expectation of the people. Disembarking at St. Paul’s, the pope proceeded the next day, Jan. 17, to St. Peter’s, accompanied by rejoicing throngs. In the procession were bands of buffoons who added to the interest of the spectacle and afforded pastime to the populace. The pope abode in the Vatican and, from that time till this day, it has continued to be the papal residence.

Gregory survived his entrance into the Eternal City a single year. He spent the warmer months in Anagni, where he must have had mixed feelings as he recalled the experiences of his predecessor Boniface VIII., which had been the immediate cause of the transfer of the papal residence to French soil. The atrocities practised at Cesena by Cardinal Robert cast a dark shadow over the events of the year. An uprising of the inhabitants in consequence of the brutality of his Breton troops drove them and the cardinal to seek refuge in the citadel. Hawkwood was called in, and, in spite of the cardinal’s pacific assurances, the mercenaries fell upon the defenceless people and committed a butchery whose shocking details made the ears of all Italy to tingle. Four thousand were put to death, including friars in their churches, and still other thousands were sent forth naked and cold to find what refuge they could in neighboring towns. But, in spite of this barbarity, the pope’s authority was acknowledged by an enlarging circle of Italian commonwealths, including Bologna. Florence, even, sued for peace.

When Gregory died, March 27, 1378, he was only 47 years old. By his request, his body was laid to rest in S. Maria Nuova on the Forum. In his last hours, he is said to have regretted having given his ear to the voice of Catherine of Siena, and he admonished the cardinals not to listen to prophecies as he had done.249249    So Gerson, De examinatione doctrinarum, I. 16, as quoted by Gieseler, ut caverent ab hominibus sive viris sive mulieribus, sub specie religionis loquentibus visiones ... quia per tales ipse reductus. See Pastor, I. 113. Nevertheless, the monument erected to Gregory at Rome two hundred years later is true to history in representing Catherine of Siena walking at the pope’s side as if conducting him back to Rome. The Babylonian captivity of the papacy had lasted nearly three-quarters of a century. The wonder is that with the pope virtually a vassal of France, Western Christendom remained united. Scarcely anything in history seems more unnatural than the voluntary residence of the popes in the commonplace town on the Rhone remote from the burial-place of the Apostles and from the centres of European life.


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