At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Election of Pope Clement VII

Appointment that sparked split in Catholic Church


Pope Clement VII, a portrait by the 19th century French painter Henri Serrur
Pope Clement VII, a portrait by the 19th
century French painter Henri Serrur
The election of Robert of Geneva as Pope Clement VII by a group of disaffected French cardinals, prompting the split in the Roman Catholic Church that became known as the Western Schism or the Great Schism, took place on this day in 1378.

The extraordinary division in the hierarchy of the church, which saw two and ultimately three rival popes each claiming to the rightful leader, each with his own court and following, was not resolved until 1417.

It was prompted by the election in Rome of Urban VI as the successor to Gregory XI, who had returned the papal court to Rome from Avignon, where it had been based for almost 70 years after an earlier dispute.

The election of Cardinal Bartolomeo Prignano as Urban VI followed rioting by angry Roman citizens demanding a Roman be made pope. Prignano, the former Archbishop of Bari was not a Roman - he was born in Itri, near Formia in southern Lazio - but was seen as the closest to it among those seen as suitable candidates.

His appointment was not well received, however, by some of the powerful French cardinals who had moved from Avignon to Rome, who claimed the election should be declared invalid because it was made under fear of civil unrest. They decided to leave Rome and set up a rival court at Anagni, the city 70km (43 miles) southeast of Rome famous for producing four popes during the 13th century and a popular summer residence for popes through several centuries.

Pope Urban VI was elected after Roman  citizens rioted in the streets
Pope Urban VI was elected after Roman
 citizens rioted in the streets 
They chose Robert of Geneva, who had been living in England as rector of Bishopwearmouth in County Durham, having previously been Archdeacon of Dorset.

He had acquired the unfortunate nickname of ‘butcher of Cesena’ following his decision to command troops lent to the papacy by the condottiere John Hawkwood to put down a rebellion there. Between 3,000 and 8,000 civilians were killed.

Yet he had the support of Queen Joanna of Naples and Charles V of France and set up his court in Avignon.

The double election was a disaster for the church. The followers of the two popes tended to be divided along national lines, and thus reinforced the political antagonisms of the time.  France, Aragon, Castile and León, for example, recognised Clement VII, but the German-dominated Holy Roman Empire sided with Urban VI.  England pledged its allegiance to Urban VI, but Scotland and Wales saw Clement VII as the legitimate pope.

The spectacle of rival popes denouncing each other in public was enormously damaging for the papacy but resolving the split took almost 40 years.

The election of Pope Martin V in 1417 ended the schism
The election of Pope Martin V
in 1417 ended the schism
Pope Boniface IX succeeded Urban VI in 1389 and Benedict XIII followed Clement VII in reigning from Avignon from 1394. A request from Rome on the death of Pope Boniface in 1404 that Benedict resign was rejected and the Roman faction elected Pope Innocent VII.

In 1409, after 15 sessions, a church council convened at Pisa attempted to solve the schism by deposing both Pope and antipope but added to the problem by electing a second antipope, Alexander V, who was succeeded by antipope John XXIII.

Finally, a council was convened by John XXIII in 1414 at Constance ,which secured the resignations of John XXIII and Pope Gregory XII. Benedict XIII refused to step down but was excommunicated. The Council elected Pope Martin V in 1417, essentially ending the schism.

The line of Roman popes is now recognized as the legitimate line. Gregory XII's resignation was the last time a pope resigned until Benedict XVI, who stepped down in 2013, aged 86, on the grounds of advancing years.

The remains of Itri's castle are worth a visit
The remains of Itri's castle are worth a visit
Travel tip:

Itri is a small city in the province of Latina, Lazio, about 100km (62 miles) north of Naples and 150km (96 miles) south of Rome. It lies in a valley between the Monti Aurunci and the sea, not far from the Gulf of Gaeta.  Although the city suffered damage during the Second World War, the remains of its castle, which commands the valley, are worth visiting. On March 19 of each year, the people of Itri celebrate the feast of Saint Joseph, at which traditionally large bonfires are ignited, around which people dance and sing and eat the traditional “zeppole di San Giuseppe”, cakes formed from a dough made with sugar and eggs which is fried and coated with honey.

The Palazzo dei Papi in Agnani was the summer  residence of many popes
The Palazzo dei Papi in Agnani was the summer
residence of many popes
Travel tip:

Anagni is an ancient town in the province of Frosinone in Lazio. It is southeast of Rome in an area known as Ciociaria, named after the primitive footwear - ciocie - favoured for many years by people living in the area. Boniface VIII was the fourth Pope produced by Anagni but after his death the power of the town declined as the papal court was transferred to Avignon. The medieval Palace of Boniface VIII is near the Cathedral.

More reading:

Pope Gregory XI returns the papacy to Rome

The kidnapping in Anagni of Pope Boniface VIII

Baldus de Ubaldis - legal adviser to the popes

Also on this day:

1870: Soldiers storm the walls of Rome to complete Italian unification

1934: The birth of actress Sophia Loren


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