10 August 2020

Francesco Zabarella – Cardinal

Reformer helped to end the Western Schism

Francesco Zabarella, whose diplomatic skills helped end the Western Schism
Francesco Zabarella, whose diplomatic
skills helped end the Western Schism 
Cardinal Francesco Zabarella, an expert on canon law whose writings on the subject were to remain the standard authority for centuries, was born on this day in 1360 in Padua.

Zabarella studied jurisprudence in Bologna and in Florence, graduating in 1385. He taught canon law in Florence until 1390 and in Padua until 1410.  He took minor orders and in 1398 was made an archpriest of the Cathedral of Padua.

Zabarella carried out diplomatic missions on behalf of Padua. In 1404 he was one of two ambassadors sent to visit King Charles VI of France to ask for his assistance against Venice, which was preparing to annex Padua. 

But when Padua became part of the Venetian Republic in 1406, Zabarella became a loyal supporter of Venice.

In 1409 he took part in the Council of Pisa as councillor of the Venetian legate.

The antipope John XXIII appointed him Bishop of Florence and cardinal deacon of Santi Cosma and Damiano in Rome in 1411.

There were two antipopes at the time as a result of the Western Schism, which had begun in 1378 when the French cardinals, claiming that the election of Pope Urban VI was invalid, had elected antipope Clement VII as a rival to the Roman pope. This had eventually led to two competing lines of antipopes, the Avignon line and the Pisan line, which had elected antipope Alexander V, John XXIII’s predecessor.

Pope Urban VI's election was
the spark for the Western Schism
Although Zabarella never received major orders he was an active promoter of ecclesiastical reform. When the Council of Rome failed to end the schism, Zabarella was sent as one of John XXIII’s legates to Emperor Sigismund at Como to come to an understanding over the time and place for holding a new council.

He helped to bring about the opening of the Council of Constance in 1414 in Germany.

In the interest of church unity he persuaded John XXIII to resign in 1415 but also opposed the Avignon antipope, Benedict XIII.

Eventually the Roman pope Gregory XII resigned and the Council of Constance formally deposed the Avignon line and the Pisan line.

Suffering poor health, Zabarella went to take what were believed to be therapeutic waters near Constance to try to recover. His last days were spent in pressing for the Council of Constance to elect a new pope as soon as possible. He died in Constance in September 1417 and was later buried in Padua Cathedral.

By November, Pope Martin V, who had been born in the Papal States near Rome, had been elected by the Council of Constance, effectively ending the Western Schism.

Zabarella’s most important works were: De schismate sui temporis, which dealt with ways and means of ending the schism, written between 1403 and 1408; Lectura super Clementinis, written in 1402; and Commentaria in quinque libros Decretalium, written between 1396 and 1404.

Padua's Scrovegni Chapel, where the walls
are covered with Giotto's frescoes
Travel tip:

Padua, where Francesco Zabarella was born, is one of the most important centres for art in Italy and is home to the country’s second oldest university. The city is acknowledged as the birthplace of modern painting because of the Scrovegni Chapel, the inside of which is covered with frescoes by Giotto, who was the first to paint people with realistic facial expressions showing emotion. At Palazzo Bo, where Padua’s university was founded in 1222, you can still see the original lectern where Galileo held his lessons and the world’s first anatomy theatre where dissections were secretly carried out from 1594. The city’s enormous Basilica del Santo was built in the 13th century to preserve the mortal remains of Sant’Antonio, a Franciscan monk who became famous for his miracles. The magnificent church attracts pilgrims from all over the world and is rich with works of art by masters such as Titian and Tiepolo.

The Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, Padua's duomo
The Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria
Assunta, Padua's duomo
Travel tip:

Francesco Zabarella was laid to rest in the Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, referred to in Padua as the Duomo. The present Duomo is the third structure to have been built on the site. The first was erected in 313 and destroyed by an earthquake in the 12th century. The church was then rebuilt in Romanesque style and visitors to the Baptistery next door can see how the Duomo would have looked in the 14th century, Zabarella’s era, as it appears in the frescoes executed at that time by Giusto dè Menaboui. The present building dates back to the 16th century and was finally consecrated in 1754, with its façade left unfinished.

Also on this day:

1535: The death of Florentine leader Ippolito de’ Medici

1966: The birth of businesswoman Marina Berlusconi

2012: The death of special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi, creator of E.T.


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