The Popes of Avignon (1309-1377)

The Popes of Avignon (1309-1377)

From 1309, the Pope Clément V settles in Avignon, normally provisionally, in the context of the rivalry between the papacy and the king of France Philippe le Bel and the crisis of the Templars. However, the presence of the sovereign pontiffs in the city will last several decades, until the Great Western Schism, which broke out in 1378. The City of the Popes will in the meantime have become a court renowned for its patronage, attracting the greatest scholars and artists of his time.

The installation of the papacy in Avignon

When Clément V decided to leave for Avignon in 1309, it was first of all because he felt threatened in Rome. Avignon then belonged to the house of Anjou, that is to say the kingdom of Naples, of which the pope was suzerain. In addition, the nearby Comtat Venaissin was ceded to the Holy See in 1274 by Philippe III. Finally, Clément V had to settle in France the problem of the Templars at the Council of Vienne, scheduled for 1310. The city of Avignon had the advantage of being located near Vienne, and above all of the kingdom of France, at the head of which reigns Philippe le Bel, great rival of the popes, especially on the Templar affair. However, the fact that a pope did not reside in Rome was not unheard of at the time, and one could even speak of "pontifical nomadism" ("Where the Pope is, there is Rome"). Thus, Clement V's predecessor, Boniface VIII, preferred his residence in Anagni to Rome.

The successor of Clement V, John XXII, is already bishop of Avignon, and he finds only advantages to remain in his city on his arrival on the papal throne, in 1314, with the support of the French cardinals. The Italians, for their part, are less in agreement, like Petrarch, who speaks of a "captivity of Babylon" ...

The power of the Avignon Popes

The six popes, all French, who succeeded in Avignon between 1316 and 1378, despite their differences, significantly changed the face of the papacy. The attitude towards the kingdom of France becomes more comprehensive, and above all they make Avignon a true papal capital, by centralizing the administration and having a policy that goes beyond the mere spiritual role. The first pope of Avignon, John XXII, intervened directly in the election of the imperial throne, and assumed the regency during the rivalry between Louis of Bavaria and Frederick of Austria. He secures the support of the King of Naples, and launches a crusade against the Duke of Milan. The goal: to regain control of Italy, eventually to return to Rome. Nevertheless, the Pope must soon give in to Louis of Bavaria (whom he excommunicated in 1324), who manages to put him in difficulty with the manifesto. Defensor Pacis (written by Marsilio and Jean de Jandun), challenging the Pope’s Augustinism.

It even led to the election of an antipope, Nicholas V, in 1328! Finally, John XXII regains control with the help of the University of Paris, and reconciles with Nicolas V, before excommunicating the authors of the Defensor Pacis. At the same time, the Pope must also fight against the fraticelles ("little brothers"), while reforming the administration of the Church and replenishing the funds of the Curia. As we can see, Pope John XXII behaved truly like a powerful sovereign, making the Curia a veritable papal monarchy.

His successor, Benoit XII (1334-1342), continued his work of reforming the Church, but had less success at the political level, especially in relations with the Empire, which were still difficult, despite the support of the King of Naples. The following popes face the same challenges: the fight against the Empire, the relaunch of the Crusade, the problems in Italy, ...

Pope Clement VI (1342-1352) reigned in the midst of the Black Death, but also the beginnings of the Hundred Years War, which greatly complicates his task. Innocent VI (1352-1362) is successful in Italy, and Urbain V (1362-1370) gives luster to the papacy through major reforms; he even tries to return to Rome, but must return to Avignon where he dies. Finally, Gregory XI is the pope who decides and succeeds in returning to Rome on the throne of Saint Peter, but whose death and succession are at the origin of the Great Western Schism.

The pomp of the courtyard

Like other contemporary courts, notably in Italy, but also as precursors, the popes of Italy developed a sumptuous court and a patronage worthy of the greatest princes of the time. The most striking example of this desire for magnificence is obviously the famous palace of the popes, built mainly between 1335 and 1352, under Benedict XII and Clement VI. This palace is a veritable princely fortress which marks the imprint of the popes in the city of Avignon, a city which benefits from their presence and that of their entourage, including the cardinals. Thus, the population of Avignon would have increased eightfold during the first decades of the papal presence. It becomes the new capital of the Curia.

The popes developed their patronage by attracting some of the greatest artists of the time, such as Simone Martini and Matteo Giovannetti. But one of the most famous scholars of the Avignon court is obviously Petrarch. The great Italian poet lived part of his youth in Avignon, but it was especially there that he met his great love, Laure, in 1327. However, even if he was for a time recruited at the court of Avignon, Pétrarque is also one of those who criticize the sumptuous, even absolutist drifts of the Avignon popes ...

The "Babylonian Captivity"

This expression of Petrarch sums up well the feeling that is spreading, particularly in Italy, about the papacy of Avignon. A desire for a return to Rome first, but also criticism of the reforms and the monarchical turn of the popes, even their corruption, denounced for example by Jean Dupin in his Melancholy. Petrarch criticizes for his part the luxury and princely behavior of the sovereign pontiffs and their cardinals.

The pomp, nepotism, administrative centralization, taxation and even certain absolutist drifts are partly at the origin of the return to Rome, but especially of the crisis that follows: the Great Western Schism.

Bibliography

- J. Chélini, Religious History of the Medieval West, Pluriel, 2010.

- B. Bove, The time of the Hundred Years War (1328-1453), Belin, 2010.

- P. Boucheron, P. Brioist, D. Carrangeot, M. Traversier, The Prince and the Arts, France-Italy, 14th-18th centuries, Atlande, 2010.

- J. Favier, Les Papes d´Avignon, Fayard, 2006.


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