Thursday, February 3, 2011

To these popes we owe Chateauneuf du Pape

I am not a big enthusiast for red wine, but I do like Chateauneuf du Pape, a great full-bodied red from the Rhone valley. (My taste, alas, cannot be satisfied cheaply.) Did you ever wonder how a French wine can be called after a castle of the pope? Probably not, but I am pedantic enough to tell you anyway.
I mentioned in an earlier blog (January 16) that the popes have not lived that long at the Vatican but at various other residences in Rome. I particularly mentioned the Lateran palace which was their official residence from the time of Constantine in the fourth century until the early fourteenth century when they abandoned Rome altogether. (note, I said "official," they often lived elsewhere as we shall see.) Rome was not a great place to live in the Middle Ages. Its population had shrunk from the two million or so at the time of Augustus to anywhere twenty thousand or eighty thousand at various times in the Middle Ages. The city was unhealthy—the Tiber and swamps were a breeding ground for malaria. The forum was in ruins; the great buildings of the empire had been ravaged for building materials or collapsed into rubble from earthquakes. The noble families lived in bricked up temples and amphitheatres which they had fortified against rival families and gangs fought in the streets of the city while cows grazed in the forum. The tenth and eleventh centuries saw popes spending a lot of time up in France and Germany; the twelfth and thirteenth centuries saw them taking their ease in charming hill towns of Lazio, Umbria and Tuscany. It was at one of these towns, Anagni in Lazio, that Boniface VIII was attacked by Guillaume de Nogaret, the lieutenant of Philip the Fair of France—one of nastiest people God every made. (Philip was “fair” as in handsome; not as in just.) The pope was not only physically assaulted but held captive without food or water for several days. He died within the month. His successor, Benedict XI, reigned only eight months, dying suddenly at Perugia in Umbria. There is a possibility that he was poisoned by Nogaret whome he had excommunicated for his assault on Boniface. Benedict was succeeded by a Frenchman, Raymond Bertrand de Got, who took the name and number Clement V. Clement had no ties to Italy and no desire to live there and he moved the papal court first to Poitiers and then four years later to Carpentras. Clement died in 1314 and the papacy sat vacant for two years. King Philip assembled twenty-three cardinals for a conclave at Lyons in 1315 and they elected one of the more intriguing—and good—popes, Jacques Duèze who took the name John XXII. Duèze came from humble origins; his father had been a shoemaker. He was a bright fellow, however. He had studied medicine at Montpellier and law at Paris. He also had no ties to Italy and no desire to go there—he settled the papacy at Avignon where it would remain almost sixty years. We will do some blogs—someday—on John XXII as he is a very interesting and often overlooked pope, but for today let’s begin to take a look at the effect that the Avignon had on the papacy and the papacy had on Avignon.
In the first place we think of Avignon as being in France—and so it is today. It is a delightful place—well worth a visit (about three hours from Paris on the high-speed trains). But at this point in history it lay across the Rhone river from the southernmost boundary of the domains of the French King. In other words, it wasn’t in what was France in the fourteenth century. And culturally, even today, it has a more Mediterranean, even a somewhat Italian flavor to it. Avignon’s political status is difficult for us today to comprehend. As I said, It was not part of the domain of the Kingdom of France, but was territory of the Kingdom of Arles or as it is sometimes called the Second Kingdom of Burgundy which, in turn, was a fief of the Holy Roman Empire. Thus it lay outside the authority of the King of France and in the nominal power of the Emperor. ("Nominal" is the operative word.) The Emperor gave this fief to the Counts of Provence who were of the House of Anjou. In addition to being counts of Provence, the House of Anjou were Kings of Naples—the title was King of Sicily—but after the “Sicilian Vespers” of 1282 (the Sicilian Vespers was an uprising not a Church Service) their Kingdom was confined to the lower part of the Italian peninsula. The House of Anjou had been named to the Throne of Naples (aka Sicily) by Pope Clement IV in 1266—which meant that the Kings of Sicily (who were the same people who served as Counts of Anjou--times were tough and they had to work two jobs) owed the Pope a big favor. Consequently when the popes said that they would like to set up shop in Avignon, the Counts-of-Anjou-Kings-of-Sicily more or less had to say: "mi casa, su casa." After John XXIII, five more popes made Avignon their residence, serving both as Bishop of Avignon and Bishop of Rome. In 1348 the Clement VI bought Avignon from Joan of Naples, countess of Provence, for 80,000 florins (a little over 12 million USD in today's currency). Finally in 1377 Gregory XI was persuaded to return to Rome. We will talk more about that in some future blog, but there will be more to say about Avignon first Meanwhile, pour yourself a glass of Chateauneuf du Pape and toast the French popes,
The image today is the Palace of the Popes, Avignon

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