Category Archives: Church history

Two Popes with the name Julius

Rex Harrison suitable pious as Julius Ii (right) & Charlton Heston wooden as Michaelangelo (left) in a Hollywood extravaganza / m759.net

Rex Harrison suitable pious as Julius II (right) & Charlton Heston wooden as Michaelangelo (left) in a Hollywood extravaganza / m759.net

In this case I cannot do my usual playing with papal names and invented adjectives; some of my faithful followers might like to read about ‘Julian Popes’, as in ‘Innocent Popes’, but ‘Julian’ refers to anything connected with the Emperor Julian, who was, if not the anti-Christ, at least anti-Christian, which is why he was called ‘Julian the Apostate’. There is a splendid biography in the typical Gore Vidal style about Emperor Julian, very well worth reading. You can get it easily and cheaply on Amazon.

Julius II came from one of those distinguished Roman families – the Della Rovere; he was born in 1443 and was Pope from 1513 to 1513. He devoted most of these papal years to re-establishing the Pope’s sovereignty within the ancient territory of the Vatican. He also found time to try to remove any foreign domination from Italy herself, though the Vatican is of course a city/state within Italy. Julius II took part in the restoration of the Papal States through what was called ‘The League of Cambrai’. He was less successful in ‘The Holy League’ (Spain, England and Italy), moving in wae-like manner without intelligence, against French King Louis XII.

As a liberal patron of the arts, however, he did very well, exploying the architect and artist Bramante for a re-design of St. Peter’s. Work began in 1506, and by then Julius had commissioned work from Raphael and Michaelangelo no less. He died still full of hope for a super-powerful Vatican, in 1513. Continue reading

Important European families: Este and Esterhazy

The Villa d'Este at Tivoli / en wikipedia.org

The Villa d’Este at Tivoli / en wikipedia.org

Any family that distinguishes itself for eight hundred and seventy-five years must have something special, and the Italian family d’Este has it. Appearing first in the misty beginnings of the eleventh century, they became rulers of the city of Ferrara near the end of the twelfth. Their iron rule stayed firm until 1598, when Ferrara was incorporated into the Papal States.

The first Marchese or marquess was Azzo d’Este (1205 – 1264), whose absolute authority seems to have been established by the last year of his life. The office of Signore or Lord was made hereditary during the time of his son, Obizzo, who annexed the territories of Modena and Reggio. Niccoló III, born 1383, brought peace and security to the area; his sons Leonello, born 1407, Borso, b. 1413, and Ercole, b. 1431 were mainly known as fervent patrons of the arts, as well as being scholarly students of the humanities. The daughters of Ercole, Isabella, b.1474 and Beatrice, b. 1475 continued this peaceful tradition. The first married Francisco Gonzaga (q.v.) of Mantua while the second married Lodovico Sforza (q.v.) of Milan, thus uniting three of the grandest (and richest) Italian families. Continue reading

Further thoughts on Thomas Becket, martyr and saint

O'Toole & Burton (right) as the King and Thomas Becket in the famous movie / mrfalk.18.wordpress.com

O’Toole & Burton (right) as the King and Thomas Becket in the famous movie / mrfalk.18.wordpress.com

Thomas Becket, or Thomas à Becket as he was called by my teacher of History, was not a Saxon. He was a son of a wealthy Norman merchant (born 1118), and as Norman as his friend and king, Henry II. Thomas read Canon Law at the University of Bologna, where his teachers found him a first-class student, digesting books when he was not drinking or whoring. It may have been his ability to keep up glass by glass with the young Henry Plantagenet that cemented (he thought) his friendship, and caused Henry to make Thomas his Chancellor, the holder of the royal seal, and high on the list of very powerful men in England, an island he had chosen to make his home. Continue reading

‘Benedict’ popes before Benedict XVI

Benedict XIV, from a painting by Benoit / en.wikipedia.org

Benedict XIV, from a painting by Benoit / en.wikipedia.org

Pope Francisco recently reached the throne of Peter because his predecessor decided, wisely perhaps, to retire from the Papacy before his death – a rare festivity in the Roman Catholic faith. Francisco is proving to be an excellent leader of the millions of Catholics on this planet. It is true that he is more popular with poor, ordinary people than the richer among us, following the fashion set first by John Paul II and staunchly sustained by the wise old pianist priest who was and still is a musician of world class. In fact, and this has nothing to do with the article you are now reading, I often find it sad that Ratzinger chose the Papacy instead of the concert hall. Continue reading

Queen Elizabeth I (the ‘Virgin Queen’)

The queen in 'the Armada Portrait', note the right hand resting comfortably on the globe /en.wikipedia.org

The queen in ‘the Armada Portrait’, note the right hand resting comfortably on the globe /en.wikipedia.org

The only half-decent member of the infamous Tudor dynasty was Elizabeth, born in 1533. She was the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn. It is a matter for debate from whom Elizabeth inherited the worst genes, though it is admitted that Anne never went to bed with Henry until he was properly divorced from Catharine of Aragon and a marriage between them had taken place; the Catholic Church had meanwhile been assaulted and robbed, Thomas More and others had been shortened by a head etc. etc. Continue reading

Jomo Kenyatta, Nelson Mandela & Archbishop Makarios

Archbishop Makarios /en.wikipedia.org

Archbishop Makarios / en.wikipedia.org

These three names (and the persons themselves) are connected by the historical fact that each was imprisoned as penalty for their nationalism, and each became President of their country. In the case of Kenyatta, he alone of the three did something not tried by the other two: he acted in a Hollywood film made in Africa – Sanders of the river (1935) as a young black tribal chief and troublemaker. Nelson Mandela as a character has appeared in another Hollywood film, played by a black actor, a movie about South African rugby starring a white American, Matt Damon. As far as I know Makarios only appears in newsreels of his period.

Kenyatta was born in 1891 in Kenya, then a British colony. He was well educated by Scottish missionaries who could not, however, persuade him against politics. He joined the Young Kikuyu Association in 1922, and edited a news-sheet with the difficult name of Mwigwithania, representing progressive black opinion in the 30s. He visited London a few times, trying to make lobbies, but went to the USSR more often. Continue reading

How did the Tudors do it?

Imaginative re-construction of the marriage of Catherine and Own Tudor / womenshistory.about.com

Imaginative re-construction of the marriage of Catherine and Own Tudor / womenshistory.about.com

The ‘gentry’ in English history were and are middle to upper class folk, untitled except for the odd baronet or hastily-dubbed knight, owning land, serving as magistrates, being ‘squires’ of villages. They were the backbone of English rustic life, fighting and often giving up their lives for their king; on the reverse side they frequently plotted against their king, and were usually axed for their pains.

The Tudors, obscure and nearly penniless squires from North Wales, would have remained obscure were it not for the fact that one of them, a handsome young man called Owen, had got himself into service in the royal household. He was about twenty-six years old when it is said he ‘caught the eye’ of a widow only a year or two younger; but she was the widow of Henry V – that gallant royal winner of the battle at Agincourt, the third great victory for England in the Hundred Years War against the French after Creçy and Poitiers. Henry had died young and left his wife, Catherine of Valois, herself a French princess as well as ex-Queen of England, at the London court. Just how young Owen managed to ‘catch her eye’ is not noted, but it is said that he fell drunk into her bed (a likely story!), or that she saw the good-looking youth bathing without the benefit of clothes in the River Thames. An historian of the time, who apparently knew Catherine well, wrote that she was ‘unable fully to curb her carnal passions’ when confronted with the superb sight of young Owen disporting himself in the water. Continue reading

Some Alexander Popes

Alexander VI / listverse.com

Alexander VI / listverse.com

These four Italians and one Spaniard made a contribution to the history of the Catholic Church, positive or negative according to your view and that of historians. Each chose the name, Alexander, by which they wished to be addressed, or remembered by. The original family name of one of them has stayed firmly etched in our mind, not necessarily for the best of reasons.

Alexander II (Anselm of Lucca) has an unknown birth date, but we do know he became pope in 1061 and died fourteen years later. He was Bishop of Lucca from 1057 and was a known reformer, campaigning strongly against corruption and immorality in the Church. He was one of the founders of the Paterine Party, whose principal aim was the stop priests marrying. One thousand years later they are still not marrying, though originally Protestant clergy who convert to Catholicism while married are permitted by the Vatican to keep their wives and children if they have any. This may seem unfair to priests baptised in the Catholic faith, but at least it provides employment for Anglican vicars unhappy within the Church of England and anxious to convert. Continue reading

Some Clement Popes

Clement XIV suppressed the Jesuits / en.wikipedia.org

Clement XIV suppressed the Jesuits / en.wikipedia.org

Six Italian and one French, the following pontificates flourished (or not depending on their history) during the fourteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries:

Clement V (Bertrand de Got) was a French pope born around 1260, who became Bishop of Bordeaux in 1299 before reaching forty. He is mainly remembered for suppressing the Knights Templar, after being elected pope in 1305. He was also responsible for moving the seat of the papacy to Avignon, a disastrous event for Italy, which he expedited in 1309. He remained pope for only nine years. Continue reading

Some Urban Popes

Maffeo Barberini painted by Caravaggio / en.wikipedia.org

Maffeo Barberini painted by Caravaggio / en.wikipedia.org

Three French popes and one Italian, dating from the eleventh century, the thirteenth, fourteenth and finally the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, form up for inspection in this post:

Urban II (Jacques Pantaléon) was born in Troyes around 1200. He was Bishop of Verdun by 1253 and Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1255. His most important contribution to the Roman Catholic church, and onwards into world history, is that he introduced the Feast of Corpus Christi for the first time in the year 1264.

Urban V ( Guillaume de Grimoard) was born circa 1310 in Grisac, and became Abbot of Saint Victor in Marseilles. He was elected pope in the conclave at Avignon in 1362, at the comparatively young age of around 52. He was not satisfied with the splitting of the Papacy and made determined efforts to get it back to Rome. He succeeded in this but briefly, though he had to return to Avignon only a short time before his death in 1370.

Urban VIII (Maffeo Barberini) was Italian born in 1568. Elected pope in 1623, his significance in church history is that he was a stalwart support to Cardinal Richelieu (q.v.) in his conflicts with the Hapsburgs during the Thirty Years War (q.v.). When France formed an alliance with Protestant Sweden in 1631 he turned a blind eye, preferring to carry out much ecclesiastical reform, including a revision of the breviary. Not pleased with many hymns, he re-wrote them himself. He beamed on all missionary work, and condemned the works of Galileo as heresy, and Jansenism as heretical. Here was an odd thing, because it is known that he enjoyed a long-standing friendship with Galileo. Jansenism by the way was a heretical movement within the Church starting in both France and Holland in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It followed the works of one Cornelius Jansen, though these were based on the theories of Saint Augustine, promoting an ascetic way of life, and denouncing luxury. The Barberini family was disliked to the point of hatred by another pope, Innocent X (q.v.).