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Pierre Roger de Beaufort was born at Maumont, France, around 1330. His uncle was Clement VI who bestowed a number of benefices upon him. In 1348, the pope created the eighteen-year-old a cardinal deacon. The young cardinal attended the University of Perugia, where he became a skilled canonist and theologian. Pierre later held the position of protodeacon of the Sacred College.
Upon the death of Pope Urban V, eighteen cardinals assembled at Avignon and unanimously elected Cardinal Roger on 30 December. Hesitant to take the position Cardinal Roger eventually accepted and took the name of Gregory XI. He was ordained to the priesthood on 4 January 1371 by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Guy de Boulogne, and was consecrated Bishop of Rome on 5 January and crowned by the new protodeacon Rinaldo Orsini in the cathedral Notre Dame des Doms in Avignon.
Like his predecessors of Avignon, Gregory XI also made the fatal mistake of appointing Frenchmen, who had no understanding of the Italians, and the Italians hated them as legates and governors of the ecclesiastical provinces in Italy. The Florentines, however, feared that the papal’s strengthening power in Italy would impair their own prestige in Central Italy. So they allied themselves with Bernabo in July 1375. Both Bernabo and the Florentines tried with all their might to stir up an insurrection in the pontifical territory among all those that were unhappy and disillusioned with the papal legates in Italy. The insurrection was such a success that within a brief period the entire Patrimony of St. Peter was rallying against the pope. Highly incensed at the sedition, on 30 March 1376, Gregory XI put Florence under interdict, excommunicated its inhabitants, and outlawed them and their possessions. They sent St. Catherine of Siena to intercede on their behalf but frustrated her efforts with the pope by continuing their hostilities against him.
Despite the protests of the French king and the majority of the cardinals, Gregory XI left Avignon on 13 September 1376 and made his way to Marseilles, then boarded a ship on 2 October. Arriving at Corneto on 6 December, he decided to remain there until arrangements were made in Rome concerning its future government. On 13 January 1377, he left Corneto, landed at Ostia the next day, and from there sailed up the Tiber to the monastery of San Paolo. On 17 January he left the monastery returning to Rome that same day.
Gregory’s XI return to Rome did not silence the hostilities. As a matter of fact, they only got worse because of the Massacre at Cesena, which was ordered by Cardinal Robert of Geneva, inflaming the Italians even more against the pope. The unceasing riots caused the pope’s move to Anagni where he was able to put an end to the commotion and safely return to Rome on 7 November 1377. There he died during a congress of peace in Sarzano.
After his death, an Italian mob broke into the voting chambers of the College of Cardinals forcing them to elect an Italian into the papacy. The Italians chose Urban VI for which the cardinals had great disdain. So they went to Fondi where they annulled Urban’s election and instead elected Clement VII before returning to Avignon in 1378.
- Ott, Michael. “Pope Gregory XI.” The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 29 May 2019 This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- G. Mollat The Popes at Avignon 1305–1378, London 1963, p. 59.
- S. Miranda Cardinal Pierre Roger de Beaufort (Pope Gregory XI).
- Francis Thomas Luongo, The Saintly Politics of Catherine of Siena, xii.
- Joëlle Rollo-Koster, Raiding Saint Peter: Empty Sees, Violence, and the Initiation of the Great Western Schism (1378), (Brill, 2008), 182.
- Margaret Harvey, The English in Rome, 1362–1420: Portrait of an Expatriate Community, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 3.
ALSO ON THIS DAY
1492 – Queen Isabella, having compelled Muslims to convert to Christianity or leave Spain, now signs a similar decree relating to her Jewish subjects, ordering them to convert to Christianity or face expulsion. It will not actually be issued for another month and will allow three months for compliance.
1515 – Needing money to rebuild St. Peter’s basilica, Pope Leo X announced a sale of indulgences to run for eight years beginning this day. Albert of Brandenberg, deeply in debt after purchasing his position as archbishop, is allowed to keep half the proceeds, but will not profit as greatly as he hoped because the indulgence will anger the friar Martin Luther, who will post his Ninety-Five Theses in response. The Reformation will result.
1783 – On Easter Sunday, Fra Junipero Serra founds San Buenaventura, the ninth Spanish mission in California.
1836 – Anglican bishop Henry Ryder, the first of the 19th-century evangelicals to become a bishop of the Church of England, died in Hastings, Sussex, England.
1945 – “Mother Maria” Skobtsova is executed at the gas chamber in Ravensbrück. An unconventional nun of the Orthodox Church, she had been famous for helping “down and out” people, including Jews persecuted by Nazi conquerors in France. She will be declared a saint in 2004.