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Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Avignon Papacy, a church for sinners

Henry VIII gets a lot of stick over his quarrel with the church. He was as ruthless as Philip the Fair of France but lacked his style. When, in November 1302, Pope Boniface VIII claimed the papacy was superior to kings, and that for salvation, "every human creature be subject to the authority of the Roman pontiff," the French king gave a Gallic shrug and kidnapped him. Tortured, and released a broken man, Boniface died within weeks. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so did Philip the Fair. He installed a French Pope, Benedict XI and there followed seven other French popes, all of them residing in Avignon.

This is what you see as soon as you leave the station, the walls of Avignon. It was not always so.

We owe much to the 'builder Popes'

The great square outside the Palais de Papes

And the same scene from above. Taking pictures from the great tower was decidedly tricky. The infamous mistral waits until you're just about to 'shoot' and then boisterously jerks you about. Hats flew off in all directions.

Inside the courtyard of the Papal Palace

In the Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky has a story of the Grand Inquisitor in C16th Spain interrogating Christ, who has returned to Earth. He accuses Christ of a tactical error. In rejecting Satan’s offer of worldly power he forced the Church to assume the responsibility he had refused. To paraphrase the Inquisitor's argument, the basic nature of man does not allow him to reject food, security and happiness in exchange for something as intangible as Heaven. The challenge of freedom from worldly concerns means only fraction of mankind can ever hope to be saved. The Church is intrinsically good for stepping in and taking the burden on itself. Since the majority of mankind is damned anyway it may as well enjoy earthly security and happiness by accepting the false comfort of a worldly church. The alternative is to live guilt ridden lives and still be damned. The Church is a church of sinners in every sense of the word.

To my knowledge the Avignon Popes never read Dostoevsky but might perhaps have understood his message.

The picture above shows  the beautiful, twenty two year old Joanna, Queen of Naples and Countess of Provence. She was in trouble, accused of murdering her husband and fleeing from his vengeful brother King Lewis of Hungary. Clement VI was a sucker for a pretty face but knew how to strike a bargain. She needed protection and money. He gave her both in exchange for the city of Avignon and the surrounding area.

                                                                 Pope Clement VI

My daughter and I agreed that Clement was our favourite Pope. In his own words a self proclaimed: 'sinner amongst sinners.' On assuming the papacy he proclaimed: "My predecessors did not know how to be Pope."

He determined to show them.

Not to the approval of all:

Petrarch begins mildly:

Now I am living in France, in the Babylon of the West . . . Here reign the successors of the poor fishermen of Galilee; they have strangely forgotten their origin. I am astounded, as I recall their predecessors, to see these men loaded with gold and clad in purple, boasting of the spoils of princes and nations; to see luxurious palaces and heights crowned with fortifications, instead of a boat turned downward for shelter.
But he warms up to a right old froth:
 I will not speak of adultery, seduction, rape, incests; these are only the prelude to their orgies. I will not count the number of wives stolen or young girls deflowered. I will not tell of the means employed to force into silence the outraged husbands and fathers, nor of the dastardliness of those who sell their woman folk for gold…(prostitutes) swarmed on the papal beds

Mind you, this same Pope stayed in Avignon with the stricken when the Black Death struck. He organised the burials and, more importantly in such a devout and fearful age, gave absolution to all who confessed until the sickness had passed. He banned extremists like the flagellants on realising they were inadvertantly passing on the disease, and gave succour to the Jews when they were subsequently blamed for the pestilence. He condemned the massacres as a sin against God and did all in his power to stop them. He patronised art and was one of the great builder popes. In his view, the people liked a good show, and he died both respected and loved. A man of contradictions, a sinner amongst sinners.

The Palais des Papes is full of quiet corridors and rooms. One would find it easy to contemplate here.

  Or here

But less easy  in rooms such as these:

The picture above shows the room where all the food was prepared for presentation before being marched into the banquet hall. It might look over large for plating and decorating food - that is until you consider the scale of some of the banquets. Clement VI's coronation saw 3,000 guests who between them ate: 1,023 sheep, 118 head of cattle, 101 calves, 914 kids, 60 pigs, 10,471 hens, 1,440 geese, 300 pike, 46,856 cheeses, 50,000 tarts, and 200 casks of wine. To be honest I'd have imagined more wine would be needed with all that food. May be it was Lent.*

Behind this hall was the kitchen with a multi-storeyed chimney, within which spits continually turned:

It wasn't all feasting and drinking. Below is the chapel (hosting some weird exhibition)

And when the Pope wanted to get a little closer to God he could take to the roof and survey half of Provence

I imagine they occasionally stroked the sunbaked terracotta with a soft, proprietorial hand. It's what I did at least.

To the right can be glimpsed the Jardin des Doms

From where you can see the beauty of Provence

And the Rhone

Speaking of which there's a bridge

The famous Pont d'Avignon. It brought back good memories of introducing our toddlers to French. Not a bridge was safe in Wales as we circled and danced and sang:

You can get away with so much if you have children. Without them you'd be locked up as mad. I suspected we'd also arouse a few stares - not least from our grown-up children - if we suddenly  launched into dance and song. Instead we walked quietly and stared at the water.
Always worth checking. Assuming the casks in question were the larger ones, ie a Tun, it is safe to say there was more than enough wine. Tuns could hold 240 gallons of wine, so 200 tuns between 3000 guests would amount to 16 gallons a person.'An elegant sufficiency' you might say.


Maria Zannini said...

A lot of your pictures aren't coming through.

But from what I can see, apparently, it was good to be Pope.

I didn't know those stories about Clement. He was a complex man.

Mike Keyton said...

I was a good time to be a Pope - unless you were on the losing side in a Royal quarrel. Bad time to be a heretic whose ever side you were on.

Ref pictures. I'm sorry. Is if a fault on your side ie your present cyber problems - or is it something I can/should remedy on my side?

Anonymous said...

Lovely snaps. Especially intrigued by the harlequin thingy, which seems completely out of place. Clement was a proper politician. And I don't necessarily mean that in the pejorative way.

Mike Keyton said...

That harlequin thingy was part of an exhibition by some Czech artist. Stuff all over the place. I found it jarring. In contrast, like you, I found Clement a bit of a star. He'd have made a great President. Might have been less happy in Scotland.