The first artifact presented here is a collection of bronze currency from the Avignon period of the Papacy. It is not clear at what point in that 70 year period this particular coinage was issued.
The Avignon Papacy was the period from 1309 to 1377, during which seven successive popes resided in Avignon, in France, rather than in Rome. This situation arose because of conflict between the Papacy and the French crown.
It is sometimes referred to as the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy.
It wasn’t until September 13, 1376, that Pope Gregory XI, influenced by the young Catherine of Siena and others, abandoned Avignon and moved the Papal Court to Rome, arriving on January 17, 1377, officially ending the Avignon Papacy. However, this move back to Rome by Gregory did not end the troubles at that time in history since Rome and the relationship between the cardinals and the Pope were in a state of devastation.
The second artifact is the oldest coin in the collection. John XXII was the second pope of the Avignon papacies that lasted from 1309-1377.
Pope John XXII
Jacques d’Euse, a Frenchman from Cahors, was born about 1244 to a family of wealthy bourgeois. His early career was as a cardinal priest. He ascended the papacy with the clear intention to remain in Avignon where it had been moved during the pontificate of his predecessor, the French pope, Clement V.
Avignon was highly appreciated because of the tumultuous conditions in Rome and in Italy generally. During this period of seventy-three years, from 1305 to 1378, an advantage was that the popes could disentangle themselves from local concerns and concentrate on a more efficient form of church governance. However, simultaneously, the efficiency of the church’s administration brought worldliness and luxuriousness unbecoming to the spiritual nature of the office.
The appointment of several more French cardinals during his pontificate insured a monopoly on the papacy with a continued residence in Avignon. This, of course, left the holy places in Rome unattended and unkempt.
John XXII was elected pope at the age of seventy-two and came to the papacy as a brilliant professor of canon law. He was the bishop of Avignon. Known for his vigorous energy, he set about organizing the papal court and other various administrative reforms. He issued numerous decretals (papal letters containing his rulings on a specific matter), and many papal bulls (letters of lesser import written by popes ). Additionally, he supported missionary work, was responsible for the papal library in Avignon and a new university in Cahors.
His papacy was marred by the hard line stance he took with the Franciscan Spiritualists who were located in Tuscany and Provence. The friars believed in absolute and total poverty, a claim declared heretical by Pope John. He ordered them to return to their order and four of them who refused were burned at the stake. He did, however, receive the anti-pope, Nicholas, himself a Spiritualist, and showed him mercy and civility for the rest of his life.
Pope John interfered in a disputed imperial election involving Frederick of Austria and Louis of Bavaria. The pope believed he should decide the case. Louis did not give him a chance to do this and he was, therefore, excommunicated. Louis’ response was to march on Rome, have himself crowned, and set up an anti-pope.
Their feud raged on. When Louis was forced to leave Rome the following year, the anti-pope went to Avignon to beg forgiveness and was received with civility.
Pope John XXII canonized the Dominican Thomas Aquinas in 1324 although he was not declared a doctor of the church until 1567 during the pontificate of St. Pius V.
While his financial policies are seen as particularly scandalous, his organization of the chancery is deemed meritorious. He put in place a financial system that would continue to be perfected throughout the ages. However, his use of rewards and nepotism marred his personal contribution.
It was during his papacy that the Sacred Rota (Ecclesiastical court) was also created. It exists to the present day.
A last note on John XXII involved a view he considered personal about the beatific vision not being enjoyed by people until after the general judgement. For this view he was charged with heresy and repented only on his deathbed. The Catholic encyclopedia, in its biographical information on Pope John XXII, discusses this dogmatic conflict in greater detail.
John XXII died in 1334 at the age of ninety after a pontificate lasting over eighteen years.
AVIGNON RESIDENCE OF THE POPES
Avignon became the residence of the Popes in 1309, when the Gascon Bertrand de Goth, as Pope Clement V, unwilling to face the violent chaos of Rome after his election (1305), moved the Papal Curia to Avignon, a period known as the Avignon Papacy. Clement lived as a guest in the Dominican monastery at Avignon, and his successor Pope John XXII set up a magnificent establishment there, but the reconstruction of the old bishops’ palace was begun in earnest by Pope Benedict XII (1334–42) and continued by his successors to 1364. The site, on a natural rocky outcrop at the northern edge of Avignon, overlooking the river Rhône, was that of the old episcopal palace of the bishops of Avignon. The Palais was built in two principal phases with two distinct segments, known as the Palais Vieux (Old Palace) and Palais Neuf (New Palace). By the time of its completion, it occupied an area of 11,000 m² (2.6 acres). The building was enormously expensive, consuming much of the papacy’s income during its construction.
The Palais Vieux was constructed by the architect Pierre Poisson of Mirepoix at the instruction of Pope Benedict XII. The austere Benedict had the old/new episcopal palace razed and replaced with a much larger building centred on a cloister, heavily fortified against attackers. Its four wings are flanked with high towers.
Under Popes Clement VI, Innocent VI and Urban V, the building was expanded to form what is now known as the Palais Neuf. Jean de Louvres was commissioned by Clement VI to build a new tower and adjoining buildings, including a 52 m long Grand Chapel to serve as the location for papal acts of worship. Two more towers were built under Innocent VI. Urban V completed the main courtyard (known as the Court d’Honneur) with further buildings enclosing it. The interior of the building was sumptuously decorated with frescos, tapestries, paintings, sculptures and wooden ceilings.
The popes departed Avignon in 1377, returning to Rome, but this prompted the Papal Schism during which time the antipopes Clement VII and Benedict XIII made Avignon their home until 1403. The latter was imprisoned in the Palais for five years after being besieged when in 1398 Geoffrey Boucicaut led an army of occupation. The building remained in the hands of antipapal forces for some years — it was besieged from 1410 to 1411 — but was returned to the authority of papal legates in 1433.
Although the Palais remained under papal control (along with the surrounding city and Comtat Venaissin) for over 350 years afterwards, it gradually deteriorated despite a restoration in 1516. When the French Revolution broke out in 1789 it was already in a bad state when it was seized and sacked by revolutionary forces. In 1791 it became the scene of a massacre of counter-revolutionaries, whose bodies were thrown into the Tour des Latrines in the Palais Vieux.
The Palais was subsequently taken over by the Napoleonic French state for use as a military barracks and prison. Although it was further damaged by the military occupation, especially under the anti-clerical Third Republic, when the remaining interior woodwork was cleared away for use of the structure as a stables — the frescos were covered over and largely destroyed — ironically this ensured the shell of the building’s physical survival. It was only vacated in 1906, when it became a national museum. It has been under virtually constant restoration ever since.