Pope Gregory XI was the last of the Avignon popes.
The artifacts presented here are two silver coins, known as bologninos. They were coins minted in Bologna and other cities of medieval Italy from the late 12th to the 17th centuries.
This type of coin originated in 1191 when an emperor, Henry VI, granted Bologna the right to mint a silver denaro. In 1236 this unit was rechristened Bolognino piccolo because a larger, more valuable coin was introduced. The value continued to change depending upon the political and economic situations of the times.
Pope Gregory XI
Pierre Roger de Beaufort, an aristocratic Frenchman from the Limousin, was born in 1329 and was a nephew of Pope Clement VI (1342 – 1352). In such an atmosphere of privilege, one could assume de Beaufort would have been spoiled. On the contrary, he was not. As the nephew of a pope, however, he was the recipient of several ecclesiastical favors. He was made a cardinal deacon at the age of nineteen and returned to his studies in Perugia. He was known for his sweet disposition, for his goodness and for his intellectual abilities.
Upon the death of Urban V in 1370, de Beaufort was elected pope by a majority of French cardinals since this was the era of the Avignon papacy. He took the name of Gregory XI. The new pontiff was forty-two years old in 1370 and known to be deeply religious. He declared his intention to return the papacy to Rome, a decision unfavorable to the French monarch, Charles V, who hoped to use his influence in the ongoing 100 years’ war with England.
Pope Gregory XI had an excellent education, youth and energy to bring to the papacy. He was deeply religious and had high hopes of uniting the eastern and western churches. He was not successful. He also intended to mount a crusade but could not gather funds or interest to proceed. He relied on allies who were themselves too weak to act on his behalf. The Papal States were in revolt and his solution was to issue an interdict (a grave disciplinary measure) that crippled their economy. This, too, was a grave mistake.
Amidst these conditions, Gregory XI intended to return the papacy to Rome. He was cognizant of the visions of St. Bridget of Sweden who warned him of his dependence on political alliances. Equally compelling was the visit from a young Dominican nun, Catherine of Siena. She visited Pope Gregory at Avignon as an ambassador of peace. Catherine could neither read nor write but her powers of persuasion were immense and she spoke to him through an interpreter. Known in her native land for her considerable compassion and great love for the poor, she was equally at home writing to popes, bishops, European leaders, and leaders in the Papal States. Her contention was that the pope simply had to return to Rome and she both chided him (he listened meekly to her words) and spoke with affection to him. That letter, written in 1376, is lengthy and persuasive. And in another letter, she warned him, Don’t make it necessary for me to complain about you to Christ!
Gregory did return to Rome but not before the situation had become tumultuous. The Papal States were in an uproar. French legates were bleeding the people dry until they rose in protest. Gregory dispatched French mercenaries and a brutal cardinal, Robert of Geneva, who authorized the killing of 4,000 civilians in Cesena, and who came to be known as, the butcher of Cesena.
Fury against him was so great that instead of entering Rome, Gregory retired to Anagni. In the next few months a conference was called to bring about a peaceful settlement. Gregory died at this time after only seven years as pontiff. It is surmised that, had he lived, he may have returned to Avignon.
Gregory reformed the Knights Hospitaller. He used the Inquisition to suppress heresy and condemned the writings of John Wycliffe, an English priest.
Although he never managed to settle peacefully in Rome, it is because of him the papacy was returned to Rome.
Pope Gregory died in March of 1378.
Burial Site of Pope Gregory XI
Santa Francesca Romana, previously known as Santa Maria Nova, is a church in Rome, Italy, situated next to the Roman Forum in the rione Campitelli and the burial site of Pope Gregory XI.
The church was built in the second half of the tenth century, incorporating an eighth-century oratory that Pope Paul I excavated in the wing of the portico of the Temple of Venus and Roma; it was named Santa Maria Nova (or “Nuova”, “new St. Mary”), to distinguish it from the other Roman Forum church devoted to St. Mary, Santa Maria Antiqua (“ancient St. Mary”), which had become dilapidated in the tenth century; it was rebuilt by Pope Honorius III in the thirteenth century, when the campanile was built and the apse was decorated with mosaics of a Maestà, the Madonna enthroned accompanied by saints. The interior has been altered since. Since 1352 the church has been in the care of the Olivetans. In the 16th century, the church was rededicated to Frances of Rome (Francesca Buzzi), who was canonized in 1608 and whose relics are in the crypt. Its travertine porch and façade is by Carlo Lambardi, and was completed in 1615.
The interior, a single nave with side chapels, was rebuilt by Lombardi in the years preceding Francesca Buzzi’s canonization, beginning in 1595. In the middle of the nave is the rectangular schola cantorum of the old church, covered in Cosmatesque mosaics. Another prominent feature is the confessional designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1638–49), in polychrome marbles with four columns veneered in jasper.
Rear area of the church, showing the ruins of the Temple of Venus and Rome.
The church houses the precious Madonna Glycophilousa (“Our Lady of Tenderness”), an early 5th-century Hodegetria icon brought from Santa Maria Antiqua. The twelfth-century Madonna and Child that had been painted over it was meticulously detached from the panel in 1950, and is now kept in the sacristy.
The ancient oratory on which the current church was built was located by Pope Paul I on the place in which Simon Magus died. According to this legend, Simon Magus wanted to prove his powers as stronger than those of the apostles, and started levitating in front of Sts. Peter and Paul. The two apostles fell on their knees preaching, and Simon fell, dying. The basalt stones where the apostles were imprinted by the knees of the two apostles and are embedded in the wall of the south transept.
The tomb of Pope Gregory XI, who returned the papacy to Rome from Avignon, reconstructed to a design by Per Paulo Olivieri (signed and dated 1584) is in the south transept.
The titulus of the church remains Sancta Mariae Novae; the current Cardinal Priest of the Titulus S. Mariae Novae is Angelo Sodano.
Saint Francesca Romana being the patron of car drivers, automobiles were lined up on the day of her feast (9 March) as far as the Colosseum, to partake of the blessing.
The facade of the Church of Holy Cross College, in Clonliffe in Dublin, Ireland, is a replica of Santa Francesca Romana. It was designed by the Gothic Architect J.J. McCarthy and is the only exception to his list of Gothic works.