From 1309 to 1377, a period that is known in Christian history as the Avignon Papacy, seven popes lived and ruled the believers from Avignon in France. Avignon was at that time part of the Kingdom of Arles, part of what was the Roman Empire. These popes – all 7 were French – did not rule from Rome. After a tussle between Philip IV of France and Pope Boniface VIII (including with the successive short term Benedict XI papacy), Clement V – a French person – became the Pope in 1305. Clement did not move to Rome but remained France as he moved his papal court to Avignon. Here it remained for the next 67 years.
End of Avignon Papacy
It is said that these Popes came under the influence of the French Crown as well. Finally, Gregory XI, moved the Papal court from Avignon back to Rome in September 1376. This ended the Avignon Papacy.
In Italy there had been a battle going on between Guelphs and Ghibellines – groups who were loyal to the Pope and those to the Roman Empire.
In order to make way for the move, Pope Gregory XI started a war against the Italian city-states (headed by Florence). This war is also known as the War of Eight Saints. The war started because of opposition of Florence (and other states) to the expansion of the Papal states in Italy. Florence formed an alliance with Milan in July 1375 before the war. Florence sent its agents to 40 cities in the Papal states – like including Bologna, Perugia, Orvieto, and Viterbo – to strengthen its opposition. Coluccio Salutati, the Chancellor of Florence, sent letters to the cities to stand up and rebel against the tyrannical and corrupt Papal rule. He instead urged them to return to all’antica Republicanism (Old fashioned Republic state rule with people at its center). Coluccio was probably the first person to forcefully push for removal of Church from the State.
The retaliation by Pope Gregory XI was fierce and terrible. He took the following measures:
- Excommunicated all the members of the government of Florence
- On March 31, 1376 placed Florence under interdict – which banned religious services and rites in Florence
- Legalized arrest and enslavement of Florentines – citizens of Florence
- Legalized confiscation of their property throughout Europe
It was in the pursuit of the battle against the Italian states by Gregory XI, that the Cardinal Legate Robert of Geneva – who later became Pope Clement VII order the massacre of people in Cesena. Papal mercenaries under the military leadership of John Hawkwood surrounded the town of Cesena on Papal orders and slaughtered its population for 5 months. A Malatestiana chronicle described it as “The Bretons devoured Cesena inside and out”. (source: Lust for Liberty: The Politics of Social Revolt in Medieval Europe, 1200–1425)
The Cesena Bloodbath
For over two months, the mercenaries – also called the Breton mercenaries finished and consumed everything just outside of Cesena. The peasants and the poor used to get beaten up by these mercenaries. To escape such a situation, these people went inside. It was then that the troops came inside and they unleashed a terrible massacre. They devoured what they could, raped men and women and killed everyone they could. And then on 3rd February, 1377 more than 2,000 people of the Italian city of Cesena are killed by the Condottieri (papal armed forces) in what has been known as the “Cesena Bloodbath” since then!
Church built on Blood and Death
When one listens to or reads the rather innocuous ways in which the various Churches express themselves, people get a feel good feeling that all is hunky dory. Little realizing that the Popes who act all holy are successors to butchers and low life criminals who as Popes had blood of hundred of thousands on their hands. And, the Church did NOT expand based on some enlightened work of Jesus, but by deception, guile, blood and death!
This is the way it has sustained and expanded itself and that is the way – in the new global context – it has conducted itself everywhere. Continents have been raped and devoured just as Cesena was.