The Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation

Excerpt

The sun was shining fitfully on the morning of 17th January 1377, and there was a gentle breeze -- it was the kind of day which is not uncommon on the Roman plain in winter time. An enormous crowd thronged both banks of the Tiber in an obvious state of frenzied excitement. Not far away, among the pines, stood the basilica of St Paul 'without-the-walls,' that selfsame church built by the Emperor Honorius and his wife Galla Placidia in honour of the Apostle, over the place where his grave had been dug, and whose mosaics rivalled those of Ravenna. More waves of human beings continued to stream into Rome along the old flagged road, the ancient Ostian Way, all hurrying to join those fervent folk who had been keeping vigil all night long by torchlight, giving proof of their rejoicing in prayers and hymns. The papal galley was moored upstream, followed by some twenty others, flying the flags of several different realms and cities; the river seemed carpeted by the escorting vessels. At last the man whom all had been awaiting appeared; he came down the gangway and made his way towards the church where Peter Ameilh de Brenac, Bishop of Sinigaglia and prelate of the Curia, was to celebrate High Mass. Everyone fell upon his knees, and then acclaimed the pontiff with tremendous cheers. He was weary and very pale: and he did not look particularly joyful.

The Pope whom the Holy City was welcoming in this fashion was Gregory XI. At the time he was forty-eight years old. He was a frail, spare figure, his features heavily lined, prematurely aged by a lifetime of strife and grief: even at the time of his election in 1370 -- one of the miniatures in Froissart Chronicles depicts him thus -- he had looked about sixty, although then scarcely past his fortieth year. But this fragile scabbard housed a blade of excellent steel. A Frenchman by birth -- he was to be the last of the Sovereign Pontiffs born in France -- a son of the Count of Beaufort and nephew of Clement VI, Gregory had profited by the strange customs with which the Papal Court at Avignon was, alas, all too familiar; but in his case these scandalous promotions had served to further God's glory. Although created canon at the age of eleven, prior of Mesures, near Autun, and cardinal at . . .

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