Nicholas V Elected as Pope in Rome: March 6th, 1447

History Today, March 1997 | Go to article overview

Nicholas V Elected as Pope in Rome: March 6th, 1447


March 6th, 1447

The election of the Bishop of Bologna, Tommaso Parentucelli, as pope in succession to Eugenius IV in March 1447, came at a time when the Catholic Church in the West was still recovering from the traumas of a divided Christendom under the Great Schism (1378-1417).

Despite the ending of the latter by the Council of Constance, there remained tensions and unfinished business between the College of Cardinals and the papacy over the balance of power to be struck, and Nicholas V had to face at his election a continuing rival `anti-pope', Felix V, who had been elected in opposition to Nicholas' predecessor Eugenius V by the Council of Basle in 1439.

Nicholas' ability, combined with the good offices of Charles VII of France, to coax his rival into abdication and honourable retirement, and to find places in the Roman college for several of the rival cardinals who had elected Felix at Basle, was testimony to his abilities as a conciliator. This skill was as needed in temporal as in spiritual matters, given that the papacy was a key player in the politics of Renaissance Italy. Nicholas was able to improve relations with the aristocratic families of Rome, ever jealous of their privileges compared with their temporal overlord, the Holy See.

Even more important he established good relations with the German Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III -- vital since the Emperor with his quasihieratic status could act as a potential rallying point for the papacy's opponents. Nicholas managed to secure his rights to senior church appointments throughout the German Reich. In return Nicholas crowned Frederick as Emperor in St Peter's in Rome in March 1452 in an echo of the famous coronation of the first Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne, by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day 800.

Nicholas' papacy marks a transition point between the world of the late Middle Ages in Italy and that of the High Renaissance. His patronage of artists included the Florentine artist Fra Angelico and also Benozzo Gozzoli, and he combined the practical revitalisation of Rome's public buildings, bridges and fortifications, which the long years of papal residence in Avignon had left in disrepair, with the encouragement of Renaissance scholarship and revival of classical texts. …

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