Click here to read reviewer Douglas R. Cobb's take on The Popes of Avignon.
Avignon, a city in southern France, became the seat of the Roman Catholic Church in the 14th century. Pope Clement V, who became pope in 1305 did not feel safe in Rome and decided to move to a safer place. In The Popes of Avignon, Edwin Mullins tells the history of the papacy during its tenure in Avignon for over 70 years – a span including seven popes and the two anti-popes, who opposed the true pope in Rome.
The last Avignon pope, Pope Gregory XI, returned to Rome and died there. His successor, the Italian Urban VI, began to abuse the cardinals. As a result, many of the French cardinals left Rome and declared his election invalid. They elected a new pope who took the name Clement VII and moved back to Avignon, followed by Benedict XIII. These “popes” were recognized as the true pope by some world leaders but not by all, leading to the Western Schism and there eventually being three claimants to the Chair of Peter.
There isn’t a dull moment in this fascinating history. Many of the Avignon popes were corrupt as were their courtiers, but there was one saint: Urban V. A lot of treasure was both spent and hoarded and many building projects conducted there. Side stories connected with Avignon that Mullins relates include Dante, Petrarch, and other famous (and not so famous) people. Photos of present-day Avignon along with a few historical images are included. This book is highly recommended to those interested in the papacy or medieval history.
Edwin Mullins is an Oxford-educated writer, journalist, and filmmaker who has authored numerous books including Cluny: In Search of God’s Lost Empire (2006) and The Pilgrimage to Santiago (2000). He is a former art correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Telegraph and lives part of the year in Avignon.