Viterbo Papacy

With a long history as a vantage point for anti-popes forces threatening Rome,[1] Viterbo became a papal city in 1243. During the later thirteenth century, the ancient Italian city of Viterbo was the site of five papal elections and the residence of seven popes and their Curias, and it remains the location of four papal tombs. These popes resided in the Palazzo dei Papi di Viterbo alongside the Viterbo Cathedral intermittently for two decades, from 1257 to 1281;[2] as a result, the papal palace in Viterbo, with that in Orvieto, are the most extensive thirteenth-century papal palaces to have survived.[3]

Shifting political and economic alliances pushed and pulled various popes of that century from Rome, taking refuge in other, not invariably hospitable, Italian city-states like Perugia and Orvieto. The primary cleavage in these divisions was between the Angevin and Hohenstaufen claimants to the title of Holy Roman Emperor, whom the pope could crown.

Viterbo, palazzo e loggia dei papi, 05
The Papal Palace in Viterbo

Prior papal connections

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Viterbo, "during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the city several times afforded the popes an asylum."[2] Pope Paschal II (1099–1118) was brought to Viterbo as a prisoner in 1111,[2] and when Pope Adrian IV (1154–1159) met with Frederick Barbarossa in the city in 1155, the city was firmly in the Emperor's hands

Antipopes Paschal III (1164–1168) and Callixtus III (1168–1178) took shelter in Viterbo, where the nobility had Ghibelline loyalties, but—according to the Catholic Encyclopedia—much of the populace remained loyal to Pope Alexander III.[2] Viterbo rebelled against the Emperor after the peace between pope and Emperor was concluded.[2]

Pope Innocent III (1198–1216) issued a papal bull from Viterbo in 1214.[4] Viterbo remained loyal to Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, and refused to admit Pope Gregory IX in 1232.[2] A series of sieges brought the city back and forth between Guelf and Ghibelline loyalty.[2]


Residential Popes

Viterbo was the residence of five popes who died there:

Two other popes temporarily resided in Viterbo for a time but moved elsewhere before their death:


Viterbo was the site of five papal elections:

None of these conformed to the formality of the papal conclave, although several were instrumental in the development of the norms of the conclave.

B Alexander IV

Pope Alexander IV

Pope Urban IV

Pope Urban IV

Papst Clemens IV

Pope Clement IV

Hadrian V

Pope Adrian V (1276)

B Johannes XXI

Pope John XXI


Pope Nicholas III

B Martin IV

Pope Martin IV


Pope Alexander IV was elected in Naples in December 1254. He inherited his predecessor's allegiance to the Hohenstaufen claimants to the Holy Roman Empire but quickly turned against them. Because of the strength of the Ghibelline faction in Rome, he withdrew to Viterbo in 1257 until his death in 1261. Alexander IV began enlarging the bishop's residence by the Cathedral, and the Papal Palace was completed probably in 1266.

Alexander IV's successor, Pope Urban IV, returned to Viterbo from the Crusades and was present there when Alexander IV died. A non-cardinal, Urban IV moved to Perugia upon his election, where he died. Urban IV spent the winter and spring of 1261-1262 in Viterbo.[5]

Urban IV's successor, Pope Clement IV, was elected in Perugia, but established himself in Viterbo, where he remained until his death. Clement IV established permanent residence in Viterbo in 1266.[5] He did not even return to Rome for the crowning of Charles of Anjou as the Holy Roman Emperor by the College of Cardinals.

The election after Clement IV's death, in Viterbo, lasted three years. Pope Gregory X, a non-cardinal away on the Crusades, was finally elected. Gregory X returned to Rome, and died in Arezzo, while returning from the Second Council of Lyon. in France. His successor, Pope Innocent V also resided in Rome.

Pope Adrian V was pope for a little over a month, and accomplished little other than dying in Viterbo before even being ordained a priest. His Portuguese successor, Pope John XXI remained in Viterbo. John XXI expanded the papal palace in Viterbo, and died when a section of the roof collapsed on him.[5]

The next pope, Pope Nicholas III, although from the powerful Roman Orsini family, also died in Viterbo in 1280. During the ensuing election, the magistrates of Viterbo threw two Orsini cardinals into prison.[2] By the time his successor, Pope Martin IV, was elected, Viterbo had been placed under interdict, and because the French pope was resented in Rome, he was crowned in Orvieto. The influence of Viterbo on the papacy declined after Martin IV's death in Perugia in 1285.

Pope Pius II was in Viterbo in 1462 to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi.[6]


Papal palace

The loggia of the papal palace

The palace at Viterbo had been the residence of the Bishop of Viterbo until the 1250s.[5] Alexander IV (1254–1261) enlarged the palace for use as a papal residence.[5] A large three-storied addition was completed in 1266, during the reign of Clement IV (1264–1268).[5] The palace was redecorated in the 1290s, and some of the new additions bear the Caetani coat-of-arms of Pope Boniface VIII (1294–1303).[5] According to Prof. Radke, although Boniface VIII never even visited Viterbo during his papacy, "the papal arms indicate that the structure had not completely lost its papal associations."[5]

According to Prof. Radke, "the papal palaces in Viterbo and Orvieto are the most extensive thirteenth-century papal palaces to survive to our own day."[5] Radke dates a series of frescoes in the palace to its enlargement during the residence of Clement IV (1264–1268).[5]

Papal tombs

Four popes were buried in Viterbo:

Pietro di oderisio, monumento di clemente IV e del card. pierre le gros di saint-gilles, post 1268, 01

Tomb of Clement IV in
S. Francesco

Mausoleo Adriano V

Tomb of Adrian V in
S. Francesco

Jean XXI (Viterbo Cath.)

Tomb of John XXI in Viterbo Cathedral

Nicholas III, from the powerful Roman Orsini family, was returned to Old St. Peter's Basilica for burial.


  1. ^ The Lombard king Desiderius and Frederick Barbarossa (who established his anti-papal there, are both noted by Edward T. Price, "Viterbo: landscape of an Italian city", Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 54.2 (June 1964:242-75) .
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Diocese of Viterbo and Toscanella" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  3. ^ Gary M. Radke, "Medieval Frescoes in the Papal Palaces of Viterbo and Orvieto", Gesta, 1984; Radke, Viterbo: Profile of a Thirteenth Century Papal Palace, 1996.
  4. ^ William Heywood (1910) A History of Perugia, p. 35.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Gary M. Radke. 1984. "Medieval Frescoes in the Papal Palaces of Viterbo and Orvieto." Gesta 23(1): 27-38.
  6. ^ Ludwig Pastor (2009) The History of the Popes, BiblioBazaar, LLC, p. 95 ISBN 1-116-40997-6

Further reading

  • Frothingham, A. L., Jr. (1891). "Notes on Roman Artists of the Middle Ages. III. Two Tombs of the Popes at Viterbo by Vassallectus and Petrus Oderisi". The American Journal of Archaeology and of the History of the Fine Arts, '7(1/2): 38.
1268–71 papal election

The papal election of 1268–71 (from November 1268 to 1 September 1271), following the death of Pope Clement IV, was the longest papal election in the history of the Catholic Church. This was due primarily to political infighting between the cardinals. The election of Teobaldo Visconti as Pope Gregory X was the first example of a papal election by "compromise", that is, by the appointment of a committee of six cardinals agreed to by the other remaining ten. The election occurred more than a year after the magistrates of Viterbo locked the cardinals in, reduced their rations to bread and water, and removed the roof of the Palazzo dei Papi di Viterbo.As a result of the length of the election, during which three of the twenty cardinal-electors died and one resigned, Gregory X promulgated the papal bull Ubi periculum on 7 July 1274, during the Second Council of Lyon, establishing the papal conclave, whose rules were based on the tactics employed against the cardinals in Viterbo. The first election held under those rules is sometimes viewed as the first conclave.

1277 papal election

The papal election of 1277 (May 30 – November 25), convened in Viterbo after the death of Pope John XXI, was the smallest papal election since the expansion of suffrage to cardinal-priests and cardinal-deacons, with only seven cardinal electors (following the deaths of three popes who had not created cardinals). Because John XXI had revoked Ubi periculum, the papal bull of Pope Gregory X establishing the papal conclave, with his own bull Licet felicis recordationis, the cardinal electors were able to take their time. After six months of deliberation, the cardinals eventually elected their most senior member Giovanni Gaetano Orsini as Pope Nicholas III. From the end of the election until Nicholas III's first consistory on March 12, 1278, the number of living cardinals—seven—was the lowest in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.

1280–81 papal election

The papal election of 1280–81 (September 22 – February 22) elected Simon de Brion, who took the name Pope Martin IV, as the successor to Pope Nicholas III.

The protracted election is unique due to the violent removal of two cardinals—Matteo Orsini and Giordano Orsini—by the magistrates of Viterbo on the charges that they were "impeding" the election. Only a decade earlier, the magistrates of Viterbo had intervened in the papal election, 1268–1271 by removing the roof tiles of the Palazzo dei Papi di Viterbo to speed up another deadlocked contest. The expulsion of the Orsini and the subsequent election of Simon was due to the influence of Charles I of Naples ("Charles of Anjou").

Palazzo dei Papi di Viterbo

Palazzo dei Papi is a palace in Viterbo, northern Latium, Italy. It is one of the most important monuments in the city, situated alongside the Duomo di Viterbo. The Papal Curia was removed to Viterbo in 1257 by Alexander IV, due to the hostility of the Roman commune and constant urban violence: the former bishop's palace of Viterbo was enlarged to provide the Popes with an adequate residence. The construction, commissioned by the Capitano del popolo ("People's Captain") Raniero Gatti, provided a great audience hall communicating with a loggia raised on a barrel vault above the city street. It was completed probably around 1266.

The massive façade, facing the central piazza San Lorenzo which is dominated by the Duomo, is approached by a wide staircase completed in 1267. The top of the palace walls is decorated with square merlons. On the right is a wide roofless loggia with a seven-bay arcade, supported by slender doubled columns and decorated with crests and reliefs. Within the loggia is a 15th-century fountain, made with material of various ages, sporting the coat of arms of the Gatti family.

Viterbo remained the papal seat for twenty-four years, from 1257 to 1281. After Alexander IV, the palace was the seat of Urban IV, the Papal election, 1268-1271 that elected Gregory X (the longest papal election in Church history), John XXI (who died in the building in 1277 when his study collapsed), Nicholas III and Martin IV, who moved to Orvieto in 1281. They were all elected in the most famous hall of the palace, the Sala del Conclave so called because it was home to the first and longest conclave in history.

Pope Adrian V

Pope Adrian V (Latin: Adrianus V; c. 1210/1220 – 18 August 1276), born Ottobuono de' Fieschi, was Pope from 11 July 1276 to his death on 18 August 1276.

Pope Alexander IV

Pope Alexander IV (1199 or c. 1185 – 25 May 1261) was Pope from 12 December 1254 to his death in 1261.

Pope Clement IV

Pope Clement IV (Latin: Clemens IV; 23 November 1190 – 29 November 1268), born Gui Foucois (Latin: Guido Falcodius; French: Guy de Foulques or Guy Foulques) and also known as Guy le Gros (French for "Guy the Fat"; Italian: Guido il Grosso), was bishop of Le Puy (1257–1260), archbishop of Narbonne (1259–1261), cardinal of Sabina (1261–1265), and Pope from 5 February 1265 until his death. His election as pope occurred at a conclave held at Perugia that lasted four months while cardinals argued over whether to call in Charles of Anjou, the youngest brother of Louis IX of France, to carry on the papal war against the Hohenstaufens. Pope Clement was a patron of Thomas Aquinas and of Roger Bacon, encouraging Bacon in the writing of his Opus Majus, which included important treatises on optics and the scientific method.

Pope John XXI

Pope John XXI (Latin: Ioannes XXI; c. 1215 – 20 May 1277), born Peter Juliani (Latin: Petrus Iulianus; Portuguese: Pedro Julião), was Pope from 8 September 1276 to his death in 1277. Apart from Damasus I (from Roman Lusitania), he has been the only Portuguese pope. He is sometimes identified with the logician and herbalist Peter of Spain (Latin: Petrus Hispanus; Portuguese: Pedro Hispano), which would make him the only pope to have been a physician."Pope John XXI" was actually the 20th pope named John, but decided to skip the number XX.

Pope Martin IV

Pope Martin IV (Latin: Martinus IV; c. 1210/1220 – 28 March 1285), born Simon de Brion, was Pope from 22 February 1281 to his death in 1285. He was the last French pope to have held court in Rome; all subsequent French popes held court in Avignon (the Avignon Papacy).

Pope Nicholas III

Pope Nicholas III (Latin: Nicolaus III; c. 1225 – 22 August 1280), born Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, was Pope from 25 November 1277 to his death in 1280.

He was a Roman nobleman who had served under eight popes, been made Cardinal-Deacon of St. Nicola in Carcere Tulliano by Pope Innocent IV (1243–54), protector of the Franciscans by Pope Alexander IV (1254–61), inquisitor-general by Pope Urban IV (1261–64), and succeeded Pope John XXI (1276–77) after a six-month vacancy in the Holy See resolved in the papal election of 1277, largely through family influence.

Pope Urban IV

Pope Urban IV (Latin: Urbanus IV; c. 1195 – 2 October 1264), born Jacques Pantaléon, was the head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 29 August 1261 to his death in 1264. He was not a cardinal; only a few popes since his time have not been cardinals, including Gregory X, Urban V and Urban VI.

September 1276 papal election

The papal election of September 1276 is the only papal election to be the third election of the same year. The election was also the first non-conclave, since the establishment of the papal conclave after the papal election, 1268–1271.

Viterbo Cathedral

Viterbo Cathedral (Italian: Duomo di Viterbo, or Cattedrale di San Lorenzo) is a Roman Catholic cathedral, and the principal church of the city of Viterbo, Lazio, central Italy. It is the seat of the Bishop of Viterbo and is dedicated to Saint Lawrence.

The church is an imposing Romanesque structure situated high on the hill which the city climbs, but it lacks much of the spectacular decoration with which it was originally adorned, thanks to an ill-advised sixteenth-century reconstruction.

1st–4th centuries
During the Roman Empire (until 493)
including under Constantine (312–337)
5th–8th centuries
Ostrogothic Papacy (493–537)
Byzantine Papacy (537–752)
Frankish Papacy (756–857)
9th–12th centuries
Papal selection before 1059
Saeculum obscurum (904–964)
Crescentii era (974–1012)
Tusculan Papacy (1012–1044/1048)
Imperial Papacy (1048–1257)
13th–16th centuries
Viterbo (1257–1281)
Orvieto (1262–1297)
Perugia (1228–1304)
Avignon Papacy (1309–1378)
Western Schism (1378–1417)
Renaissance Papacy (1417–1534)
Reformation Papacy (1534–1585)
Baroque Papacy (1585–1689)
17th–20th centuries
Age of Enlightenment (c. 1640-1740)
Revolutionary Papacy (1775–1848)
Roman Question (1870–1929)
Vatican City (1929–present)
21st century
History of the papacy

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