On the 27th April 1509, Pope Julius II excommunicated the entire republic of Venice. Having been elected pontiff six years previously, Julius II was determined to reclaim Italian territory that had been gradually taken by Venice throughout the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.
Having joined together with France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire to form the League of Cambrai in December 1508, the Papacy was ready to mount military action to seize control of the Romagne region from Venice. Shortly before invading, however, the Pope issued the interdict against the Republic that excommunicated every single one of its citizens.
The interdict deprived the Venetians of their spiritual salvation, and was therefore a formidable weapon. When Venetian forces were defeated at the Battle of Agnadello the following month, the Republic entered what was referred to by one contemporary as a ‘foul mood’.
Peace negotiations were concluded on February 24th the next year, at which point the interdict against Venice was lifted. France and the Holy Roman Empire, however, were keen to maintain their advance. Having underestimated his former allies, the Pope sought to stop the French advance that was threatening the Papal States. Amazingly he formed a new alliance with Venice and Spain, and placed France under papal interdict. By the time he died in 1513, Julius II had therefore fought and formed alliances with France, Spain, Venice and the Holy Roman Empire. That’s quite some diplomacy.
On the 23rd March 1540, Waltham Abbey in Essex became the last abbey to be dissolved by Henry VIII. Henry had visited the abbey a number of times and is known to have stayed there with Queen Anne Boleyn in 1532. However, despite surviving for a number of years Waltham Abbey eventually succumbed to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. This caused an economic disaster in the town, which had grown prosperous as a result of pilgrims visiting the abbey.
The Dissolution of the Monasteries saw the more than 850 religious houses that existed in England at the start of Henry VIII’s reign disbanded and their property taken by the crown. Although only some of these were actual ‘monasteries’, England’s religious houses together owned between a quarter to a third of all the land in England. Furthermore, many of them were rumoured to tolerate decidedly un-monastic behaviour.
Having severed his ties with the Catholic Church in the 1534 Act of Supremacy, Henry was free to deal with religious houses without needing approval from the Pope. Within two years his ministers began to shut down religious houses on financial grounds, and by 1540 all the abbeys except for Waltham had been closed. Abbot Robert Fuller surrendered the abbey and its property on the 23rd March 1540, and within just a few years all the buildings except for the parish nave were demolished or collapsed due to neglect. The Dissolution of the Monasteries was completed in less than four years, but brought Henry significant income as well as suppressing political opposition from those who might have sided with the Pope.
Relations between Catholicism and Judaism cover a long, complex and violent history in which Christians revered the Jewish scriptures yet held Jews collectively responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. However, the murderous anti-Semitism of the Nazi Holocaust led to moves for reconciliation between the two religions in the second half of the 20th century.
A key milestone in relations came when the Second Vatican Council published Nostra aetate, (‘In Our Time’) in 1965. This document formally rejected the idea of collective Jewish responsibility for the crucifixion. Two decades later, John Paul II became the first Pope to visit a synagogue where he called Jews “our beloved elder brothers” and condemned anti-Semitism.
Despite these positive steps towards reconciliation, the diplomatic negotiations between Israel and the Holy See in the 1990s were still enormously complex. Significantly the Vatican maintained its call for Jerusalem to have ‘international status’ due to its unique position as a holy site for Christians, Jews and Muslims. Property rights and tax exemptions for the Church in Israel also featured heavily in the discussions.
The agreement was signed by Monsignor Claudio Celli, the Vatican Undersecretary of State, and Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin. However, it has never been ratified by the Israeli Knesset due to ongoing economic disputes over the legal status of church properties in Israel. Despite this, the Vatican appointed an apostolic nuncio to Israel in 1994 while Israel appointed an ambassador to the Vatican.
On the 27th November 1095, Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade with an impassioned speech at the Council of Clermont. The Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos had appealed to the Pope for support against invasion by the Seljuk Turks, and many historians argue that Urban II took advantage of the situation as a way to reunite Christendom under the papacy.
By the 11th Century, Christianity had secured a stable base across most of Europe. However the Byzantine Empire was on the very periphery and faced continuous threats from Muslim conquests. The city of Jerusalem had been in Muslim hands since 638, but ongoing wars between different Arab dynasties had resulted in it being captured by the Seljuks in 1076. When their army began threatening to attack Constantinople, Alexios appealed to the Pope for assistance.
There is no record of how many people responded to the Pope’s call, but estimates suggest anywhere between 60,000 and 100,000 of which a large number were ordinary peasants. Exactly why so many people chose to “take the cross” is also a question subject to fierce debate. Certainly some nobles went in the hope of seizing riches along the way, but a large number of crusaders almost certainly did so out of piety.
Although Pope Urban had intended the Crusade to depart on the 15th August 1096, large numbers of peasants and low-ranking knights set off earlier on what became known as the People’s Crusade. Poorly disciplined and with little to no military training, these Crusaders killed thousands of Jews in the pogroms of 1096 before even leaving Europe.
The shortest papacy in history ended after just twelve days following the death of Pope Urban VII, shortly after he introduced Europe’s first smoking ban.
Giovanni Battista Castagna was elected as Pope on 15 September 1590 but died of malaria less than two weeks later. Despite his short reign, he was responsible for introducing a range of financial reforms that benefited the poor. Ranging from bread subsidies to public works projects, these were partly funded through restrictions on luxury items and partly from his own pocket.
As well as these charitable acts, Urban VII was also responsible for Europe’s first smoking ban. Tobacco had arrived in Europe less than a century earlier, and the new Pope threatened to excommunicate anyone who was caught “chewing it, smoking it with a pipe or sniffing it in powdered form through the nose” in the porchway of, or inside, a church.
An earlier smoking ban had been introduced by the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico in 1575, specifically prohibiting smoking inside churches. It was Urban VII’s ban, however, that gained most attention due to the growing popularity of tobacco in Europe in the 16th Century. It was later extended by Urban VIII in 1624 when he completely banned the use of snuff due to the sneezing it prompted resembling ‘sexual ecstasy’.
Urban VII’s ban on tobacco in churches and their porches stayed on the books until the early 18th Century, far outlasting the Pope himself. Following his death from malaria, which it is believed he contracted within two days of his election as Pope, Urban VII was buried in the Vatican. His remains were later moved to the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, near the Pantheon in Rome.
Born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, Pius IX’s election by the Papal conclave of 1846 came at a time of significant political unrest across Europe. A particular issue facing the 50 members of the College of Cardinals who attended the conclave regarded the future governance of the Papal States, which the new Pope would rule. A conservative faction wished to see the continuation of a policy of papal absolutism, while more moderate cardinals hoped for some liberal reforms.
Going against the general mood of the rulers of Europe who wished to see a conservative Pope, the moderate Cardinal Bernetti successfully persuaded other like-minded cardinals to vote for Mastai-Ferretti. The papal historian Valérie Pirie wrote that, as one of the scrutineers responsible for recording the votes of the conclave, Mastai-Ferretti therefore proclaimed his own election.
His appointment was met with enthusiasm from European liberals, and he was celebrated by English Protestants as a ‘friend of light’. Having named himself Pius after Pope Pius VII, the first years of the new Pope’s rule saw a number of liberal actions including the release of political prisoners and the beginnings of a constitution for the Papal States. However, the revolutions of 1848-49 and a number of nationalist terrorist attacks began to turn him away from this initially liberal agenda.
By the 1850s Pius IX had become more conservative, and he began to consolidate the power of the Church. The capture of the Papal States by the Italian Army in 1870, however, led to him declaring himself the ‘Prisoner of the Vatican’.
On the 15th June 1215, Magna Carta – one of the most famous documents in the world – was approved by King John when he added his seal to it in a field at Runnymede near Windsor in England. Latin for ‘the Great Charter’, Magna Carta was issued to deal with the political crisis facing John due to a group of rebellious barons.
Magna Carta is so celebrated because, for the first time in English law, it confirmed the principal that everyone – including the king – was subject to the law of the land and gave all free men the right to justice and a fair trial. This sounds incredibly progressive, but the reality is that at the time many people in England were not free men – they were villeins who could only seek justice from their lord.
Furthermore, although many people celebrate the 1215 Magna Carta, it ultimately failed to solve the dispute between John and the barons. Just 10 weeks later Magna Carta was declared ‘null and void of all validity for ever’ by Pope Innocent III in a papal bull. This led to the First Barons War, a civil war that erupted in September and that was still being fought when John died a year later.
Magna Carta was reissued many more times by subsequent monarchs, and the 1225 version was finally entered onto the statute roll in 1297. Although almost all of its clauses were repealed or superseded in the 18th and 19th Centuries, Magna Carta is still regarded as a symbol of individual freedom against despotic rulers.
On the 18th March 1314 Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, was executed on the orders of King Philip IV. Although he had first been arrested in 1307, and the Order was formally abolished by Pope Clement V three years later, Molay’s execution secured his place as one of the most famous members of the Knights Templar.
The Knights Templar had been the final defenders of Acre in 1291, and although little is known of Jacques de Molay’s early life he was almost certainly amongst their number. He was elected Grand Master the following year, but struggled to build support among Europe’s leaders for a new Crusade to reconquer the Holy Land.
By early 1307 Molay had landed in France, where he had been invited to attend a meeting with the Pope. However, this coincided with a series of accusations of sacrilege leveled against the Templars regarding their initiation ceremony. On the 13th October, the day after he served as a pallbearer at the funeral of Catherine of Courtenay, the sister-in-law of King Philip, Molay and numerous other Templar knights were arrested on the orders of the King.
Having been tortured into confessing to various sacrilegious acts, the knights began a protracted period of confession and retraction that lasted for a number of years. Finally, on the 18th March 1314 Molay and three other senior Templars were sentenced to indefinite imprisonment. However Molay and fellow Templar Geoffroi de Charney then professed their innocence, causing King Philip to declare them relapsed heretics and condemn them to death. They were burnt at the stake later that day.
On the 2nd December 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor of the French at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. His coronation was attended by Pope Pius VII, but significantly he did not place the crown on the new Emperor’s head.
Napoleon had risen to prominence during the French Revolution, during which he led a number of successful campaigns in the Revolutionary Wars. He returned to France in 1799, where the coup of 18 Brumaire resulted in him becoming First Consul. Having secured the Senate’s agreement that he could rule by decree, Napoleon then began extending his political control.
In January 1804 the secret police exposed a plot supported by the previous Bourbon royal family to assassinate Napoleon. He used this as an excuse to reinstate hereditary leadership under his own family, as a way to avoid a return of the Bourbons. This was supported by a constitutional referendum in November that year, in which over 99% of voters cast their ballots in favour. Notably 52% of the eligible population abstained.
The Coronation itself was a lavish affair that referenced various elements of Carolingian tradition, the ancien regime, and the French Revolution. Although Napoleon crowning himself is sometimes presented as an unplanned move by the new Emperor, there is evidence that it was agreed in advance. However, this still didn’t please everyone. The composer Ludwig van Beethoven, who had originally dedicated his 3rd Symphony to Napoleon, reportedly exclaimed, ” Now, too, he will tread under foot all the rights of Man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!”
On the 31st October 1517, the foundations of the Protestant Reformation were laid when Martin Luther reputedly nailed his ‘Ninety-five Theses’ to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg – a town in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. As a ‘disputation’ the theses were designed to be points for theological debate around the practice of selling indulgences, but the political and religious climate of the time – combined with the recent invention of the printing press – meant that Luther’s document was circulated to a much wider audience.
Officially titled The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, Luther had sought to engage the church authorities in a debate over the effect of earthly deeds on a soul’s salvation. The frankly more exciting tradition that he angrily nailed a list of grievances to the door of the church is therefore highly unlikely. Modern scholars now suggest that Luther wrote to the bishop on the 31st October and, after failing to receive a response, began circulating his theses among his friends.
Luther’s particular concern was the church practice of selling indulgences with a promise that a buyer’s sins would be absolved. However, he also shone light on the Papacy’s extraction of money from the poor in order to build St Peter’s Basilica rather than using its own financial reserves. It is therefore no surprise that the 95 Theses made their way to Rome, where the Pope condemned them. Two years later Pope Leo X issued a papal bull that led to Luther’s excommunication but was unable to stop the Protestant Reformation.