Sunday, November 05, 2006
The slap of Anagni
The pope Boniface VIII (satirized in an ancient drawing, on the right) is one of the most infamous of the Roman Church. With him, the figure of the pope suffered the biggest humilliation of his history. A slap on the face is not easy to be forgotten.
At the end of the XIII century, Italy is divided in hundreds of small States governed by powerful families, which also try to achieve power in Rome by placing a pope with their own surname. Let us imagine an Italian-like war, in which small treasons are as frequent as open field battles.
In 1297 the pope Boniface VIII, from the Caetani family, rules Rome. A small terrain dispute took him as an excuse to a total war with the Colonna family, also with pretensions to place a pope in Rome. The war ended with the total destruction of the Colonna capital, Palestrina, and the banishment of the family to France.
Meanwhile, the king Philip IV the Fair had been taking a pulse with the pope since several years before, as the pretensions of the latter to expand his power were extreme ("It is necessary for the salvation that every human creature subjects to the Roman pontificate", Unam Sanctam, 1302). In 1303 the French king broke the pulso by deciding to collect taxes from the clergy in the country. Boniface responded to this as a pope, by redacting a bule to excommunicate the king.
The slap of Anagni
However, the skilful ministre of the king, Guillaume de Nogaret, proposed him a simple plan before the war would be declared: Go to Italy by surprise, arrest the Pope and destitute him back in France. First rejected by the king, few days later Nogaret received a letter from him with orders to "go to such a place, and make such treaties with such persons as seems appropiate".
Sciarra Colonna, eager of revenge, joined Nogaret's expedition, which in the Apennines recruited 1600 men, enemies of Caetani, and managed to get to the Pope's residence in Anagni without being noticed. In the palace, Sciarra humilliated Boniface by slapping him to the floor. The pope, still down, shouted "Guillaume, son of cathares! Here is my head, here my neck. I will die, but I will die as a Pope". Nogaret convinced Sciarra not to cut his head at the place.
The Pope was in prison only three days, as many of his supporters raised in arms in Rome and freed him, and the attackers fled. However, the Pope was very weakened by this fact (he could have suffered too much moral and physical damage for being 68 years old), and died a month later. After one year, the Pope's residence was moved to Avignon, and so was under absolute control of the king of France. The Popes have hardly recovered from that slap.