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Alexander III

Pope Alexander III started his turbulent reign as Roman Pontiff in 1159 and ended it in 1181 where he is recorded on the Bible Timeline Chart with World History. He had to deal with the powerful Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and the antipopes who rose during his reign.

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Early Life

The future Alexander III was born Rolando (or Orlando) in the city of Siena in 1105. According to tradition, he descended from the powerful Tuscan family of the Bandinelli and was the son of Rainucci of Siena. He served as a professor of theology (canon law) in Bologna and may have taught in the city of Pisa. Pope Eugene visited Pisa in 1148 and heard about the brilliance of Rolando as a lawyer and theologian. So the pope had him brought to Rome. The pope later appointed him as a cardinal deacon of Santi Cosma e Damiano in Rome, a cardinal priest at St. Mark’s, and finally, as Chancellor of the Apostolic See.

alexander_iii
“Allegorical sculpture of Pope Alexander III and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux crowning Afonso I King of Portugal, in the Alcobaça Monastery.”

Election as Pope

The previous Pope Adrian IV died in the town of Anagni in 1159. While he was on his deathbed, the cardinal priests were worried that someone from Frederick Barbarossa’s camp would be elected as pope. As Adrian lay dying, they agreed not to elect anyone supported by Frederick Barbarossa’s camp, particularly Octavian, the cardinal priest of Santa Cecilia in Travestere. The election was held in Rome after Adrian’s burial. As expected, the majority of cardinals voted for Rolando while the rest voted for Octavian.

There was a commotion when Octavian wrested the pope’s scarlet mantle from the archdeacon when he attempted to give it to Rolando. Rolando also tried to grab the mantle from Octavian, but he had already worn it and declared himself the elected Pope Victor IV to the people who waited outside. It was followed by more chaos until Victor IV (Octavian) was acclaimed by the confused Romans.

Flight and Exile

Rolando (now named Alexander III) retreated to the sanctuary of Cardinal Boso (a cousin of the deceased Pope Adrian IV) near St. Peter’s. He later fled to and sought refuge in Cisterna Di Latina outside Rome out of fear for his safety. He was consecrated in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore on September 20, 1159. It was followed by the excommunication of Antipope Victor IV and his backer, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. But both men only ignored his decree.

Frederick Barbarossa assembled the Council of Pavia in 1160. It was, however, attended by abbots and bishops of the West who favored Alexander as pope. The council did not end very well, and Alexander returned to Rome in 1161. With no end in sight to the schism and without an access to the papal treasury, he went on an exile to France from 1161 to 1165.

Frederick, meanwhile, made many expeditions in Italy. His power was weakened when Victor IV died in 1164, so he supported another antipope, Guido of Crema, who later took the name Paschal III. The struggle for power between Frederick and Alexander was only resolved in 1176 after the Lombard League defeated the emperor’s troops in the Battle of Legnano in 1176.

Last Years

Pope Alexander was a supporter of the English Archbishop Thomas Becket, so he had him canonized as a saint in 1173, three years after his murder. During the last years of his life, Pope Alexander introduced the principle of two-thirds in the election of the pope to prevent another controversy. A new wave of violence in Rome once again forced him to flee the city. It was for the last time as he died on the 30th of August, 1181, in the Civita Castellana in the province of Viterbo.

References:
Picture By © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / , CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Clarke, Peter D., and Anne Duggan. Pope Alexander III (1159-81): The Art of Survival. Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate, 2012. Print.
Kleinhenz, Christopher. Medieval Italy: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.
Mann, Horace K., and Johannes Hollnsteiner. The Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages. Vol. 10. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1902. Print.
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