Gregory VII was elected as pope in 1073 (which is where is he recorded on the Bible Timeline Poster with World History) and ended his papacy in 1085 after a falling out with the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV. Although his tenure as pope ended in his exile, Gregory VII was one of the popes who introduced enduring papal reforms after years of corrupt clerical elections and appointments.
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Gregory VII was born around 1020 in the town of Sovana (Soana) in Southern Tuscany. According to tradition, his father, Bonizo, worked either as a carpenter, a goatherd, or a blacksmith. His parents christened him the name Hildebrand. Despite his humble origins, they sent him to Rome to be educated in the Cluniac Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria del Priorato on the Aventine Hill. Hildebrand as a monk was deeply influenced by Cluny’s reformist movement of caring for the poor and restoration of monastic discipline.
He was later sent to the Schola Cantorum in Rome and trained under the popes who served before him which included John XIX and Pope Gregory VI (John Gratian). He was particularly close to Pope Gregory VI who appointed Hildebrand as Papal Capellanus (chaplain) in 1045 and guardian of the altar of Saint Peter. In 1046, Gregory VI was compelled to resign after the Council of Sutri deemed his “election” as invalid after he was found guilty of simony (the purchase of clerical office) and he returned to Germany with the loyal Hildebrand at his side. Gregory VI died in Cologne shortly after his resignation and in 1048, Hildebrand entered the Cluny Abbey in France. He accompanied Prior Hugh of Cluny later to Worms where he met Bruno of Egisheim-Dagsburg (later Pope Leo IX) and agreed to return to Rome with him.
Election as Pope
In Rome, Hildebrand became an adviser to a number of popes, which included Nicholas II, Pope Victor II, and Alexander II. He became a subdeacon under Pope Leo IX, an archdeacon under Nicholas II, and retained his high position during the reign of Victor II. Alexander II died on the 21st of April, 1073, and Hildebrand was proclaimed as pope on the following day after a surprisingly quiet election. He was unanimously elected because of his popularity. He took the name Gregory VII to honor his mentor, the deceased Gregory VI. Pope Gregory VII’s consecration was held on the 30th of June in the same year at Saint Peter’s Basilica. His election was later confirmed by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV.
One of the first things Pope Gregory VII took care of was to reconcile the competing factions of nobles which dominated Italy. He also curbed their powers to prevent them from interfering with religious matters which sometimes led to simony and other such abuses. These reforms did not sit well with Emperor Henry IV who wanted to appoint his own clerics, but Gregory insisted he, as pope, had the sole right to confirm a bishop and grant him the office after he was elected by the local clergy.
Henry’s defiance of Gregory earned him an excommunication that was issued in 1076 (Henry was only absolved after his penance) and another in 1080 after Gregory was entangled in Henry’s war against the Saxons. The emperor also retaliated by assembling a synod made up of German bishops and branded the Pope as a “false monk.” The synod then deposed Gregory and elected in his stead the antipope Clement III in 1084. His Roman allies abandoned Gregory after Clement’s election. The pope’s Norman allies, particularly Robert Guiscard, had to evacuate him from Rome after he fled to Civita Castellana in Viterbo.
He died in exile on the 25th of May, 1085 in the coastal city of Salerno.
Picture By user:GDK – Own work: unknown 11th-century manuscript, Public Domain, Link
Cowdrey, H. E. J. Pope Gregory VII, 1073-1085. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998.
Doran, John. “Gregory VII.” Oxford Bibliographies. Accessed November 2, 2016. http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195396584/obo-9780195396584-0131.xml.
Kelly, J. N. D., and Michael J. Walsh. The Oxford Dictionary of Popes. New York, NY.: Oxford UP, 2010.
Mann, Horace K. The Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages. Vol. VII. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1925.
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