Nicholas II (born Gerard de Bourgogne or Gerard of Burgundy) served as the canon of Liege in his youth and was appointed as Bishop of Florence in 1046. He is recorded on the Biblical Timeline Chart with World History during 1059 AD. When Pope Stephen X (IX) died on the 19th of March, 1058, the Lombard nobles led by Count of Tusculum Gregory de Alberico, Gerard Count of Galeria, and the sons of Crescentius of Monticello orchestrated the “election” of John, Bishop of Velletri, as pope. He adopted the name Benedict X, but the cardinals fled from Rome so that the Lombard counts had no choice but hire an illiterate priest of the Church of Ostia to confirm Benedict.
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Benedict’s election was opposed by the Romans and particularly by the powerful Roman pontiff Hildebrand (later Pope Gregory VII) who then elected Gerard as pope. The Bishop of Florence was previously nominated by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry III as pope. It helped that he was a favorite of the German court. Hildebrand’s equally powerful allies condemned Benedict’s election in 1059 and branded him as an antipope. Gerard, meanwhile, entered Rome with a large force behind him in the same year so that Benedict had no choice but flee to one of the sons of Crescentius in Passarano.
Nicholas was officially elected as pope in January of 1059, and Benedict’s deposition came shortly in the same ceremony. He was enthroned at Saint Peter’s, and he adopted the name Nicholas II. However, his problems were far from over as he was in a delicate position amidst a chaotic political landscape. Italy, at that time, was the battleground for political issues which involved the Germans, the Franks, the Byzantines, the Lombards, and the formidable newcomers, the Normans. Benedict, meanwhile, had fled Passarano and had taken refuge in the castle of Gerard, Count of Galeria.
To end the issue once and for all, Hildebrand encouraged the Norman Richard of Aversa (who occupied southern Italy) to pledge his loyalty to Pope Nicholas. Richard accepted the alliance and sent 300 men to besiege the castle of Galeria in spring of 1059. They failed to breach the castle, but the alliance definitely improved the relationship between the Normans and the pope.
Synod of 1059 (Papal Election Decree)
To address the irregularity of Benedict’s election and the issues that went along with it, Nicholas convened the Synod of 1059 with 113 bishops in attendance. The council came up with rules that would prevent the repetition of corrupt papal election practices (such as simony and bribery) and it was followed by an affirmation of the legality of Nicholas’ own election. Simony (the practice of selling church offices) and concubinage committed by the clergy were also condemned; additional condemnation for the heresies of Berengarius of Tours (was condemned years before) was also issued by the same council. The Lombard bishops, however, did not publish the decrees after they were bribed by the enemies of Nicholas. The only exception was the bishop of Brescia who was beaten to death for publishing the decrees.
Nicholas and Robert Guiscard
The Norman adventurer and one-time bandit chief Robert Guiscard rose to prominence when he became the Count of Apulia after he distinguished himself in the battle against Pope Leo IX’s troops. Robert Guiscard established the Norman rule in Italy and apart from the Lombards, the Normans were the most powerful force in Southern Italy during the eleventh century. According to Byzantine princess and historian Anna Komnena, Robert was renowned for his strength in battle but mostly for his cunning. In 1059, he sent Pope Nicholas envoys to establish goodwill and negotiated with the pope by returning the papal lands (patrimonies) in the Council of Melfi held in 1059.
Nicholas, in turn, absolved him of “ecclesiastical disapproval” and recognized Robert as the Duke of Apulia, Calabria, and the island of Sicily when the Normans drove out the Saracens from the island. Robert later pledged his loyalty to the pope and agreed to become the vassal of the Church. The pope’s deal with Robert did not sit well with the Germans, but in the long run, it resulted in a long-term peace in Southern Italy during the eleventh century. Robert also contributed Norman warriors to the pope’s troops when they defeated the Lombards.
Later Years and Death
In late 1059, Nicholas repaid Hildebrand’s support by appointing him as an archdeacon. His fortunes, however, suddenly took a downturn when German bishops tried to depose him because of the unpopular papal election decrees he approved in the Synod of 1059l. In the last year of his life, Nicholas supported the Siege of Alipergum and reaffirmed the decrees of the synod when he returned to Rome after the siege. On July 27, 1061, Nicholas fell sick and died in the city of Florence. His remains were buried in the church of Santa Reparata in the same city.
Picture By MapMaster – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, Link
Mann, Horace K., and Johannes Hollnsteiner. The Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages: The Popes of the Gregorian Renaissance. Vol. VI. London: B. Herder, 1925.
Weber, Nicholas. “Pope Nicholas II.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 19 Oct. 2016 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11055a.htm>.
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