From 1309, when the first pope arrived in Avignon to escape dangerous political turbulence in Rome, both the papacy and this French city on the Rhône were changed forever—and not always for the better. The popes’ presence there for the next seven decades created a grand cultural moment in Avignon as the city attracted writers, musicians, artists, and performers of every sort. Petrarch brought humanist studies to the court and papal patronage attracted Simone Martini and many other painters to the city. But as the center of faith, papal Avignon brought about a serious division within Christendom.
Charlie Steen, professor of history at the University of New Mexico, explores this alternative court and how lavish expenditure on art, architecture, and entertainment by popes—who were surrounded by people of political and cultural importance—created a hedonistic rather than a pious environment. Other rulers in western Europe followed suit by electing their own rival popes. This confluence of religion, politics, and the arts created an unprecedented level of confusion in religious life at a time when the Black Death, the Hundred Years’ War and Peasant Rebellions wreaked havoc in Western Europe.
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