With the arrival of Clement V in 1309, seven popes ruled the Western Church from Avignon until 1378. Joëlle Rollo-Koster traces the compelling story of the transplanted papacy in Avignon, the city the popes transformed into their capital. Through an engaging blend of political and social history, she argues that we should think more positively about the Avignon papacy, with its effective governance, intellectual creativity, and dynamism. It is a remarkable tale of an institution growing and defending its prerogatives, of people both high and low who produced and served its needs, and of the city they built together.
As the author reconsiders the Avignon papacy (1309–1378) and the Great Western Schism (1378–1417) within the social setting of late medieval Avignon, she also recovers the city’s urban texture, the stamp of its streets, the noise of its crowds and celebrations, and its people’s joys and pains. Each chapter focuses on the popes, their rules, the crises they faced, and their administration but also on the history of the city, considering the recent historiography to link the life of the administration with that of the city and its people. The story of Avignon and its inhabitants is crucial for our understanding of the institutional history of the papacy in the later Middle Ages. The author argues that the Avignon papacy and the Schism encouraged fundamental institutional changes in the governance of early modern Europe—effective centralization linked to fiscal policy, efficient bureaucratic governance, court society (société de cour), and conciliarism. This fascinating history of a misunderstood era will bring to life what it was like to live in the fourteenth-century capital of Christianity.
Joelle Rollo-Koster, an eminent specialist of medieval Avignon and its papacy, has successfully managed to compress the history of the seven Avignon popes in their complex political and religious environment into just over three hundred pages. One of the stars of this study is the city of Avignon itself, which Rollo-Koster brings to vibrant life, especially in chapter five, based almost entirely on her own archival research. After a very useful overview of previous scholarship, the first three chapters offer a chronological account of the three phases of the Avignon papacy, each section highlighting particular controversies. . . . [A]n impressive achievement, a lively and accessible study that will undoubtedly become the standard work on the Avignon papacy. * Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture * A fresh, accessible, single-volume overview is long overdue. Joelle Rollo-Koster has provided just that.... She has written a lively, engaging, thorough, and richly-researched history of the Avignon papacy for the twenty-first century. Avignon and Its Papacy will be of particular use to students looking for a concise, readable guide to the fourteenth-century papacy. * The Medieval Review * [Joelle Rollo-Koster's] book fills a gap in providing an English narrative of the 'illegitimate' popes in Provence from 1378 until 1417, as well as bringing some new perspectives on the 'legitimate' Avignon papacy to 1378. Written in an accessible style, Avignon and Its Papacy will likely become the standard introduction to the subject for twenty-first century students. * H-France Review * History is such a wonderful tool for relativizing the present and norming the future. Rollo-Koster provides us with such a tool for understanding the functions of the papacy. . . .The Great Western Schism (1378-1417) ended the Avignon papacy through the Ecumenical Council of Constance (1414-1418). The power of the Emperor was needed to sustain the power of the pope; the power of an ecumenical council provided the Catholic Church with a pope-who, with time, became the absolute monarch reflected in today's papacy. Rollo-Koster provides us with the details of the role of the Avignon popes in all this. We find out how much it cost, for example, to make the red slippers worn by the pope, how many days it took for the head of France to enter into the city, why people were hung in one place and whipped in another, and why the various attempts to return to Rome failed. When you finish reading this book you will have an excellent tool for understanding the papacy of yesterday and today. * Catholic Books Review * The goal of Rollo-Koster's book is to rehabilitate for an English-speaking audience the awful reputation that the Avignon papacy has held from Petrarch to the present. In particular, she aims to demonstrate the effectiveness of the papal government and to recover the creativity and civic dynamism of the period. . . .The book...update[s] the classic surveys of Guillaume Mollat and Yves Renouard. * Renaissance Quarterly * In this survey of the Avignon papacy and the period of the Great Western Schism (1378-1417), Rollo-Koster sets out to 'rehabilitate' the Avignon papacy from a reputation that began as early as Petrarch's criticism of Avignon as 'the Babylon of the West.' Although the author acknowledges the Avignon popes' emphasis on 'efficient productivity' rather than spirituality, she shows that their institutional achievements, including an effective bureaucracy, a centralized fiscal system, and the development of archives and recording procedures, were innovative and provided long-term stability. She credits much of this to Pope John XXII (r. 1316-1334), 'an administrative genius' and the 'architect of papal centralization' who established the foundations on which his successors built. Rollo-Koster further challenges the view that the Avignon papacy turned its back on Rome; rather, it recognized the temporary status of its residence and sought to return to Rome, even as it transformed the village of Avignon into a cosmopolitan city and a spiritual capital. Employing her familiarity with Avignon's archives and the streets of the city, Rollo-Koster provides English readers with a valuable introduction to a dynamic, if controversial, period in papal history. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. * CHOICE * Joelle Rollo-Koster's book is a welcome, synthetic addition to an otherwise eclectic sum of academic studies on medieval papacy. It is, foremost, an elegant and readable study for readers in want of a refreshed account on the fourteenth-century papacy during its controversial sojourn in Provence. Owing to her seasoned experience with both archival sources and the rich body of literature on the subject, Rollo-Koster offers a much-needed comprehensive approach to a complex topic. She also provides an astute cultural understanding of the popes' presence and actions in Avignon, which they transformed from a traditional village into a thriving quasi-modern, multicultural society. -- Francine Michaud, University of Calgary This is a definitive, multifaceted portrayal focused on the years when the papacy resided in Avignon rather than Rome. Drawing on her long immersion in the archives and sites of Avignon, Joelle Rollo-Koster has written an engaging saga of the seven Avignon popes, setting their personal traits and political careers within the wider history of the medieval papacy. Rollo-Koster's lucid analysis of their fiscal and administrative practices makes a persuasive case that the Avignon period created the stable and centralized base on which the papacy thrived for centuries. -- Kathleen Ashley, University of Southern Maine This revisionist work offers a new look at the Avignon papacy and individual popes in the context of the papal city. Joelle Rollo-Koster draws on her deep acquaintance with the documents of medieval Avignon to recreate the vibrant urban scene within which the papal machinery operated. An insightful and nuanced history of the papacy, its entourage, and the people of medieval Avignon. -- Kathryn Reyerson, University of Minnesota