Chapter 16

CHAPTER XVI: BONIFACE VIII (AD 1294 - 1303) PART I

In Celestine's place was chosen Benedict Gaetani, who, although even
older than the worn-out and doting late pope, was still full of
strength, both in body and in mind. Benedict (who took the name of
Boniface VIII) is said to have been very learned, especially in
matters at law; but his pride and ambition led him into attempts
which ended in his own ruin, and did serious harm to the papacy.

In the year 1300 Boniface set on foot what was called the Jubilee.
You will remember the Jubilee which God in the Law of Moses
commanded the Israelites to keep (Leviticus xxv.). But this new
Jubilee had nothing to do with the law of Moses, and was more like
some games which were celebrated every hundredth year by the ancient
Romans. Nothing of the sort had ever before been known among
Christians; but when the end of the thirteenth century was at hand,
it was found that people's minds were full of a fancy that the year
1300 ought to be a time of some great celebration. Nay, they were
even made to believe that such a way of keeping every hundredth year
had been usual from the beginning of the Church, although (as I have
said} there was no ground whatever for this notion; and one or two
lying old men were brought forward to pretend that when children
they had attended a former jubilee a hundred years before!

How the expectation of the jubilee was got up we do not know. Most
likely Boniface had something to do with it; at all events, he took
it up and reaped the profits of it. He sent forth letters offering
extraordinary spiritual benefits to all who should visit Rome and
the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul during the coming year; and
immense numbers of people flocked together from all parts of Europe.
It is said that all through the year there were two hundred thousand
strangers in Rome; for as some went away, others came to fill up
their places. The crowd is described to us as if, in the streets and
on the bridge leading to the great church of St. Peter's, an army
were marching each way.

It is said that Boniface appeared one day in the robes of a pope,
and next day in those of an emperor, with a sword in his hand, and
that he declared to some ambassadors that he was both pope and
emperor. And after all this display of his pride and grandeur, he
found himself much enriched by the offerings which the pilgrims had
made; for these were so large, that in one church alone (as we are
told,) two of the clergy were employed day and night in gathering
them in with long rakes. If this be anything like the truth, the
whole amount collected from the pilgrims at the jubilee must have
been very large indeed.

PART II

Boniface got into serious quarrels with princes and others; but the
most serious of them all was a quarrel with Philip IV of France, who
is called "The Fair" on account of his good looks--not that there
was any fairness in his character, for it would not be easy to name
any one more utterly unfair. If Boniface wished to exalt himself
above princes, Philip, who was a thoroughly hard, cold, selfish man,
was no less desirous to get the mastery over the clergy; and it was
natural that between two such persons unpleasant differences should
arise. I need not mention the particulars, except that Boniface
wrote letters which seemed to forbid the clergy of any kingdom to
pay taxes and such-like dues to their sovereign, and to claim for
the pope a right to dispose of the kingdoms of the earth. Philip,
provoked by this, held meetings of what were called the estates of
France,--clergy, nobles, and commons,--and charged the pope with all
sorts of vices and crimes, even with disbelief of the Christian
faith. The estates declared against the pope's claims; and when
Boniface summoned a council of bishops from all countries to meet at
Rome, Philip forbade the French bishops to obey, and all but a few
stayed away. One of the pope's letters to the king was cut in pieces
and thrown into the fire, and the burning was proclaimed through the
streets of Paris with the sound of the trumpet.

The pope was greatly enraged by Philip's conduct. He prepared a bull
by which the king was declared to be excommunicated and to be
deprived of his crown; and it was intended to publish this bull on
the 8th of September, 1303, at Anagni, Boniface's native place. Here
he was spending the summer months. But on the day before, something
took place which hindered the carrying out of the pope's design.

Early in his reign Boniface had been engaged in a quarrel with the
Colonnas, one of the most powerful among the great princely families
of Rome. He had persecuted them bitterly, had deprived them of their
estates and honours, and, after having got possession of a fortress
belonging to them by treachery, he had caused it to be utterly
destroyed, and the ground on which it stood to be ploughed up and
sown with salt. The Colonnas were scattered in all quarters, and it
is said that one of them, named James, who was a very rough and
violent man, had been for a time in captivity among pirates, and was
delivered from this condition by the money of the French king, who
wished to make use of him.

On the 7th of September, 1303, this James Colonna, with other
persons in King Philip's service, appeared at Anagni with an armed
force, and made their way to the pope's palace. Boniface sent to ask
what they wanted; and in answer they required that he should give up
his office, should restore the Colonnas to all that they had lost,
and should put himself into the hands of James Colonna. On his
refusal, they set fire to the doors of a church which adjoined the
palace, and rushed in through the flames. Boniface heard the forcing
of the doors which were between them and the room in which he was,
and as one door after another gave way with a crash, he declared
himself resolved to die as became a pope. He put on the mantle of
his office, with the imperial crown which bore the name of
Constantine; he grasped his pastoral staff in one hand and the keys
of St. Peter in the other, and, taking his seat on his throne, he
awaited the approach of his enemies. On entering the room, even
these rude and furious men were awed for a moment by his venerable
and dauntless look; but James Colonna, quickly overcoming this
feeling, required him to resign the papacy. "Behold my neck and my
head," answered Boniface: "if I have been betrayed like Christ, I
am ready to die like Christ's vicar." Colonna savagely dragged him
from the throne, and is said to have struck him on the face with his
mailed hand, so as to draw blood. Others of the party poured forth
torrents of reproaches. The pope was hurried into the streets, was
paraded about the town on a vicious horse, with his face toward the
tail, and was then thrown into prison, while the ruffians plundered
the palaces and churches of Anagni.

The citizens, in their surprise and alarm, had allowed these things
to pass without any check. But two days later they took heart, and
with the help of some neighbours got the better of the pope's
enemies and delivered him from prison. He was brought out on a
balcony in the market-place, where his appearance raised the pity of
all, for he had tasted nothing since his arrest. The old man begged
that some good woman would save him from dying by hunger. On this
the crowd burst out into cries of, "Life to you, holy father!" and
immediately people hurried away in all directions, and came back
with abundance of food and drink for his relief. The pope spoke
kindly to all who were near him, and pronounced forgiveness of all
but those who had plundered the Church.

Boniface was soon afterwards removed to Rome. But the sufferings
which he had gone through had been too much for a man almost ninety
years old to bear. His mind seems to have given way; and there are
terrible stories (although we cannot be sure that they are true)
about the manner of his death, which took place within a few days
after he reached the city (Nov. 22, 1303). It was said of him, "He
entered like a fox, he reigned like a lion, he went out like a dog;"
and although this saying was, no doubt, made up after his end, it
was commonly believed to have been a prophecy uttered by old Pope
Celestine, to whom he had behaved so treacherously and so harshly.