A Medieval Slaughter

A Medieval Slaughter
19 March 2018 0 Comment

“We Christians cannot endure to see a man being put to death, even justly.” Athenagoras (133AD – 190AD)

Such fine words uttered by a man of considerable erudition and culture, whose wisdom as a philosopher and rhetorician together with his keen appreciation of the intellectual temper of his age, and his tact and delicacy in dealing with the powerful opponents of his religion may very well believe a Christians suffering of a person put to death for any reason. But such a man did not live during the 14th century, at least not in Italy and certainly not as a reasoned and compassioned voice of the Catholic Church.

Athenagoras would have shed tears of utter pain and disbelief had he witnessed the terrifying slaughter that was unleashed upon the small town of Cesena on February 3, 1377 for daring to exhibit an independent streak by challenging papal control from Rome. Since the papacy had been moved to Avignon in France in 1308 by the French pope Clement V, Rome had been left to wallow in an economic and cultural wilderness with a loss of power and identity. The church was Rome and Rome ate the crumbs from the papacy table. By the middle of the 13th century Rome began to fight back, to enforce its authority on Italian city states and to regain its economic and spiritual power once more.

In 1377 the pope in Rome, Pope Gregory XI decided to do something about this untenable situation, at least for Rome, and commissioned one of his cardinals, Robert of Geneva, to be his “attack dog” and what a telling choice it was. Robert hired a band of mercenaries led by an English adventurer named Sir John Hawkwood who was notorious for switching sides to whoever would pay him the most. Robert of Geneva and Hawkwood saw an easy target in Cesena, situated close to the Adriatic coast near Rimini. The cardinal, representing his pope swore a binding oath to be lenient with the people of Cesena if they opened their gates to him and his men, which they duly did.

Cesena was put to the sword. Breaking his oath immediately the cardinal ordered his mercenaries to kill as many people as possible. An orgy of rape and slaughter began on February 3 that last for three days and nights. Many of the citizens of Cesena drowned in the city moat in their desperate attempts to flee their city. More than 5,000 innocent people lost their lives on the orders of Cardinal Robert of Geneva. For his efforts the cardinal was elected pope the following year taking the name Pope Clement VII; a bizarre and insulting name to take given his total lack of clemency towards his victims of Cesena.

Rome was not yet to find the dominance it once enjoyed and more blood was yet to be spilled as it ravaged Italy and parts of France to regain the seat of St. Peter totally and without opposition. Clement VII was French and Rome forbid him to sit in authority in Rome so he established his court in Avignon as the first of a string of “anti-popes” – a murder who felt hard done by his employer in Rome now turned his anger on the city he once fought and bleed for.

Peter Kilby
About the Author

Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who has lived and worked in Italy since 1987. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of art and history closer to you. Download the “free” Perfect Traveller app and enjoy the best audio tours available; about Italy today and yesterday. Sign Up to this website and submit your travel stories and become part of the Perfect Traveller community.

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