|The glory and the power: Avignon Cathedral (left) sits beside -- and is dwarfed by -- the formidable Palace of the Popes.|
Character assassination, mudslinging, Machiavellian machinations, and ruthless power plays: I’m talking about the current U.S. presidential primaries, right? Not exactly, but more on that in a minute. I’m talking—mainly—about the deadly struggles that sent the 14th-century papacy scurrying from Rome to Avignon, France: Avignon, the spectacular walled city where medieval mystery meets modern-day murder in The Inquisitor’s Key.
At the end of the 13th century, Rome—like other Italian city-states—was torn between two powerful factions, the Ghibellines and the Guelphs. To oversimplify shamelessly—nay, proudly (hey, it’s a blog, not a history book!)—the Ghibellines supported the Holy Roman Emperor, while the Guelphs backed the Pope: rival leaders, each claiming to be God’s Main Man here on Earth. In 1298 Pope Boniface VIII destroyed two entire towns, Colonna and Palestrina—he even spread salt on the surrounding lands to ruin them—because they were strongholds of the Colonna family, nobles who sided with his enemies, the Ghibellines. Then Boniface took on an even mightier foe: King Philip IV of France. When King Philip imposed a tax on Church revenues, Pope Boniface excommunicated him, declaring in a 1302 proclamation that it "is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman pontiff."