Pope Gregory IV: Accomplishments & Facts

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Popes are powerful figures who hold immense religious, social, and political power. Sometimes, this can be hard to handle. In this lesson, we'll look at Pope Gregory IV, and see what happens when papal power turns into papal obligations.

Pope Gregory IV

The Pope: spiritual leader, global political figure, and mediator of sibling squabbles. As Pope, you never know what conflicts you'll be called to resolve. That's certainly true of Pope Gregory IV, who donned the pontifical robes from 827 to 844 CE. Pope Gregory IV is remembered for his role in mediating some of the fiercest political debates of the era, debates which at their most basic were family feuds.

Pope Gregory IV (middle) receives a book
Pope Gregory IV

Rise to the Papacy

Gregory IV was born sometime around 795 CE to a wealthy Roman family. We do not know his birth name, but we know that he was entered into service of the church relatively early. He showed a passion for education and received a reputation as a man of learning. His fist major office was as the Cardinal priest of the Basilica of St. Mark in Rome. In the early 9th century, a trend had emerged where Roman nobles started essentially hand-picking the popes. Technically, this was supposed to be done by the College of Cardinals, but the Roman nobles had lots of political and economic power and were able to greatly influence the opinions of the cardinals. According to tradition, Gregory protested being named the new pope, claiming he was unworthy, but the cardinals had spoken. His papacy officially began in 828 CE when the Holy Roman Emperor Louis the Pious formally recognized the election.

Building Projects

When Gregory IV was first elected, Europe was in a period of peace, or at least as close as Medieval Europe got to peace. So, he got to focus a lot of the early part of his papacy on building new churches across Europe. He rebuilt the atrium of St. Peter's Basilica and relocated a series of saints from the catacombs of Rome to the Vatican. One of his most notable projects was rebuilding St. Mark's Basilica, where he had previously served as Cardinal priest. In St. Mark's he sponsored a massive program of Byzantine-style mosaics which are considered some of the most impressive artistic achievements of the century and can still be seen today.

Mosaic of the Basilica San Marco in Rome
San Marco

The Carolingian Crisis

The moment that most defined Pope Gregory IV's papacy, however, was a succession crisis in the Carolingian family. The Carolingians were Frankish kings made powerful by Charlemagne in the late 7th century. After the pope at the time crowned Charlemagne the Holy Roman Emperor and defender of the faith, the power of the Carolingians and power of the Pope were intricately connected.

So, when a succession crisis broke out amongst Carolingians, the Pope was immediately drawn into to the conflict. Louis the Pious had survived the accidental collapse of part of a church that he was in, which filled him with an obsession with death and desire to set his affairs in order. Rather than splitting the empire into three equal portions amongst his three sons, Louis gave a disproportionate amount to his eldest, Lothair. The conflict worsened when Louis tried to include a son from a second marriage (Charles) into the succession lines. The result was a series of wars between Louis and his sons, Lothair, Pepin, and Louis the German.

Louis and Pepin
Louis the Pious

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