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Pope Gregory X: Biography & Accomplishments

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

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

There's a lot that goes into the modern papacy, and every bit of it has its own history. In this lesson, we'll talk about Pope Gregory X and explore his contributions to this holy office.

Pope Gregory X

Does anybody still remember the US presidential election of 2000? It was Bush vs. Gore, and due to repeated calls to recount the votes, we spent over a month without knowing who would be the next president. That was frustrating. Now, imagine how frustrating it would be as a medieval Catholic not to know who your pope was for three years. Pope Gregory X was elected to that holy office in 1271 CE after the longest papal election in history. However, just as Bush's presidency would soon be eclipsed by other events, Pope Gregory's time in the papacy has a lot more for which it is remembered.

Pope Gregory X
Pope Gregory X

Early Life

Pope Gregory X was born Teobaldo Visconti around 1210 CE. His uncle was the archbishop of Milan, and so young Teobaldo was quickly entered into church service and education. It's important to remember that at this time, members of the church were still some of the most educated and politically important people in Europe, so this was a very desirable career. Visconti went into service for the Bishop of Palestrina, Cardinal Giacomo de Pecorari, and became his constant aid. This put him in contact with important secular and ecclesiastic leaders in France, and he started building up professional networks.

However, trouble was brewing. Pope Gregory IX's war with the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II was escalating. In 1241, the Pope called a meeting of cardinals in Rome to deal with Frederick, but many, including Visconti's mentor, were captured by the emperor. This created some problems. Pope Gregory IX died that year, and the election for a new pope was a mess because the cardinals could not get to Rome; those who were not being held prisoner by Frederick II were blocked from Rome by his armies. Eventually, a new pope was elected, but he died 17 days later. So, the election process began again. Visconti was one of the main figures working to diplomatically ensure the release of the cardinals. Eventually, they were released and a new pope elected. Visconti remained with Cardinal Giacomo until the latter's death in 1244, then went on to serve in other areas, even accompanying Edward of England on a Holy Crusade.

Papacy of Pope Gregory X

When Pope Gregory X took the papal seat in 1271, it was after a three-year lapse during which divisions amongst the cardinals had prevented the papal election. The cardinals could not agree on a candidate, but managed to compromise on Visconti as a moderate and respected figure, although he wasn't even technically a priest at that point.

Pope Gregory X was involved in many international events.
Gregory X

As pope, Gregory X had a lot to deal with. According to the traditional chronicles of famed explorer Marco Polo, it was Gregory X whom the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan contacted via the Polo family. Gregory X also tried to reign in persecution of Jews in Europe, and continued the focus on the Holy Lands. This he did by intervening in the succession crisis within the Holy Roman Empire, promoting the claims of Rudolf I in exchange for a promise by the emperor to lead a new crusade. Most historians see Gregory X's actions as preventing the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, which is even more impressive considering that Gregory had to talk the King of Naples out of claiming the imperial throne.

The Polo family bringing the message of Kublai Khan to the Pope
Polos

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