Page 4, 28th August 1959

28th August 1959
Page 4
Page 4, 28th August 1959 — Nicholas Breakspear died Sept. 1. 1159

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Organisations: senate
Locations: Rome, Paris


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Nicholas Breakspear died Sept. 1. 1159


By Joan Young

THE chronicler of the " History of the Abbey of St. Albans" tells how the Abbot, Robert of Gorham, journeying to see Pope Adrian IV on business for Henry H of England took the opportunity to ask privileges for his Abbey. The Pope. being English, might turn a sympathetic ear, he felt.

The Abbot brought many costly presents for the Pope, but the latter, having thanked him, remarked gently; "I refuse to accept your gifts, since when I once fled to the shelter of your religious house, and begged to be invested with the monk's hood, you refused to accept me" "My Lord," replied the Abbot. "we could never have taken you in, for God, in His all-seeing wisdom, willed it otherwise, since He had set apart your life for a higher position." "An elegant and courteous reply." was the Pope's comment


THE 'thoughts of both men must. indeed, have travelled back across the years, to the day when the young Nicholas Breakspear had sought to

enter the Abbey of St. Albans. and been refused as unsuitable. And now Nicholas was Vicar of Christ. and the Abbot had come to beg favours. They were graciously granted

There are various traditions of the origin of our only English Pope. He would seem to have been horn in the neighbourhood of St. Albans. his father a clerk who ended his days as a lay brother in the Abbey.

When turned down by the Abbot, Nicholas, undaunted, set off for France, and we find him at the Abbey of St. Denys, near Paris. There. under the great Abbot Suger, Nicholas acquired the best in culture and learning.

As Nicholas's biographer, H. Tarleton. writes: " ... the Church. and the Church Marne, kept alive the sacred light of study, learning, and literature . . the darkness would have been complete were it not for the quiet studious monk in his cell, the arguments in the cloister, and the records in the religious houses."


FR 0 M St. Denys. Nicholas made his way to Provence, entering the Abbey of St. Rufus. near Avignon. Here. he was soon a favourite because of his tact, friendliness, and charm, and was made Prior.

When the Abbot died. he was enthusiastically elected as Abbot, But. to the surprisc and dismay of his brethren, Nicholas, as Abbot. showed a strong personality and decided views. At a time when the monastic life was becoming very lax. it is probable that in electing Nicholas, it was thought that life would be pleasantly easy under his rule.

The reverse proved to be the case, and discontent grew. Finally a deputation set off to lay a cornplaint before the Pope, and Nicholas went to put his side of the question Eugenius ill endeavoured to compose their differences, and sent them home apparently reconciled.


EUGEN1US III, former Abbot of the Cistercian Abbey of Pisa, had been considerably impressed with the personality of Nicholas, and when a later deputation arrived with further complaints. he sent them off with some terse comments, but kept Nicholas with him.

It must have been in 1146 that Nicholas was both retained by the Pope, and made a cardinal. They were stirring times. The Second Crusade. preached by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, at Vezelay. was just starting. The Pope visited Paris, and Nicholas went with him, to the city he had first entered as a poor student years before. The next event in Nicholas's

life, and one of the most impor tent, was the mission to Scandinavia. It was a complete triumph for the English cardinal. and won him the title of "The Apostle of the North."


F,UGENIUS III was 1. succeeded by the ninety-year-old Anastasius IV, who reigned only seventeen months. At the conclave, following his death. Nicholas was elected Pope. He, at first, refused so great an honour, but being told he was "elected by God," bowed his acceptance. The boy from St. Albans was Pope Adrian IV.

His five year pontificate was full of stirring events.

First came his encounter with the formidable Frederic Barbarossa, who with his German knights and troops, had almost reached the very gates of Rome. Did they come as friend or foe?

The situation was complicated by Rome being in the hands of a hostile senate, under the leadership of Arnold of Brescia. The Pope was at Civita Castellana, while Papal forces held the castle of St. Angelo.

Born in the city of that name. Arnold of Brescia saw himself as lilserator. He denounced the laxity. and also the wealth of the Church. for "his ideal Church was a purely spiritual one. working for spiritual ends only." and he would not allow that the Church must have the financial means to maintain her dignity, help the poor, build churches, run seminaries for the training of priests. He further challenged the temporal power of the Papacy.


ADRIAN met the challenge by demanding that he leave Rome, and placing the city under the interdict--a formidable weapon in those days. the bells tolled, the crucifixes and statues were veiled, the church doors locked, there was no confession and Communion, and Easter was approaching. Rome capitulated. Adrian had won.

It is to be deplored only that Arnold, when brought in chains to Rome, was condemned by those holding St. Anglo for the Pope, to be burned at the stake. The age was often horribly savage and lacking in compassion. Now for Frederic. Here again, after initial set-backs, Adrian triumphed. Frederic did homage, and, in turn, was crowned by the Pope with the Imperial crown of Charlemagne.

Pope Adrian always had a special regard for England, which he had revisited when on his way to Scandinavia. He told his good friend, John of Salisbury, to whose invaluable writings we owe much of our knowledge of Adrian, that he wished he had never left its shores.

Much ink has been spilt over Adrian's Bull granting Ireland to Henry II. It is extremely likely that the astute and ambitious Plantagenet had presented his contemplated invasion of Ireland as a missionary effort. To this, the Pope may well have given his blessing.


Adrian no sooner seems to have got one difficulty settled. than another arrived. He had further trouble with Frederic Barbarossa, with the king of Sicily, and there were wars between the city states of what is now Italy. Always he acted with prudence and firmness. He was a great administrator and a great leader. He did considerable building in Rome, and a fair amount of writing—there is an English translation of the Lord's Prayer and the Creed ascribed to his pen.

Adrian died suddenly at Anagni on September 1, 1159. There were rumours that he had been poisoned. and also that his death was due to being choked by a fly while drinking from a fountain. The presence of the fly was, his enemies said, the work. • of the Almighty!

Though Frederic Barbarossa was on the point of being excommunicated by Adrian, he sent an envoy to the Papal funeral. Pope Adrian IV, our only English Pope, rests in the crypt of St. Peter's.

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