Papal Rome

Frederick McGinness

in Renaissance and Reformation

ISBN: 9780195399301
Published online August 2011 | | DOI:
Papal Rome

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy


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No other city in Europe matches Rome in its traditions, history, legacies, and influence in the Western world. Rome in the Renaissance under the papacy not only acted as guardian and transmitter of these elements stemming from the Roman Empire but also assumed the role as artificer and interpreter of its myths and meanings for the peoples of Europe from the Middle Ages to modern times. At the time the popes left Rome for Avignon in 1308, the population of the once-fabled city of Rome and center of empire had shrunk in population to no more than thirty thousand from one of more than a million and a half at its height; its historic monuments and fabric for the most part lay in ruins. Yet in the view of western Europe, its importance lay in the relics of its Christian martyrs, above all in those of Saints Peter and Paul, the two pillars of the Christian faith. In 1420, when the popes returned to the city to live there permanently, and especially beginning with the pontificate of Nicholas V (1447–1455), Rome began at first a slow but soon accelerating process of urban, cultural, and economic renewal that propelled it even beyond the great cities of Renaissance Italy—Naples, Venice, Milan, and Florence. Under the patronage of the popes, whose wealth and income were exceeded only by their ambitions, the city became a cultural center for master architects, sculptors, musicians, painters, and artisans of every kind. By the early 16th century Rome had become recognized as the new center of culture and artistic achievement; in its splendor it would hold this primacy of place throughout the 17th century, despite some devastating setbacks, especially that of the Sack of Rome in 1527 by troops of the imperial army. In its myth and message, Rome had become the sacred city of the popes, the prime symbol of a triumphant Catholicism, the center of orthodox Christianity, a new Jerusalem. The abundant riches of Rome have led scholars to consider the city not merely under all the above aspects but, in the late 20th and early 21st centuries especially, its complex social history, economic patterns, political conflicts and struggles, and the many contradictions lying beneath the mystique of Rome as the urbs sancta et aeterna.

Article.  10930 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy

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