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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century


The upheaval that accompanied the migration of European peoples of late antiquity shattered the power of the Roman Empire and consequently the entire political order of Europe. Although Germanic kingdoms replaced Rome, the culture of late antiquity, especially Christianity, continued to have an effect and defined the early Middle Ages. Concurrent to the developments in the Christian West, in Arabia the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century founded Islam, a new religion with immense political and military effectiveness. Within a very short time, great Islamic empires developed from the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb to India and Central Asia, with centers such as Cordoba, Cairo, Baghdad, and Samarkand.

The Cathedral Notre Dame de Reims, built in the 1 3th—14th century in the Gothic style; the cathedral served for many centuries as the location for the ceremonial coronation of the French king.

The Cathedral of Reims, by Domenico Quaglio



The Holy Roman Empire in the High and Late Middle Ages



The Prelude to the Investiture Controversy under the Salians

In their power struggle with the princes, Conrad II and Henry III looked to the cities, the reformed papacy, and the ministeriales for support.


1 Seal depicting Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II


5 Speyer Cathedral, built by Conrad II,
where kings of the Salian dynasty are buried


In 1024 on the death of Henry II, 1 Conrad II, a Franconian relative of the Ottonians, was elected king of Germany by the nobles and founded the 5 Salian dynasty.

A hereditary contract concluded under the Ottonians led to the annexation of the kingdom of Burgundy by Germany during his reign in 1033. Though the king now controlled all the passes through the Alps, the cities of Burgundy were becoming more independent. As a counterbalance to the powerful princes, the Lombard cities had been granted privileges by the king, but they too had begun to oppose the royal claim to authority.The wealth of the metropolitan bishops and the higher nobility created conflict with the lesser gentry.

Conrad's son 2 Henry III, who ascended the throne in 1039, intervened more directly in ecclesiastical affairs.

He thought he could control the papacy by standing up for the Cluniac reform movement. He supported the reformers in their fight against marriage of the clergy and simony.

Henry succeeded, despite the influence of the opposing Roman aristocracy, in having several 3 reform-minded popes elected, among them Clement II and Leo IX.

Although he was initially successful, his actions created great problems for the Holy Roman Empire in the long run, as the newly acquired self-confidence of the Church made it, in addition to the princes, a powerful opponent of the king—as the reign of his son Henry IV would show.

The German kings came to depend more and more on the ministeriales, whose rise to power had begun in the eleventh century.

Ministeriales were originally servants working in the administration and the army who were provided with nonhereditary fiefs. This dependency on their lords made them trustworthy and so they were increasingly entrusted with court offices and the administration of royal property at the state level.

2 Henry III and his wife before the Virgin Mary,
book illustration, 1050

3 Henry III designates Pope Clement II in 1046,
wood engraving, 19th century

4 Ministers draw up documents, book illustration
from the Codex Manesse, 14th century



The Cluniac Reform

The Cluniac reform movement was a religious model that initially sought to cleanse the Church of worldly influences.

It developed out of the French Benedictine monastery founded in oioin Cluny and owed its importance to thegreatness of its abbots, who werepious and strong-willed.

It insisted that the clergy must strictly observe celibacy andprohibited simom—the sale of Church offices—cease.

 Pope Gregory VII gave the movement a political direction: The new moral superiority was to be reflected in temporal dominance.

The popes thereafter claimed supremacy over monarchies and fought the investiture of clergy by the king, particularly in the German empire.

Model of the Benedictine abbey of Cluny, ca. 1900




Congregation of Cluny

The Catholic Encyclopedia

The earliest reform, which became practically a distinct order, within the Benedictine family. It originated at Cluny, a town in Saone-et-Loire, fifteen miles north-west of Mâcon, where in 910 William the Pious, Duke of Aquitaine, founded an abbey and endowed it with his entire domain. Over it he placed St. Berno, then Abbot of Gigny, under whose guidance a somewhat new and stricter form of Benedictine life was inaugurated. The reforms introduced at Cluny were in some measure traceable to the influence of St. Benedict of Aniane, who had put forward his new ideas at the first great meeting of the abbots of the order held at Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) in 817, and their development at Cluny resulted in many departures from precedent, chief among which was a highly centralized form of government entirely foreign to Benedictine tradition. The reform quickly spread beyond the limits of the Abbey of Cluny, partly by the founding of new houses and partly by the incorporation of those already existing, and as all these remained dependent upon the mother-house, the Congregation of Cluny came into being almost automatically. Under St. Berno's successors it attained a very widespread influence, and by the twelfth century Cluny was at the head of an order consisting of some 314 monasteries. These were spread over France, Italy, the Empire, Lorraine, England, Scotland, and Poland. According to the "Bibliotheca Cluniacensis" (Paris, 1614) 825 houses owed allegiance to the Abbot of Cluny in the fifteenth century. Some writers have given the number as 2000, but there is little doubt that this is an exaggeration. It may perhaps include all those many other monasteries which, though no joining the congregation, adopted either wholly or in part the Cluny constitutions, such as Fleury, Hirschau, Farfa, and many others that were subject to their influence.

During the first 250 years of its existence Cluny was governed by a series of remarkable abbots, men who have left their mark upon the history of Western Europe and who were prominently concerned with all the great political questions of their day. Among these were Sts. Odo, Mayeul, Odilo, and Hugh, and Peter the Venerable. Under the last named, the ninth abbot, who ruled from 1122 to 1156, Cluny reached the zenith of its influence and prosperity, at which time it was second only to Rome as the chief centre of the Christian world. It became a home of learning and a training school for popes, four of whom, Gregory VII (Hildebrand), Urban II, Paschal II, and Urban V, were called from its cloisters to rule the Universal Church. In England the Cluniac houses numbered thirty-five at the time of the dissolution. There were three in Scotland. The earliest foundation was that of the priory of St. Pancras at Lewes (1077), the prior of which usually held the position of vicar-general of the Abbot of Cluny for England and Scotland. Other important English houses were at Castleacre, Montacute, Northampton, and Bermondsey.

After the twelfth century the power of Cluny declined somewhat, and in the sixteenth century it suffered much through the civil and religious wars of France and their consequences. The introduction also of commendatory abbots, the first of whom was appointed in 1528, was to some extent responsible for its decline. Amongst the greatest of its titular prelates were Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin, who tried to restore it to some of its former greatness, though their efforts did not meet with much success. Claude de Vert, Prior of Saint-Pierre, Abbeville (d. 1708), was another would-be reformer of the congregation, inspired no doubt by the example of the Maurists.

The abbey-church of Cluny was on a scale commensurate with the greatness of the congregation, and was regarded as one of the wonders of the Middle Ages. It was no less than 555 feet in length, and was the largest church in Christendom until the erection of St. Peter's at Rome. It consisted of five naves, a narthex, or ante-church, and several towers. Commenced by St. Hugh, the sixth abbot, in 1089, it was finished and consecrated by Pope Innocent II in 1131-32, the narthex being added in 1220. Together with the conventual buildings it covered an area of twenty-five acres. At the suppression in 1790 it was bought by the town and almost entirely destroyed. At the present day only one tower and part of a transept remain, whilst a road traverses the site of the nave. The community of the abbey, which had numbered three hundred in the thirteenth century, dwindled down to one hundred in the seventeenth, and when it was suppressed, in common with all the other religious houses in France, its monks numbered only forty.

The spirit and organization of the congregation was a distinct departure from the Benedictine tradition, though its monks continued all along to be recognized as members of the Benedictine family. Previous to its inception every monastery had been independent and autonomous, though the observance of the same rule in all constituted a bond of union; but when Cluny began to throw out offshoots and to draw other houses under its influence, each such house, instead of forming a separate family, was retained in absolute dependence upon the central abbey. The superiors of such houses, which were usually priories, were subject to the Abbot of Cluny and were his nominees, not the elect of their own communities, as is the normal Benedictine custom. Every profession, even in the most distant monastery of the congregation, required his sanction, and every monk had to pass some years at Cluny itself. Such a system cut at the root of the old family ideal and resulted in a kind of feudal hierarchy consisting of one great central monastery and a number of dependencies spread over many lands. The Abbot of Cluny or his representative made annual visitations of the dependent houses, and he had for his assistant in the government of so vast an organization a coadjutor with the title Grand-Prior of Cluny. The abbot's monarchical status was somewhat curtailed after the twelfth century by the holding of general chapters, but it is evident that he possessed a very real power over the whole congregation, so long as he held in his own hands the appointment of all the dependent priors. (For the sources of information as to the rule, government, and conventual observance of the congregation, see bibliography at end of this article.) With regard to the Divine Office, the monks of Cluny conformed to the then prevailing custom, introduced into the monasteries of France by St. Benedict of Aniane, of adding numerous extra devotional exercises, in the shape of psalms (psalmi familiares, speciales, prostrati, and pro tribulatione) and votive offices (Our Lady, The Dead, All Saints, etc.) to the daily canonical hours prescribed by the Benedictine Rule.

The library of Cluny was for many centuries one of the richest and most important in France and the storehouse of a vast number of most valuable manuscripts When the abbey was sacked by the Huguenots, in 1562, many of these priceless treasures perished and others were dispersed. Of those that were left at Cluny, some were burned by the revolutionary mob at the time of the suppression in 1790, and others stored away in the Cluny town hall. These latter, as well as others that passed into private hands, have been gradually recovered by the French Government and are now in the Bibliotheque Nationale at Paris. There are also in the British Museum, London, about sixty charters which formerly belonged to Cluny. The "Hotelde Cluny" in Paris, dating from 1334, was formerly the town house of the abbots. In 1833 it was made into a public museum, but apart from the name thus derived, it possesses practically nothing connected with the abbey.



The Investiture Controversy and the End of the Salians

Henry IV struggled with the revitalized papacy for political supremacy, but no compromise was reached between the two powers until his son Henry V took the throne.


When 6 Henry IV, the son of Henry III, assumed power in 1056, he sought support from the ministeriales, as well as from the increasingly important 7 cities.

In the cities, a self-confident middle class had emerged whose capital provided a counterbalance to the nobility's control over the countryside.

The reform papacy favored by his father had grown to be the chief opponent of Henry IV.

6 Emperor's seal of Henry IV with the
inscription "Heinricus D(ei) Gra(tia) Rex "
(Henry, king by the mercy of God)

7 View of Nuremberg, city of the Holy Roman Empire, founded in the eleventh century,
with the emperor's castle, wood engraving, late 15th century

Pope Gregory VII demanded the papacy's complete control over all interests of the Church, particularly over investiture—the right to appoint clergy to their offices.

9 Pope Gregory VII is liberated and dies in exile in 1085;
Henry IV with the antipope Clement III,
wood engraving, twelfth century

When Henry consequently declared the pope deposed at the Synod of Worms in January 1076, Gregory responded by excommunicating the king, freeing Henry's subjects as well as the princes from their loyalty oath to the king. An assembly of princes held at Tribur demanded Henry's abdication should the excommunication remain in effect. This conflict precipitated the breakup of the feudal system in the Empire and destroyed the sovereignty of the German monarchs. The nobles took advantage of the struggle between emperor and pope to enrich themselves with the wealth abandoned by the bishops.

In 1077 Henry went to see the pope at Canossa, where he regained his right of regency.

This put him in a position in 1080 to defeat the rebellion of princes who had elected 8 Rudolf of Swabia as their king in the meantime.

Later, Pope Urban II repeated the ban on lay investiture at the Synod of Clermont in 1095, and even Henry's own children turned against him. Conrad, his oldest, disempowered him in Italy in the 1090s, aided by a rebellion of the Lombard cities. Henry, his second son, whom he had chosen as his successor, pressured by an uprising of the princes, forced his father to abdicate in 1105, becoming Henry V. Henry IV died the following year.

Following revolts, 11 Henry V brought about an agreement with the princes at the Diet of the Holy Roman Empire at Wurzburg in 1121.

8 Rudolf of Swabia is killed in battle in 1080,
wood engraving, 19th century

11 Henry V captures Pope Paschal II,
wood engraving, 19th century

The 10 Concordat of Worms of 1122 finally brought an end to the investiture controversy: The Church would choose who would hold the offices of bishops and abbots, while the king would invest them with their temporal jurisdictions. The imperial Church could therefore not be used as an instrument of power.

10 Cathedral of Worms,
built in the 12th—13th century



The Journey to Canossa

Henry IV went to Canossa in northern Italy to meet Pope Gregory VII and have his excommunication rescinded. The pope is said to have made Henry wait barefoot in the snow and cold of January for three days and nights, as proof of penance.

 Although a "journey to Canossa" proverbially means to admit defeat, this was actually more of a victory for Henry IV, who regained his freedom to act with the blessing of the Church through the revocation of his excommunication.

Henry IV in Canossa in 1077, Eduard Schwoiser , 1852




Walk to Canossa

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Walk to Canossa (sometimes called the Way to Canossa; German, "Gang nach Canossa"; Italian, "l'umiliazione di Canossa") refers to both the trek itself of Henry IV of the Holy Roman Empire from Speyer to the fortress at Canossa and also to the events surrounding his journey. These events took place in and around January 1077.

Historical background

When, in his early papacy, Gregory VII attempted to enact reforms to the investiture process, he was met by much resistance from the Holy Roman Emperor. Henry insisted that he reserved the right to 'invest' bishops and other clergymen, despite the papal decree. Henry renounced Gregory as pope; in return, Gregory excommunicated and deposed Henry. He stated furthermore that, one year from that day, the excommunication would become permanent and irrevocable.


Fearing rebellion among the German aristocracy (violence had already broken out at Langensalza a year earlier), Henry felt he had to have his excommunication lifted. He arranged to meet with the Pope in Augsburg.

Gregory's route

Gregory, however, feared that Henry would bring his army and attempt to remove the Pope from power. He spent some time on his journey northward from Rome in towns in the south of the Empire, trying to gain support among the people.

While still in the northern reaches of present-day Italy, he met Mathilda, Countess of Tuscany. She offered to bring him to a location safe from attack by Henry. They traveled together to the fortress at Canossa and shut themselves inside.

Henry's route

Coming southward from Germany, Henry found his position precarious. He was still popular among the common people, but his nobles were still threatening to elect a new king. He had to secure his position in the church before the rapidly approaching deadline given by the Pope.

Once he crossed the Jura Mountains, Henry took on the behavior of penitence. He wore a hair-shirt, the traditional clothing of monks at the time, and allegedly walked barefoot. Many of his entourage also supposedly removed their shoes. In these conditions he crossed the Alps, a long and harsh journey in late January. On 25 January 1077 he reached the gates of Canossa.

At the fortress

When Henry reached Canossa, the Pope ordered that he be refused entry. According to the first-hand accounts of the scene (letters written by both Gregory and Henry in the following years), Henry waited by the gate for three full days. During this time, he allegedly wore only his penitent hair-shirt and fasted. Although no contemporary sources report this, it has since been speculated that Henry spent much of his time during these three days in the village at the foot of the hill.

On 28 January (the feast of Saint Paul's conversion) the gates were opened for Henry and he was allowed to enter the fortress. Contemporary accounts report that he knelt before Pope Gregory and begged his forgiveness. Gregory absolved Henry and invited him back into the Church. That evening, Gregory, Henry, and Mathilda shared communion in the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas inside the fortress, signaling the official end of Henry's excommunication. [This series of events is compiled by Zimmerman (see below) as the most likely, through comparison of original sources on the subject, including letters written by both Henry and Gregory to the German bishops and princes. For a discussion of this, and for other proposed timelines, see Zimmermann's chapter 5]

Henry quickly returned to his empire, but Gregory remained with Mathilda at the fortress and in other locations in Tuscany for several months. Later historians speculated upon a romantic or sexual relationship between the two (an accusation sometimes raised by Protestant historians in the 17th century) although if there was ever any evidence for this it has not survived. [Struve, 44ff] .

Historical impact

The immediate effects of the Canossa meeting were limited. Although Henry was restored to the Church, the Pope did not restore his support of Henry's right to the throne. His deposition still in effect, Henry was forced into civil war with Duke Rudolph of Swabia. Gregory levied a second excommunication against Henry, who ultimately won the civil war, invaded Rome, and forced Gregory to flee, replacing him with an antipope, Clement III.

The meaning in the greater history of Germany and Europe, however, was much more significant. During the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, Henry was heroized as a defender of the rights of both Germans and opponents to the Pope. Many German Lutherans considered him the "first Protestant" and looked to his example for guidance in their struggle against what they saw as a tyrannical and unjust institution.

Later in German history the event took on a more secular meaning: it came to stand for Germany's refusal to be subjected to any outside power (although still especially, but not exclusively, the Roman Catholic Church). Otto von Bismarck, during his so-called "Kulturkampf," assured his countrymen that "We will not go to Canossa – neither in body nor in spirit!" That is, Germany would stand for itself and not abide any outside interference in its politics, religion or culture. [For more discussion on cultural references to the Walk to Canossa, see Zimmermann's chapters 1 and 4]

On the other side, Canossa is remembered in Italy by some historians (like Benedetto Croce) as the first concrete victory of the Pope (who represented the Italian people) against the domination of the Germans after the fall of the Roman Empire. Croce considered Canossa as the initial retreat from Italy of the Holy Roman Empire, starting the Italian Renaissance in which the Germans lost control of northern Italy by the 15th century.

Today, "Canossa" refers to an act of penance or submission. To "go to Canossa" is an expression (used often in German: "nach Canossa gehen", in Swedish: "Canossavandring", in Danish and Norwegian: "Kanossagang", and in Italian language: "andare a Canossa") to describe doing penance, often with the connotation that it is unwilling or coerced.



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