Pope Blessed Urban V: A French abbot who abdicated Avignon for Rome but in the end had to return to his roots
Because of the tactics used by Pope Innocent VI in reforming the clergy and his use of the Inquisition, the Sacred Conclave decided that this time around they would elect someone who was not a member of the College of Cardinals. Thus, upon Innocent's death September 12, 1362 many looked outside for someone to lead them out of the malaise to which Holy Mother Church had been plunged. Yet on the first ballot enough French bishops were able to swing the vote to the brother of Pope Clement VI, but when he refused, they settled on a holy Benedictine abbot who was on assignment in Naples, Italy when he received news of his selection. Father Guillaume de Grimoard, who had been born in Grisac, France in 1310 was humbled but, because of his deep concern for the Church, accepted - realizing he might possibly be able to return the Holy See to its proper place in Rome after so many years of exile in Avignon. Thus Grimoard sailed to Marseilles on the Mediterranean coast of France and was officially elevated as the 200th successor of Peter on November 6, 1362 taking the name Pope Urban V. He chose "Urban" for the simple reason all four Urbans before him had been declared saints. Though Urban V is not yet a saint, he is quite close, having been beatified in 1870 by Pope Pius IX.
His first duties included reigning in the Inquisition and imbuing the Church with more scholarly disciples. He had been a scholarly teacher himself and he made it a point to support many students from poor families as well as endowing numerous universities while reforming them at the same time. In addition he founded new institutions of higher learning at Orange in France, Krakow in Poland, and Vienna in Austria. It is no secret that Urban, because he was not a cardinal himself, was somewhat intimidated by the red-hats when meeting them face-to-face. Also, because he did not feel worthy to wear the papal robes because he had not been a cardinal, he chose to wear the Benedictine robes he had grown so familiar with as an abbot. It also reminded him to maintain his spiritual life and he spent tremendous amounts of time in prayer.
One of his main goals was to reunite with the Eastern Church which for two centuries had been in schism. To appease the Greeks, he preached a crusade against the Turks and set the monarch of France King John II as head of the crusaders. He also felt he could kill two "birds" with one stone by employing the free companies that had been ravaging Avignon and much of Southern Europe and Italy. These were mercenary men who were basically robbers. Yet, because the idea of a crusade sounded like a broken record, there was no urgency for Europeans, and the mercenaries had grown comfortable looting in Europe, the crusade never really got off the ground. When John died in 1364 the fervor of it died with him.
Much to Urban's chagrin, there were problems in northern Italy that had come to a head in Milan. The constant foe of the Church Bernabo Visconti was winning handily over the beleaguered and dishearted papal troops. Add to this the Roman Cardinal Gil de Albornoz, head of the papal troops had a high disregard for a French Pope and Urban knew morale was low; therefore he had to step in to save Bologna and, ultimately the Church in Italy. Thus he signed a humiliating pact with Visconti paying him huge amounts of money to evacuate Bologna. Many could not understand how the Pope would give away the store so-to-speak, but Urban had sincere plans to return the papacy to Rome and felt his biggest obstacle remained Visconti. The Holy Father's announcement of his eminent return to the eternal city won Albornoz over and he became Urban's papal legate in paving the way for Urban to return. The French cardinals bitterly opposed this and appealed to the new monarch of France King Charles V who, rather than helping the cardinals, chose to assist the Pope, primarily because the papacy in Avignon had exerted too much influence in France. Thus, he turned his back on the French court and the cardinals and personally offered to escort the Supreme Pontiff on April 30, 1367 from Avignon to Corneto in Italy. Urban was met there by Cardinal Albornoz who had become fiercely loyal now. They journeyed to Viterbo where the mercenaries tried to assault the Pope and Albornoz' men, but they fended them off, finally arriving at the Lateran on October 16, 1367 heavily escorted by the cardinal's troops. However the Lateran had been ransacked and burned making it virtually unlivable and thus Urban opted for the Vatican. He had already planned for this by beginning rennovations three years prior while still in Avignon. While most of the curia had remained behind in Avignon, Urban spent his time in Rome rebuilding churches that had been damaged and beginning a total rebuiliding of the Lateran church.
Back in Rome where he could more properly deal with his greatest concern - the Eastern Church, he received the Byzantine Emperor John V Paleologus and great strides were made; possibly, too good for the emperor was so taken by Urban's holiness and his own need to have Rome behind the emperor in his battle against the Turks, that he converted to the Latin rite, abjuring his Greek Orthodox faith which, while great for the Church, left John powerless for the rest of the Byzantine empire did not go along with his conversion. Leaders of the Eastern Church demanded a council be convened, but Urban resisted for he and John had agreed a Latin Church would be established in Greece. The Pope and emperor had already settled on sending missionaries to the Greeks for that specific purpose. Yet, because no council was held, John became a paper tiger in his own land and no reconciliation was possible.
Urban had made inroads in reforming the curia and might have remained in Rome had it not been for the warring families and the mercenaries who made his stay there very, very difficult. Perugia rebelled and Urban excommunicated the city. To add injury to insult, Visconti stirred up the Romans in early 1370 to depose Urban and the Pope had to retreat to Viterbo. The handwriting was on the wall for the Pope could not properly conduct the business of the Church with a mere skeleton crew in Rome where there was so much unrest and the rest of the curia in France. He realized that for the sake of the Church he must return to Avignon, though he had so wanted the papacy back in Rome full-time. In addition, the 100 Year War was in full force again between England and France and Urban, always the peacemaker, felt he could mediate between the two countries better if he were back in Avignon. Thus inevitable came a reality when he appointed eight new cardinals in September, 1368 and six of them were French, only one a Roman. Despite the warnings of Saint Bridget of Sweden, who was given a message that if he truly decided to go back to Avignon he would soon die, Urban felt otherwise and feeling prompted by the Holy Spirit, he sailed from Corneto on September 5, 1370. Arriving at Marseilles two weeks later, he returned to Avignon on September 27, 1370 and a few weeks later, true to Bridget's prophecy, he became seriously ill and died on December 19, 1370. It was not the way Urban had wanted to end his papacy, but the climate in Europe at that time prevented him from staying put in either Avignon or Rome. It would be left to his successor Pope Gregory XI to put an end to the Babylonian Captivity in France and return the Holy See, lock, stock and barrell to Rome as we shall see in the next installment through the coaxing of another holy woman; not Saint Bridget who would die in 1373, but a fiesty religious from Siena named Catherine.