The story of the English Pope

It was on this day – 1st September 1159 – that Pope Adrian IV passed away – the first and only Englishman to have occupied the papal throne.  He is recorded as being born at Bedmond Farm in Bedmond, a village in Hertfordshire, England at around 1100AD.  The site where his home stood is now marked by a plaque. He received his early education at the Abbey School at nearby St Albans community.  From this beginning he went to Paris and later became a ‘canon regular’ of the cloister of St Rufus monastery near Arles. He rose to be prior and was then soon unanimously elected abbot. From 1152 to 1154 Nicholas was in Scandinavia establishing an independent archepiscopal see for Norway. On his return to Rome, he was received with great honour by Pope Anastasius IV and on the death of Anastasius, Nicholas was chosen as pope on 3rd December 1154.  He took the name Adrian IV.

His throne was not an easy one with many challenges and an anti-papal faction in Rome. Disorder within the city had led to the murder of a cardinal which prompted Adrian, shortly before Palm Sunday in 1155, to take the unheard-of step of putting Rome under a ban that prohibited persons, certain active Church individuals and/or groups from participating in certain rites, or that the rites and services of the church were banished from having validity in certain territories for a limited or extended time.

Arnold of Brescia, King William of Sicily, Frederick Barbarossa and the Italian barons gave the English pope many challenges. Arnold’s followers took Rome. After they assassinated Cardinal Gerardus in broad daylight, Pope Adrian IV broke all precedent and placed the city under interdict. Eventually it capitulated to him.  Adrian’s most controversial act was a bull that allowed Henry II of England to annex Ireland to his kingdom. That decision left an aftertaste of bitterness that lingers to this day, more than 800 years later.

According to one report, Adrian IV died after choking on a fly in his wine, but quinsy (an inflammation of the tonsils) is the more commonly accepted explanation.

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