Pope Nicholas III
|Papacy began||25 November 1277|
|Papacy ended||22 August 1280|
|Created Cardinal||28 May 1244|
|Birth name||Giovanni Gaetano Orsini|
Rome, Papal States
|Died||22 August 1280
Viterbo, Papal States
|Coat of arms|
|Other popes named Nicholas|
|Papal styles of
Pope Nicholas III
|Reference style||His Holiness|
|Spoken style||Your Holiness|
|Religious style||Holy Father|
Pope Nicholas III (Latin: Nicholaus III; c. 1210/1220 – 22 August 1280), born Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, was the head of the Catholic Church from 25 November 1277 to his death in 1280. He was a Roman nobleman who had served under eight popes, been made cardinal-deacon of St. Nicola in Carcere Tulliano by Pope Innocent IV (1243–54), protector of the Franciscans by Pope Alexander IV (1254–61), inquisitor-general by Pope Urban IV (1261–64), and succeeded Pope John XXI (1276–77) after a six-month vacancy in the Holy See resolved in the papal election of 1277, largely through family influence.
Nicholas' brief pontificate was marked by several important events. He greatly strengthened the papal position in Italy. He concluded a concordat with Rudolph I of Habsburg in May 1278, by which the Romagna and the exarchate of Ravenna were guaranteed to the papacy. According to the chronist Bartholomew of Lucca, he discussed with Rudolph, in general terms at least, of splitting the German empire into four separate kingdoms - Lombardy, Burgundy, Tuscia and Germany - where Rudolph's kingdom would be made hereditary in addition to himself becoming Holy Roman Emperor. In July 1278 Nicholas III issued an epoch-making constitution for the government of Rome that forbade foreigners from taking civil office.
Nicholas' father had been a personal friend of Francis of Assisi, and he himself had to focus much of his attention on the Franciscan order. He issued the papal bull Exiit qui seminat on 14 August 1279 to settle the strife within the order between the parties of strict and loose observance. He repaired the Lateran Palace and the Vatican at enormous cost, and erected a beautiful country house at Soriano nel Cimino near Viterbo, where he died of a cardiovascular event (sources differ on whether it was a heart attack or a stroke).
Nicholas III, though a man of learning noted for his strength of character, was known for his excessive nepotism. He elevated three of his closest relatives to the cardinalate and gave others important positions. This nepotism was lampooned both by Dante and in contemporary cartoons, depicting him in his fine robes with three "little bears" (orsatti, a pun on the family name) hanging on below.
Portrayal in The Inferno
Dante, in The Inferno (of the Divine Comedy), talks briefly to Nicholas III, who was condemned to spend eternity in the Third Bolgia of the Eighth Circle of Hell, reserved for those who committed simony, the ecclesiastical crime of paying for offices or positions in the hierarchy of a church. In Dante's story, the Simoniacs are placed head-first in holes, flames burning on the soles of their feet (Canto XIX). Nicholas was the chief sinner in these pits, which is demonstrated by the height of the flames on his feet. At first he mistakes Dante for Pope Boniface VIII. When the confusion is cleared up, Nicholas informs Dante that he foresees the damnation (for simony) not only of Boniface VIII, but also Clement V, an even more corrupt pope.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- "ORSINI DEL BALZO E ORSINI DI PITIGLIANO". Enciclopedia genealogica del Mediterraneo (in Italian). Italian Genealogical Society. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
- George L. Williams, Papal Genealogy: The Families and Descendants of the Popes, (McFarland & Company Inc., 1998), 36.
- "Exiit qui seminat". The Franciscan Archive. 21 January 1997. Retrieved 24 January 2013.
- "Exiit qui seminat". Papal Encyclicals Online. Papal Encyclicals Online webmaster. Retrieved 24 January 2013.
- "Exiit qui seminat". Document Library. EWTN. Retrieved 24 January 2013.
- New Advent: Catholic Encyclopedia: Pope Nicholas III
- Papal Encyclicals Online: Pope Nicholas III 1277-1280 (list of his encyclicals)
|Catholic Church titles|
November 25, 1277 – August 22, 1280