The Popes of Avignon: A Century in Exile

Written by Edwin Mullins
Review by Sue Asher

In the 14th century, Avignon, a small Provençal town beside the Rhone River, became the site of the papal court. Because of political unrest in Italy, Pope Clement V was forced to flee Rome in 1309. Pope Gregory XI (the seventh of Avignon’s popes) was unable to return until 1377. After that, for thirty more years, antipopes kept their courts in Avignon. While histories dealing with this era will almost invariably mention these events, Mullins’s book instead discusses this turbulent century (Black Death, Hundred Years’ War, Petrarch) by using the story of the Avignon popes and the rise and decline of the city as the focal point. It is well-organized, clearly written and reads quickly. In relatively few pages it covers a lengthy period of time and touches on a broad spectrum of topics with particular emphasis on the lives/lifestyles of the “exiled” popes. Readers should not expect an in-depth treatment of the subject or of church politics, but it is an entertaining introduction to a complex and fascinating time.