There have been so many pontiffs with the name Gregory that it requires either a prodigious memory or a profound knowledge of the history of the Popes to remember the respective historic periods and the events that they refer to. Of the sixteen Popes with this name (the first four being saints) Gregory XI, Pietro Roger of Beufort, whom we shall discuss here, was quite important in the history of the church. We are in the 60’s of the fourteenth century: The situation in France is catastrophic as a result of the One Hundred Years War and of the struggles between the Armagnacchi – faithful to the Duke of Orléans, and the Borgognoni – anglophiles. In Italy the situation was dramatic as the rights of the church were being contested by local potentates.
It was Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), a member of the third order of Dominicans, contemporary of Petrarca and, like him, a lover of peace (if there had been a Nobel Prize for peace at the time, both would have merited it) who would contribute, through her inspired letters, to Pope Gregory’s decision to bring the Holy See back to Rome from Avignone in an attempt to pacify Italy. The Pope was returning from Genoa where he had spent 10 days and had met with Saint Catherine, when he ran into bad weather and was forced to stop along with his escort of Genoans, Pisans, and Neapolitans of Queen Giovanna I of Angiò, in Portofino. Here, on All Saints Day of 1376 he celebrated a solemn pon- tifical mass in the presence of the sailors of the galley that comprised his escort at the Benedictine abbey of Cervara. The Pope remained for only four days as the guest of Portofino and the monks of Cervara. The monastery had been foun- ded just fifteen years before by the archbishop of Genoa Guido Scetten. Straight up vertically from the reef with a gorgeous view of the point and of that lake in the sea which is the bay of Portofino, Cervara is one of those places which is diffi- cult to leave wit ho ut freling nostalgia.
Certainly our Pope must have thought about those moments of repose and meditation when, obligated to return to Rome, he was caught once again in a ter- rible storm while on the Tirrenian sea (the historian Anton Maria Muratori writes of it) that sank several boats in his escort and in which many in his entourage perished, among them the bishop of Luni. After having found for afew days a long sought peace at Cervara, the Pope received an enthusiastic if ephemeral welcome in Rome. He would soon be once again immersed in the chaos of the Italian political battles. The aftermath of his death saw the be- ginning of what for the church would be the terrible schism of the West (1378- 1417). The Hundred Years War, to which he tried in vain to play the role of peace- maker, would continue and the European powers would be pitted against one another in continual struggle.
1329 – 1378
Portofino, a World apart.