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(ävēnyôN`), city (1990 pop. 86,440), capital of Vaucluse dept., SE France, on the Rhône River. It is a farm market with a wine trade and a great variety of manufactures. Located in (but never a part of) the Comtat Venaissin, it was the papal see during the Babylonian captivity, from 1309 to 1378 (see papacypapacy
, office of the pope, head of the Roman Catholic Church. He is pope by reason of being bishop of Rome and thus, according to Roman Catholic belief, successor in the see of Rome (the Holy See) to its first bishop, St. Peter.
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), and the residence of several antipopes from 1378 to 1408 (see Schism, GreatSchism, Great,
or Schism of the West,
division in the Roman Catholic Church from 1378 to 1417. There was no question of faith or practice involved; the schism was a matter of persons and politics.
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). Pope Clement VI bought (1348) full title to Avignon from the countess of Provence. After the Great Schism, Avignon was nominally ruled by papal legates, but the citizens actually governed themselves. The city became an archiepiscopal see in 1475. In 1791, after a plebiscite, it was incorporated into France. One of the loveliest of French cities, Avignon is surrounded by ramparts (12th and 14th cent.) and has many old churches. The beautiful Gothic papal palace was built (14th cent.) atop a hill to serve as residence, fortress, and church. A fragment of a 12th-century bridge across the Rhône remains. Avignon was celebrated by Petrarch, who resided at the court of Clement VI. The city has a well-known theater festival.
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Avignon (France)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Avignon, a small city in southeastern France, found itself on the battle lines of various regional rulers through the first millennium of the Common Era. It acquired some additional importance in the thirteenth century. Opposing the entrance of French forces attempting to root the Albigensian heretics from the mountains of southeastern France, Avignon was forced to tear down its walls and fill up the moat, leaving it essentially defenseless. By the end of the century, the city had come under the hegemony of the king of Naples.

Early in the fourteenth century, a struggle arose between the king of France and claims of papal authority in temporal affairs. The popes lost. Boniface VIII (r. 1294–1303) was taken prisoner by King Philip the Fair (r. 1285–1314). In 1305 a Frenchman was elected pope, taking the name Clement V (r. 1305–1314). He reversed a number of papal pronouncements against Philip and then, in 1309, moved the seat of the papacy to Avignon. Although Avignon was not formally French territory, the move signaled to all the new role of France in directing papal decisions. In the few years left to the pair, Philip coerced Clement’s participation in the destruction of the Order of Templars.

The papacy appeared to thrive in Avignon. In stages, successive popes built an impressive palace. The gothic, fortress-like building was dominated by a set of linked towers. Artists from Sienna were brought to decorate the palace with a number of frescos. The town prospered, and a university rose to prominence. In 1348, Clement VI (r. 1342–1352) formally purchased the city from Naples and incorporated it into the territory of the Papal States.

The struggle between church leaders in Rome and Avignon resulted at the end of the 1370s in the naming of two popes, one residing in Rome and one in Avignon. The different countries of Europe lined up behind their favorite. As each pope died and a successor was elected, the scandal of the division became unacceptable to all. A council was called to meet at Pisa in 1409. The council declared both popes deposed and elected a new, third pope. Neither of the two popes accepted their deposition, and Europe now lined up behind three popes. A new council met at Constance in 1414. It was able to heal the schism by deposing two of the papal claimants and allowing the third to resign. It then elected a new pope who took the name Martin V (r. 1417–1431). The resignation of Gregory XII, the pope residing in Rome, meant that his lineage would be remembered as the legitimate one, while the popes who resided in Avignon from 1378 onward were declared anti-popes.

The healing of the Great Schism of the papal office and its reestablishment in Rome led to the renewal of the struggle between the rulers of France and the pope. Although Avignon was formally considered papal territory, the French asserted their hegemony. Highlights of the struggle included Louis XIV’s seizure and subsequent declaration of Avignon as an integral part of the Kingdom of France in 1663. An official and final determination of Avignon’s status came in 1797, following the French Revolution, when the pope was forced to renounce all rights to the city. For a time, even the city’s status as the seat of an archbishop was lost, but it was reestablished in 1822.

Today, the Palace of the Popes survives as the largest gothic palace in Europe and a major tourist site. After many years of use as a barracks, it was turned into a museum and a monument to an important era in French and Italian history.


Calmann, Marianne. Avignon. London: Allison & Busby, 2000.
Housley, Norman. The Avignon Papacy and the Crusades, 1305–1378. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.
Renouard, Yves. The Avignon Papacy, 1305–1403. London: Faber & Faber, 1970.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


location of alternate papacy (1309–1377). [Fr. Hist.: Bishop, 376]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a city in SE France, on the Rhône: seat of the papacy (1309--77); famous 12th-century bridge, now partly destroyed. Pop.: 85 935 (1999)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005