Pope Adrian IV (c. AD 1100 – 1159)

[#14 in the series This Week in English Catholic History: Week of December 2 – 8]



HIS week, on December 4, the anniversary of his election as Pope, we remember Pope Adrian IV. Pope Adrian IV is the only Briton ever elected Pope.

Pope Adrian IV was born Nicholas Breakspear, son of Robert Breakspear, in Abbotts Langley, England. Robert later became a monk at St. Albans. Nicholas was refused admission to his local monastery, so he traveled to France and became a canon regular at St. Rufus monastery near Arles. He eventually became prior, then abbot in 1145.

As abbot, he gained a reputation as a reformer and strict disciplinarian. His reforming zeal led monks to lodge complaints against him in Rome, but this actually impressed Pope Eugene III, who named him Cardinal Bishop of Albano in 1149. His eloquence, talent, and “outstanding good looks” also helped with his selection.

From 1152 to 1154, Nicholas was stationed in Scandinavia as papal legate, where he created the Diocese of Hamar and founded cathedral schools that lasted for centuries.

In 1154, Nicholas was elected Pope and became Pope Adrian IV. Pope Adrian immediately started taking down Arnold of Brescia, an Augustinian prior. Arnold preached against the papacy’s possession of land and political power, saying it made the Church worldly. He assisted a coup that deposed the Church and founded a republic. Arnold taught that clergy who owned property had no power to perform the Sacraments and through Arnold’s efforts the previous pope, Eugene, had to go temporarily into exile. For all this, Pope Adrian excommunicated Arnold, ending his heretical reign of terror. Or so you would think.

Arnold’s adherents persisted. Shortly before Palm Sunday 1155, things got so bad a cardinal was actually murdered in Rome by Arnold’s supporters. Pope Adrian bravely responded by placing the entire city of Rome under interdict during Holy Week. Exceptions were made for baptizing infants and the absolution of the dying, but otherwise all sacraments and services were forbidden. Even dead bodies couldn’t be buried on consecrated ground. It also greatly lessened the number of pilgrims to Rome, which hurt the city’s economy. It worked: the city turned on Arnold.

Pope Adrian IV also allied with Frederick Barbarossa, who stormed Rome, captured Arnold, and turned him over to the Roman Curia. The Roman Curia tried and convicted Arnold. He was hanged, his body burnt, and his ashes were cast into the River Tiber.

In June 1155, Pope Adrian IV crowned Frederick Barbarossa as Holy Roman Emperor.

He died in 1159, either by choking on a fly in his wine or of quinsy (pus due to an infection behind the tonsil). At the time of his death, he was about to excommunicate the Emperor. His successor Alexander III followed his wishes and excommunicated the Emperor.

Two other famous contemporaries of Pope Adrian IV were Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine.


For a weekly dose of English Catholic Patrimony, if your Ordinariate parish or parochial community would like to receive This Week in English Catholic History in advance in single page black-and-white pdf form (perhaps inserted in the bulletin), please contact us at <foster1452@gmail.com>, and we will be happy to oblige, gratis

Written by Mr. John Burford, IV and Dr. Foster Lerner of Incarnation Catholic Church in Orlando, Florida; a parish of The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter © 2018.

image1 (1)        Screen Shot 2018-09-24 at 9.06.47 AM

John (wearing purple tie, above) is the founder and owner of Magnolia Prep, an SAT and ACT tutoring business with branches in several major US cities. Foster (wearing golden tie, above) holds a Doctorate in Medicine from  Nova Southeastern University Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine, and is currently pursuing post-graduate studies in medicine.


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