The papacy

The perils of being pope

Rome in the 1st century AD pulsated with religion. The knowledge that they lived in a sacred city, protected by the gods, permeated the daily lives of its citizens. They would see oxen being led down cobbled streets to be sacrificed on marble altars or offerings of incense and wine being made when the gods or the emperor demanded. There were constant religious festivals. At the Lupercalia, childless women were beaten with goatskin thongs that promised fertility; at the Saturnalia, Romans shed their togas, drank heavily and gambled. Even non-citizens and slaves were obliged to take part in these religious ceremonies. In the darkened rooms of brick-and-stone tenements in the

The rocky path to Christian dominance in Europe

Mutilated, strangled, suffocated or beaten to death: these are just some of the methods used to get rid of popes in the early medieval period. An incredible 33 per cent of all anointed popes between 872 and 1012 died in suspicious circumstances. It’s safe to say that the path to Christian dominance in Europe was rocky at times. Peter Heather’s revisionist history of the rise of medieval Christendom directs attention to these moments. Though the subtitle is ‘The Triumph of a Religion’, his account is anything but triumphalist. In fact his argument gains momentum through the challenge it poses to simplistic accounts of Christian ascendency. Pope Gregory the Great forced