Papal Palace, Avignon, France. CCA-Share Alike 3. Detail from image by Jean-Marc Rosier,

study days

Avignon and the papacy: thirteenth to sixteenth centuries

  • Wednesday 28 September 2022
  • Sarah Fell Room, Friends House, 173-177 Euston Road, London NW1 2BJ
  • Lecturer: Dr Alexandra Gajewski

Within less than fifty years, between 1305 and c. 1340, Avignon developed from a prosperous medium-size merchant town into the residence of the pope. Over the following decades, the papal court attracted vast contingents of people, including cardinals, servants, bankers and all kinds of artists and craftsmen, from architects to goldsmiths to painters and tile makers. We will trace this development chronologically, beginning with the twelfth century, before the popes’ arrival when the city built its famous bridge. We will discuss in detail the changes the city underwent after the popes’ arrival, in particular the construction of the papal palace but also new churches, monasteries and palaces, as well as the works of art that could be found at the papal court, for example manuscripts and goldsmiths’ work. In 1378, after the death of Pope Gregory XI, who had settled the papacy back in Rome, two popes were elected by the cardinals, thus creating what came to be called the Great Schism. One of the popes, Clement VII, settled back in Avignon. We will examine this period and the effects of the schism on the art and architecture of the city. In 1403, the last Avignon pope, Benedict XIII, fled the city under the bombardment of the French army. However, Avignon remained a papal city until the French Revolution, and after 1403 the palace housed the papal legate (later the vice-legate). Our final lecture will consider the art and architecture in the city after the popes were no longer present.

1 Avignon before the popes: the twelfth century
2 The installation of the popes: when and why?
3 The heyday of the papal court in Avignon
4 The Great Schism and the departure of the popes from Avignon


Dr Alexandra Gajewski is Reviews Editor of the Burlington Magazine and lives in France, her main interest being mediaeval architecture. She has published on the Cistercian Abbey of Le Lys and on Cistercian architecture in Anjou and Cîteaux, inter alia. She completed a PhD in Gothic architecture in Northern Burgundy at the Courtauld Institute and is currently leading tours with a number of organisations.

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