Where was the center of the Roman Catholic Church located during the Middle Ages?  

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The center of the Catholic Church alternated between Rome and the town of Avignon in Southern France. At that time, the papacy was more of an overtly political institution than it is today. The Pope wasn't just the head of the Catholic Church; he was a powerful prince with his...

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The center of the Catholic Church alternated between Rome and the town of Avignon in Southern France. At that time, the papacy was more of an overtly political institution than it is today. The Pope wasn't just the head of the Catholic Church; he was a powerful prince with his own lands, armies, and sources of wealth. The papacy was thus a great prize, highly sought after by powerful noble families and monarchs alike.

Philip IV of France was one such monarch. He had been involved in a bitter conflict with Pope Boniface VIII. Philip scandalized the whole of Christendom by having Boniface arrested and imprisoned. Not long after being released, Boniface died, due largely to his maltreatment in captivity. This presented Philip with a golden opportunity to get his own man installed on the papal throne. And so he did, in the shape of Benedict IX, who duly freed Philip from his excommunication.

Unfortunately for Philip, Benedict died after only nine months as pope, so a replacement had to be found. Philip wanted Raymond Bertrand de Got to take over. However, the conclave convened to choose a new pope remained deadlocked, and so Philip broke the logjam by forcing the cardinals to accept de Got as the new pope, Clement V. As Clement refused to move to Rome, the papal administration was moved to Avignon.

Thus began the so-called Babylonian captivity of the Church. The Avignon papacy lasted from 1309 to 1377, with seven popes in total, all of them French.

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From 1309 until 1377, the pope resided in Avignon, France.  Before and after this time period, the pope resided in Rome.

Clement V was elected as pope.  He was French, and he refused to relocate to Rome.  He did not want to leave France.  He established the papal court in Avignon, France.  After Clement's death in 1314, six more popes resided in Avignon.  All of these popes were Frenchmen.  During this time, the pope and the French monarchy were closely aligned.

In 1377, the pope's residence moved back to Rome.  After this move back to Vatican City, there were tensions between French Catholics and Italian Catholics.  These tensions led to an unofficial split, as the French elected their own pope.  This new pope resided in Avignon, while the official pope continued to reside in Rome.

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