Tor Crescenza, home of Cola di Rienzo in Rome
Piero Boitani


Rome is a city of diminished importance in the fourteenth century, following the transfer of the papacy to Avignon in 1309. The Roman literary history of our period opens with Cola di Rienzo, supposedly the natural child of the Emperor Henry VII but actually the son of a Roman innkeeper. Cheered on, in the early stages, by Petrarch, Cola di Rienzo asserted the right of the citizens of Rome to elect their own emperor. Following disruptions caused by the plague of 1348 and the papal jubilee of 1350, Cola spend two years as prisoner of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV at Prague. Following some time in Avignon, he reentered Rome in triumph on 1 August 1354; he was killed by the mob three months later. At the far end of our period, 1416, Margery Kempe, returning from pilgrimage to the Holy Land, took up residence at the English Hospice of St Thomas (established to offer better conditions than those available to the million pilgrims who had flocked to Rome in 1350). The sometime residence of Bridget of Sweden lay close by, and was visited by Margery Kempe. Bridget of Sweden had died at Rome on 23 July 1373; her body was first buried in San Lorenzo in Panisperna before being processed slowly back to Sweden (via Danzig). Bridget’s effective replacement as in-house mystic at Rome, Catherine of Siena, enjoyed a turbulent relationship with the papacy but died at Rome on 29 April 1380; she lies buried at Santa Maria sopra Minerva. The religious and literary history of Rome in this period is thus intimately associated with the two women (the only women canonized in this century) who upheld the rights of Rome against Avignon.   

Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome

Taragonomb of Catherine of Siena, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome