Phillip had to capture, torture and contribute to the untimely death of two popes (Boniface VIII and Benedict XI) before he succeeded in having a compliant Vicar of Christ elected by the church and in his employ in the person of Clement V. This worthy refused to move to Rome, and brought the Papal court to Avignon. There, in the austere splendour of the Palace of the Popes, the church came increasingly under the influence of the French crown, and its officials lived the life of princes rather than servants of God. The sale of absolutions and indulgences, corruption of the process of clerical appointments and the failure of these sons of the church to follow their vows of chastity and poverty were widespread and resented.
In the end, this schism in the Roman Catholic Church would see the Papacy skulk back to Rome (once the fight for supremacy between two or three competing popes was resolved) stripped of most of its temporal power and authority. That had been secured in the hands of the monarchs of Europe, principally those of England and France. This power was jealously guarded until the tides of history took away the 'Divine Right of Kings' (and six inches of their stature) first from Charles I of England and later Louis XVI of France. The Holy See though would retain spiritual power over its flock until the 20th Century, though by this time it was reduced to railing against the advancement of science, the emancipation of women and of protecting from justice those of its number who preyed on children.
Within the crenelated walls of Avignon, the Palace of the Popes looms unwelcomingly stark and imposing, its massive walls glowering over the Place de Palais. These stout defensive walls no doubt insulated its denizens from the world outside. The interiors, so grand and imposing, though now stripped of much of their luxurious splendour, would have been a testament to the greatness of the Papacy to its supplicants and supporters.
Avignon is also renowned for its bridge, of which but four of twenty-two arches remain. The original bridge dates from the 12th Century, but was regularly broken by flooding. It spanned the Rhône between Avignon and Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, crossing the river channels and small islands in a grand curve nearly a kilometre in length. On the far side of the river, only the gatehouse at Tour Philippe-le-Bel remains standing. The correct name is Pont Saint-Bénézet, named for Saint Bénézet, a shepherd boy from the Ardèche, whose legend contends that whist tending his flock, he heard the voice of Jesus Christ beseeching that he build a bridge across the river. At first ridiculed, he allegedly "proved" divine inspiration by miraculously levitating a huge block of stone. Thus he won support for his project and formed a Bridge Brotherhood to oversee its construction. Tradition has it that his body interred in the Saint Nicholas Chapel, which stands on the second pier of the bridge to this day. It is entirely in keeping with the traditions of Catholic Sainthood that a miraculous bridge builder is signified by a broken bridge.
On the day of our visit, there was little evidence of anybody dancing, despite the clear promises of the popular song!
Sur le Pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse, l'on y danse
Sur le Pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse tous en rond.