Oliff’s Life

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Three living Archbishops of Canterbury and two living Popes. We live in different times.

This year has seen changes at the head of both the Anglican and Catholic communions, generating more than usual optimism: even euphoria as all within both churches look to the future.

Catholics in particular have seen dramatic unexpected changes akin to a ‘spring-clean’ in the approach that Pope Francis has brought to the Papal role.

As a non-Catholic I found it uplifting to see His Holiness embracing the mood in St Peter’s Square, meeting believers without the use of a bullet-proof ‘Pope-mobile’ and giving an unprecedented thumbs-up to the world’s media.

He is the first non-European Pontiff since the year 741, one fact that fired my imagination in the account of the Pope as a magnificent and controversial role in world history.

One of my favourite European cities is Avignon in southern France which seems to have been built around the medieval and gothic Palais des Papes – the Papal residence of Western Christianity during the 14th century.

Including St Peter, there have been 266 Popes, one of whom was English.

Pope Adrian IV was born Nicholas Breakspear (or Breakspeare) in about 1100 in Abbots Langley, being educated in St Albans. Indeed, if one were to visit the city, his name appears everywhere.

His Papacy ran from December 4, 1154, until September 1, 1159. I’ll leave the rest for you to discover. So far there is not one single person who I know who was aware of this Englishman who ruled a body of people greater in power than that of any king or queen. He likely died as a result of a throat abscess – though folklore suggests he choked to death after swallowing a fly that had found itself in his wine glass of wine.