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Papal election, September 1276

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Title: Papal election, September 1276  
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Subject: Viterbo Papacy, Papal elections, Papal conclave, 1334, Pope John XXI, Papal conclave, 1303
Collection: 1276 Elections, 1276 in Europe, 13Th-Century Roman Catholicism, Papal Elections, Viterbo Papacy
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Papal election, September 1276

The papal election of September, 1276 is the only papal election to be the third election of the same year. The election was also the first non-conclave, since the establishment of the papal conclave after the papal election, 1268–1271.[1]


  • Election of John XXI 1
  • Legend about Pope-elect Gregory XI 2
  • Cardinal electors 3
    • Died during sede vacante 3.1
  • Absentee 4
  • Notes 5
  • Bibliography 6

Election of John XXI

Pope Hadrian V died on August 18, 1276, at Viterbo after pontificate of only 38 days without being consecrated. The only act of his pontificate was the suspension of the constitution Ubi periculum about the conclave.

The number of the cardinals present at Viterbo at the death of Adrian V is unclear, but, except Simon de Brion, who acted as legate in France, at least cardinal Vicedomino de Vicedominis (and perhaps also Riccardo Annibaldi) was absent at Rome due to illness. The rest of the cardinals decided to await on his arrival.[2] Vicedomino joined the electors at the beginning of September, and the electors finally started to proceed. However, the gravely ill Cardinal Vicedomino died on September 6.[3]

The remaining 10 (nine?[4]) electors continued to proceed. They were divided into two national parties: French and Italian.[5] Neither of them had sufficient number of votes to elect his own candidate. On advice of Giovanni Gaetano Orsini the cardinals finally elected the only neutral cardinal, Portuguese Pedro Juliani, bishop of Frascati. The contemporary chronicles do not agree on the date of his election: dates between September 8 and September 17 are given.[6] Most probable seems to be September 15.[7] Due to errors in the numbering of the popes named John in the contemporary catalogs, the elect took the name John XXI, although there was no John XX. He was solemnly crowned by his grand elector Orsini on September 20.

Legend about Pope-elect Gregory XI

According to the later account created probably in the ecclesiastical circles of Piacenza and popularized by Franciscan historians, Cardinal Vicedomino de Vicedomini, bishop of Palestrina and (ostensibly) dean of the College of Cardinals, was elected pope on September 5 and took the name Gregory XI in honour of his uncle Gregory X, but he died within hours of his election, before it could be proclaimed.[8]

This story, though repeated by some notable authors (incl. Lorenzo Cardella, Gaetano Moroni or more recently Francis Burkle-Young[9]) has several weak points. The contemporary accounts know nothing about "pope-elect Gregory XI". His election has not been recorded by any chronicle, and also Pope John XXI in the bull in which he announced his election makes no reference to this fact.[10] On the contrary, he explicitly calls Hadrian V his direct predecessor.[11] Medieval necrology of the Cathedral of Piacenza recorded only: obiit Vicedominus quondam ep. Paenestrinus anno 1276..., without any allusion to his election to the papacy.[12] False or at least dubious are also other details of the story. Vicedomino ostensibly was elected under the influence of his relative, Cardinal-Bishop of Sabina Giovanni Visconti. No such cardinal existed at that time. The suburbicarian see of Sabina was occupied by Bertrand de Saint Martin, who is well attested in the curial documents until 1277.[13] Also the statement, that Vicedomino was dean of the College (the first in the order of precedence) seems to be inaccurate – on the bulls of Gregory X which contain subscriptions of the cardinals he is always preceded by Pedro Juliani.[14]

All these facts indicate, that the story about pope-elect Gregory XI is rather unlikely to be true.[15] Perhaps this is a reminiscence of the candidature of Vicedomino in this election.[16]

Cardinal electors

Elector Nationality Order and title Elevated Elevator Notes
João Pedro Julião Portuguese Cardinal-Bishop of Frascati June 3, 1273 Gregory X Elected Pope John XXI
Bertrand de Saint-Martin O.S.B. French Cardinal-Bishop of Sabina June 3, 1273 Gregory X
Simone Paltineri Paduan Cardinal-priest of Ss. Silvestro e Martino December 17, 1261 Urban IV Protopriest
Anchero Pantaleone French Cardinal-priest of S. Prassede May 1262 Urban IV Cardinal-nephew
Guillaume de Bray French Cardinal-priest of S. Marco May 1262 Urban IV
Riccardo Annibaldi Roman Cardinal-deacon of S. Angelo in Pescheria 1238 Gregory IX Protodeacon, Archpriest of the patriarchal Vatican Basilica and protector of Augustinians, Cardinal-nephew
Giovanni Gaetano Orsini Roman Cardinal-deacon of S. Nicola in Carcere Tulliano May 28, 1244 Innocent IV Inquisitor General and protector of Franciscans; Future Pope Nicholas III
Giacomo Savelli Roman Cardinal-deacon of S. Maria in Cosmedin December 17, 1261 Urban IV Future Pope Honorius IV
Goffredo da Alatri Alatri Cardinal-deacon of S. Giorgio in Velabro December 17, 1261 Urban IV
Matteo Orsini Rosso Roman Cardinal-deacon of S. Maria in Portico May 1262 Urban IV Nephew of Pope Nicholas III

Died during sede vacante

Elector Nationality Order and title Elevated Elevator Notes
Vicedomino de Vicedominis Piacenza Cardinal-Bishop of Palestrina June 3, 1273 Gregory X Cardinal-nephew; died on September 6, 1276


Elector Nationality Order and Title Elevated Elevator Notes
Simon de Brion French Cardinal-priest of S. Cecilia December 17, 1261 Urban IV Legate in the Kingdom of France; Future Pope Martin IV


  1. ^ Miranda, Salvator. 1998. "Election of August 19 - September 8, 1276: (John XXI)."
  2. ^ Stapper, p. 33
  3. ^ Stapper, pp. 33-34; cfr. Miranda, Salvator. 1998. "Election of August 19 - September 8, 1276: (John XXI)." (note 1)
  4. ^ It is not possible to ascertain whether Cardinal Annibaldi participated or not in the election. Eubel and Stapper do not count him, indicating that he had died earlier in that year. But the necrology of the church S. Spirito in Sassia in Rome registered his death under October 4, see Necrologi e libri affini della Provincia Romana, ed. Pietro Egidi (Roma : Forzani e c., tipografi del Senato, 1908-1914), I, p. 152.
  5. ^ Stapper, p. 35-36
  6. ^ Cfr. Stapper, p. 36-37; Dr. J.P. Adams Sede Vacante 1276
  7. ^ Eubel, p. 9; Stapper, p. 37
  8. ^ The story seems to be mentioned for the first time by 17th-century chronicler of the Order of Friars Minor Luke Wadding; it was later included by P. Campi in his Historia ecclesiastica di Piacenza (1659), then by Augustino Oldoini in 1677 edition of the work of Alphonsus Ciacconius Vitæ et res gestæ Pontificum Romanorum et S.R.E. Cardinalium, and later also by other authors; cfr. Sede Vacante 1276Dr J. P. Adams ; and Stapper, p. 34 note 1.
  9. ^ F. Burkle-Young is an author of the notes to the papal elections and conclaves on the cardinals' site
  10. ^ Stapper, p. 34
  11. ^ Dr. J.P. Adams Sede Vacante 1276
  12. ^ Stapper, p. 33 note 5.
  13. ^ Stapper, p. 34 and p. 35-36 note 3; cfr. Eubel, p. 9 note 3 and p. 38.
  14. ^ Cfr. the bulls published in Monumenta Boica, vol. 12, p. 138, and vol. 17 pp. 23-24.
  15. ^ According to J.P. Adams Sede Vacante 1276 this story is "undoubtedely a pious fiction". Similar conclusion also by Stapper, p. 34.
  16. ^ According to R.Sternfeld, Der Kardinal Johann Gaetan Orsini (Papst Nikolaus III.) 1244-1277, Berlin 1905, p. 252, Cardinal Vicedomino in summer of 1276 was counted among papabili.


  • Richard Stapper, Papst Johannes XXI, Kirchengeschichtliche Studien, Munster 1898
  • Konrad Eubel, Hierarchia Catholica Medii Aevi, vol. I, 1913
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