Today in Catholic History – Pope Clement V excommunicates Venice

In a war with Venice and their Doge Pietro Gradeningo over political control of Ferrara in Italy, Pope Clement V issued an excommunication of the entire city of Venice on 27 March 1309 – an ecclesiastical penalty that would not be lifted until 17 February 1313.

Clement decreed not only that the Venetians were to be considered outside of the Church but also annulled trade agreements and religious services. When the excommunication failed to convince Venice to accept Papal control of Ferrara, a crusade against Venice would be ordered a few months later.

At this time, ecclesiastical penalties such as excommunication or interdict, the prohibition on the celebration of sacraments in a particular area, were seen as effective means of encouraging a population to persuade its leaders to change their ways and accept papal demands.

Due to the problems caused by the animosity of the papacy and the threats of other Italian city states who wished to take advantage of the pope’s crusade, the citizens of Venice rebelled against their Doge/leader. However, attempts to overthrow the Venetian government failed and contributed to the establishment of the Council of Ten as an emergency, but eventually permanent, government for the city state.

The death of the Doge and willingness of the new Venetian leadership to accept Papal control over Ferrara brought about the lifting of the excommunication. Indeed, when Doge Pietro Gradeningo died religious burials were prohibited by the excommunication and he would be laid in an unmarked grave.

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