Pope Nicholas III

Pope Nicholas III
Nicholas III
Papacy began November 25, 1277
Papacy ended August 22, 1280
Predecessor John XXI
Successor Martin IV
Personal details
Birth name Giovanni Gaetano Orsini
Born ca. 1210/1220
Died August 22, 1280(1280-08-22)
Viterbo, Papal States
Other Popes named Nicholas
Papal styles of
Pope Nicholas III
C o a Niccolo III.svg
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style None

Pope Nicholas III (Rome, 1210/1220 – August 22, 1280), born Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, Pope from November 25, 1277 to his death in 1280, was a Roman nobleman who had served under eight Popes, been made cardinal-deacon of St. Nicola in Carcere Tulliano by Pope Innocent IV (1243–54), protector of the Franciscans by Pope Alexander IV (1254–61), inquisitor-general by Pope Urban IV (1261–64), and succeeded Pope John XXI (1276–77), largely through family influence, after a six-month vacancy in the Holy See.



Nicholas' brief pontificate was marked by several important events. A born politician, he greatly strengthened the papal position in Italy. He concluded a concordat with Rudolph I of Habsburg (1273–91) in May 1278, by which the Romagna and the exarchate of Ravenna were guaranteed to the Pope. According to the chronist Bartholomew of Lucca he discussed with Rudolph, in general terms at least, splitting the German Empire into four separate kingdoms - Lombardy, Burgundy, Tuscia and Germany, where Rudolph's kingdom would be made hereditary in addition to himself becoming emperor. In July 1278 Nicholas III issued an epoch-making constitution for the government of Rome, which forbade foreigners taking civil office.

Ecclesiastical milestones

Pope Nicholas III cameo.

Nicholas' father had been a personal friend of Francis of Assisi, and he himself had to focus much of his attention on the Franciscan order. He issued the Papal bull Exiit qui seminat on August 14, 1279 to settle the strife within the order between the parties of strict and loose observance. He repaired the Lateran Palace and the Vatican at enormous cost, and erected a beautiful country house at Soriano near Viterbo, where he died of a cardiovascular event (the sources differ on whether it was a heart attack or a stroke).


Nicholas III, though a man of learning noted for his strength of character, was known for his excessive nepotism. He elevated three of his closest relatives to the cardinalate, and gave others important positions. This nepotism was lampooned both by Dante and in contemporary cartoon depicting the Pope in his fine robes and three "little bears" (orsatti) hanging on below, a pun on the family name. His alleged discussions with king Rudolph could be interpreted as an attempt to found principalities for his nephews and other relations.[citation needed]

After his death, his namesake Giovanni Gaetano Orsini was appointed a cardinal by Pope John XXII.

Portrayal in The Inferno

Dante in The Inferno (of the Divine Comedy) talks briefly to Pope Nicholas III, who was condemned to spend eternity in the Third Bolgia of the Eighth Circle of Hell, reserved for those who committed Simony, the ecclesiastical crime and personal sin of paying for offices or positions in the hierarchy of a church. In Dante's story, the Simoniacs are placed head-first in holes, flames burning on the soles of their feet (Canto XIX). In these pits, Nicholas III was the chief sinner, which is demonstrated by the height of the flames on his feet. At first he mistakes Dante for Pope Boniface VIII. When the confusion is cleared up, Nicholas informs Dante that he foresees the damnation (for simony) of not only Boniface VIII but Pope Clement V, an even more corrupt pope, as well.


Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
John XXI
Succeeded by
Martin IV

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Pope Nicholas III —     Pope Nicholas III     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► Pope Nicholas III     (GIOVANNI GAETANI ORSINI)     Born at Rome, c. 1216; elected at Viterbo, 25 November, 1277; died at Soriano, near Viterbo, 22 August, 1280. His father, Matteo Rosso, was of …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Pope Callistus III —     Pope Callistus III     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► Pope Callistus III     Born near Valencia in Spain, 31 December, 1378; died at Rome, 6 August, 1458. Alfonso de Borja (Ital. Borgia), as he was known before he became pope, came of a noble… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Pope Sergius III —     Pope Sergius III     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► Pope Sergius III     Date of birth unknown; consecrated 29 Jan., 904; d. 14 April, 911. He was a Roman of noble birth and the son of Benedict. He became a strong upholder of the party opposed to… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Pope Victor III — Victor III Papacy began May 24, 1086 Papacy ended September 16, 1087 Predecessor …   Wikipedia

  • Pope Alexander III — Alexander III Papacy began September 7, 1159 Papacy ended August 30, 1181 Predecessor Adrian IV …   Wikipedia

  • Pope Clement III — Clement III Papacy began December 19, 1187 Papacy ended March 20, 1191 Predecessor Gregory VIII …   Wikipedia

  • Pope Callixtus III — Infobox Pope English name=Calixtus III birth name=Alfonso de Borja term start=April 8, 1455 term end=August 6, 1458 predecessor=Nicholas V successor=Pius II birth date=birth date|1378|12|31|mf=y birthplace= Xàtiva, València, Spain dead=dead|death …   Wikipedia

  • Pope Benedict III — Infobox Pope English name=Benedict III birth name=??? term start=September 29, 855 term end=April 17, 858 predecessor=Leo IV successor=Nicholas I birth date=??? birthplace=Rome, Italy dead=dead|death date=death date|858|4|17|mf=y deathplace=???… …   Wikipedia

  • Pope Nicholas IV — Nicholas IV Papacy began February 22, 1288 Papacy ended April 4, 1292 Predecessor Honorius IV Successor …   Wikipedia

  • Nicholas III —     Pope Nicholas III     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► Pope Nicholas III     (GIOVANNI GAETANI ORSINI)     Born at Rome, c. 1216; elected at Viterbo, 25 November, 1277; died at Soriano, near Viterbo, 22 August, 1280. His father, Matteo Rosso, was of …   Catholic encyclopedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”