On a hilltop in the region of Lazio lies the village of Anagni, where a violent act changed the fates of empires.
The history of Anagni is very ancient, and it roots its origins back in the ancient inhabitants of this area, the Ernici, who established this town as their capital before being subjugated by the Romans, who finally conquered Anagni in 306 BCE.
From here, the history of this small town goes long and troubled until the 12th-13th centuries CE, when the place reached its peak, becoming a papal residence and renowned birthplace of three popes-Alexander IV, Gregory IX and Boniface VIII.
It is with the latter, Boniface VII, that the little village witnesses a shocking episode.
In those days, the king of France and the papal state did not get along very well.
Because of increasing tensions, King Philip IV of France sent a delegation led by his ally Colonna Sciarra and the royal councillor Guillaume de Nogaret. The emissaries had the task of silencing the heavy accusations made by the church against their king and preventing the imminent ex-communication of the latter by deposing Pope Boniface VIII.
Pope Bonifacio VIII
In September 1303 CE, French forces entered Anagni. They broke down the church doors, where the pope had taken refuge by barricading himself.
Cattedrale Santa Maria (Carlo Ribaudo, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
Boniface VIII was arrested and subjected to two days of insults and humiliation that, according to tradition, led to the famous episode in which Sciarra Colonna slapped the Pope, thus giving the name ‘Outrage of Anagni’.
This was an important event because although Pope Boniface was freed again due to the threats he had been subjected to, he later agreed to move the papal residence to Avignon in France, initiating a period of French control over the papacy.
What just happened was, of course, a shocking moment in history when the mighty empire of the Vatican was humiliated and forced to change location.
Particular of Bonifacio VIII on Anagni's Cathedral (Antmoose, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
Today we admire the artistic masterpiece of the Romanesque cathedral, where the Pope took refuge before being caught by French forces who entered after burning down the front door. Noteworthy is the cathedral’s crypt boasting an incredible Lombard-Gothic masterpiece, a unique medieval gem known as the “Sistine Chapel of Middle Ages”.
Inside of Santa Maria Cathedral (Livioandronico2013, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)