Honorius III was elected pope by the method of compromise. This means that the cardinals entrusted the choice of the next pope to a committee. In this case the committee was composed of Ugolino, cardinal-bishop of Ostia, and Guido, cardinal-bishop of Praeneste. The two chose the aged Cencio Savelli.
Cencio Savelli was born in Rome of a powerful family. As a very young man he entered the ranks of the clergy and rose to be canon of St. Mary Major, cardinal-deacon and cardinal-priest. He worked for Cardinal Hyacinth Bobo, and when Hyacinth became Pope Celestine III, Cencio became his chamberlain, or prime minister. While chamberlain, he drew up a tax list which was of great value to the papal government. After Celestine's death Innocent III likewise made use of Cencio's capable services.
Cencio was about sixty-eight years old when chosen pope, and he accepted the honor with reluctance. He was consecrated as Honorius III on July 24,1216, at Perugia and was crowned at Rome on August 61.
Honorius III was an attractive personality. He combined love of learning, a practical aptitude for affairs, and a charming kindliness. Though old Honorius threw himself into the work of ruling the Church with plenty of vigor. He was determined to carry out his great predecessor's plan for a new crusade, and he made great efforts to get it under way. In this he was not particularly successful. Emperor Frederick II, who had vowed to go on the crusade and was its natural leader, dilly-dallied and hemmed and hawed down to the death of Honorius. Meanwhile the ambitious monarch secured the imperial coronation from the hopeful Honorius on November 22, 1220. In 1217 King Andrew of Hungary led a group of knights to the Holy Land, but accomplished little. Even more disastrous was the movement led by John de Brienne in 1218 which is known as the Fifth Crusade. The crusade got off to a grand start when the Christian army captured Damietta, a key port in Egypt. The Sultan El Kamil actually offered to surrender Jerusalem and other holy places in exchange for Damietta, but Honorius guessed wrong. Expecting Frederick to start any time now, he declined the offer. The crusaders advanced on Cairo, were trapped in the Nile Valley, and had to surrender anyway. This fiasco was a cruel blow to Honorius, but to the end of his life the gallant old Pope continued to work for a new crusade.
Honorius worked hard to promote peace among Christian princes. Like Innocent III, he made his influence felt in the far corners of Europe. He urged Louis VIII of France to take over the Albigensian crusade. In England he protected King John's little boy Henry III and took measures to safeguard his throne. He crowned Peter Courtenay as Latin Emperor of Constantinople in 1217. He took a militant interest in spreading the gospel among the Prussians.
Like Innocent III, Honorius favored the great new orders of friars. He approved the Dominicans in 1216 and the Franciscans in 1223. In January 1226 he approved the Carmelites. The Cistercians, too, felt the strong support of the pious Pope. A canonist who contributed much to church law, Honorius took a keen interest in the ardent intellectual life of the universities. He granted privileges to the great universities of Paris and Bologna.
One of this kind pope's last acts was to help the Roman people during a famine. Highly indignant when merchants stored grain and sent prices skyrocketing, Honorius secured grain from Sicily to feed his hungry people.
Honorius III died greatly respected on March 18, 1227.
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