Bertrand of Saint-Geniès

According to his school ‘cursus’ Bertrand should have been born around 1280-1285 in a family, the Saint-Geniès, of feudal descent. In 1311 Bertrand appears qualified as a ‘doctor decretorum’ in the records of the juridical faculty of Toulouse. In 1314 he subscribed the statute of that university and in 1315 he is recorded as a professor ‘in utroque’, that is in canonical and civil rights. His noble birth and school education were good premises to Bertrand’s career, favoured also by his patron Jacques Duèse, cardinal bishop of Porto, who became pope in August 1316 with the name of John XXII. In 1333-1334 Bertrand was engaged in a nunciature in Italy. When he came back, on 4 July 1334 John XXII appointed him as patriarch to the prestigious metropolitan see of Aquileia, which had been vacant since Pagano della Torre’s death (18 December 1332) also because John XXII had for a while temporised and very carefully chosen the nominee. It was here dealt with one of the major benefits of the western church that additionally had remarkable temporal prerogatives. Moreover, the patriarchate was placed in a strategic position between the German and the Italian world in a juncture of very strong tensions between the papacy and the empire. Therefore the pope wished to have the guarantee of an effective bulwark against the emperor Louis of Bavaria, through a person who, albeit non-unwelcome to the house of Anjou, was not a creature of theirs yet, and thus completely responded to the papacy, and could display, beyond his proved loyalty, diplomatic ability, juridical competence and pastoral zeal, too. Bertrand was patriarch for almost sixteen years, a period documented by a relevant volume of archival sources and narrative witnesses, among which also a memory written by the patriarch himself to the dean of the chapter of Aquileia, datable circa to 1349. Bertrand fought against traditional enemies: the counts of Gorizia, the dukes of Austria, the count of Ceneda, the Republic of Venice, but the usual conflicts with these subjects got also complicated by their linking with matters of a larger relevance, in the wide and unstable scenario of the struggle between Guelphs and Ghibellines. Since his ascent to the papal throne John XXII’s policy was coherently marked by his adversity to the emperor Louis of Bavaria and friendship to the Anjou of Naples and Hungary. The need for a conciliation of his own interest as a prince with the interest of the pontifical politics caused problems to the patriarch who nonetheless was often able to reaffirm his own rights and reacquire lost ones (mostly at Venice’s expense), and sometimes deserved the popes’ praise for his effective opposition to the emperor or for the diplomatic tasks he had accomplished for the Apostolic see. The price to pay was an endemic state of war and a remarkable impact of the international policy on the destiny of the patriarch: due to concomitant occurrence of unfavourable circumstances, at the end of his life, he remained nearly isolated, deprived of powerful allies who could help him go out of the very dangerous crisis triggered by the traditional rivalry with the counts of Gorizia who had been able to attract a large array of Friulian forces towards themselves. He inherited a Friuli tormented by intestine struggles, wars between families and communes, lack of safety for civil activities. He tried to make up for this situation and partially he achieved remedies in his first years’ government, but for that he fatally had to rely on the political association of aristocratic families led by the Savorgnan and on the city of Udine, which caused the discontent of the others: especially Cividale and the noble families and feudal lords close to the counts of Gorizia. The situation deteriorated in the last five years of Bertrand’s life. As a jurist, he had much care of administering justice, and contributed to re-establish such an order where normal economic activities could be carried out and get improved. Yet the safety of trades was not sufficient, and thus Bertrand also tried to make the administrative structure more rational in his principality which was split into four ‘quarters’ on the responsibility of his officials. Mindful of his past experience of university professor, he tried to establish the university of Cividale, which his predecessor Ottobono (1302-1315) had wanted, and he lavishly gave books, above all to his beloved Dominicans of Udine, but also to other churches and institutions of his diocese. His most durable work was the review and collection of a ‘corpus” of the diocese synods (statutes of 1338) and province councils (statutes of 1339) which remained valid until years following the Council of Trent. Bertrand’s death (6 June 1350) is an episode of the wars that upset Friuli in the last years of his government. The course of events, reconstructed through numerous sources of the time, evidences his murder in a clash. A document kept at Udine hints to a battle with the involvement of the patriarch who was therein wound to death, while a lot of his companions were taken prisoners. The author and promoter of his fame of sainthood was his successor, Nicholas of Luxembourg [Nicolò di Lussemburgo], who used the new saint to strengthen his own presence in the patriarchate, to enjoy a wider consent that could derive by the favour of a celestial patron and, therefore, to liquidate the most dangerous and turbulent internal opponents.

For further information see the entry Saint-Geniès (di) Bertrando, patriarca d’Aquileia written by Andrea Tilatti, in Nuovo Liruti, Dizionario biografico dei Friulani, 1, Il Medioevo, edited by C. Scalon, Udine, Forum, 2006, 765-774.

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