The Council of Ferrara

Written by  Andrea Nascimbeni

The contribution of Ferrara to the reconciliation of the Latin and Greek churchesJanuary 6th, 1964: pope Paolo VI shake hands with orthodox patriarch Atenagora. It is the hstorical coming together of the latin and the greek churches

Pope Eugene IV and Joseph, Patriarch of Constantinople, met on 8 March 1438. Reports from the time tell us that the Greeks arrived at the palace Eugene was staying in by horse, and were led through the various apartments to the papal antechamber. Once in the presence of the Pope, the Patriarch was the first to be introduced, along with five metropolitan bishops. He wasn't wearing his mitre, nor was he carrying his crosier. He gave the proskynesis [kissing towards] to Eugene IV, who was standing and who shook his hand in return. The Patriarch kissed his cheek and then sat on a throne to the left of the Pope, which had been specially prepared. A brief conversation followed and Cristofaro Garatoni, a Greek scholar from the Guarino Veronese school, acted as interpreter. Patriarch Joseph then retired to his residence. The remarkable fact worth noting, at least for us, is that the meeting took place in Ferrara, as part of the XVII Ecumenical Council which had commenced in Basel in 1431 and then went on to Ferrara, Florence and finished in Rome. The Ferrara stage lasted from 1438 to 1439. This Council is important in history, as it sanctioned reconciliation of the Western Latin church with the Eastern Greek church. The year in Ferrara was decisive, albeit inconclusive, as it laid the foundations for the future Florentine approach. ThereAntonio di Pietro  Averlino, aka “il Filarete” : “A session og the council in Florence”; were many procedural difficulties and the theological differences between the two sides which were soon made apparent in all their complexity. The unthinkable and unexpected initial steps in overcoming these difficulties were taken in Ferrara, providing a good example of patient plotting. This event certainly confirmed the importance of Ferrara, capital of the Este domain, in both the Italian and even "European" context. But why Ferrara of all places? When listing the advantages of this choice in Le Concile de Florence [the Council of Florence], Joseph Gill speaks of Ferrara as a beautiful city that Pope Boniface IX had granted a charter to in 1391 to establish a university which had the power to issue diplomas. He also mentions the pleasantness of the surrounding countryside, the excellent grain harvests, the woods and pastures where animals and gameAntonio di Pietro  Averlino, aka “il Filarete” :“Giovanni Paleologo leaves Constantinople” could feed and the salt waters of the Comacchio lagoon. In addition, the city could be easily reached from Venice, which is where the Greeks would land. All good reasons to make it the ideal candidate in the eyes of Pope Eugene IV – who actually came from Venice – to host the council, which he wanted to hold in a climate of peace and safety. Ferrara was far enough away from the fighting and intrigues of its powerful neighbours and had acted as peacemaker on more than one occasion, and Nicholas III of Este was the guarantor.Antonio di Pietro  Averlino, aka “il Filarete” : “The Pope meets the emperor Paleologo in  Ferrara”. However there seems to be four reasons behind the choice of Ferrara. Its closeness to Venice, a great maritime power, whose senate was happy that council decisions would be made in a geographically close area: apart from the ecclesiastical importance, the union with the Greeks would have definitely been advantageous for Venice in terms of commerce. In the second place the Papal Curia and Pope could access Bologna more easily from the nearby Ferrara. The Pope lived in Bologna at the time. Thirdly, Nicholas III was a liege of the Holy See, and Lord of Ferrara and so was very well disposed to accommodating the Council Fathers. Finally, the fourth reason was that even the men from the East were happy with a city near the Adriatic sea, especially if it were near Venice. Added to this, was the friendship of the Pope with the Bishop of Ferrara, Blessed Giovanni Tavelli of Tossignano. Nicholas III – "initiator of events that would resolve things" as he was defined by Gundersheimer. On 6 JanuaryGuglielmo Giraldi, “San  Giorgio”, Innario, Ferrara, Museo della Cattedrale. 1438, the Cardinal of S. Croce and Papal Legate, Nicolò Albergati, was received by the Marquis, the Bishop, the clergy, the nobility and the public, with all due honours. The event was celebrated with two hours of continuous bell-ringing for a procession including five archbishops, twenty-two bishops, abbots, prelates, and religious order superior-generals. Pope Eugene IV made a spectacular entrance into the city. He was riding a horse, under a canopy "which had been made by the town council with utmost magnificence", and accompanied by the Marquis Nicholas who held the reins as was typical for this type of event, highlighting the symbolic aspects ( taking possession of the city ) through presenting himself "communicating" with the applauding crowd. A success for the diplomatic skills of Nicholas, who Guillaume Dufay, the most emblematic Flemish polyphonist of the 1400s, celebrated in the ballad (1433) "C'est bien raison de devoir essaurcier" [With good reason you must exalt] with the closing verse as follows: Prince, je voeil manifester son nom: / Il est marquis et souverain recteur / De Ferrare, Nicholas l'appell'on. / Bien est doté peuple d'un tel seigneur. [Prince, I wish to manifest his name / He is marquis and sovereign ruler / of Ferrara, Nicholas he is called / Blessed are the people of such a lord] I hope a brief glance at the "Council locations" will be interesting, a kind of brief excursion to the places related to the Council sessions or characters. The monastery of S. Antonio in Polesine that Eugene IV arrived at by boat on 24 January 1438 in the midst of a snow storm and having celebrated the patron saint's mass at the monastery, from where he left in January 1439 by boat up the Po and Panaro,Jacopo Filippo Medici, aka “l’Argenta”, Antifonario, Ferrara, Museo della Cattedrale. towards Bondeno and Finale, and avoiding Bologna which was occupied by Milanese forces, to reach Florence. The Cathedral, where the first formal session took place on 8 January 1438, the third on 10 January, the eighth on 15 February with the pope present, the formal opening on 9 April and the final session on 10 January 1439. The Council was then transferred to Florence due to the plague. The Este castle chapel where many sessions were held because of the Pope's delicate health. The Church of San Francesco: in addition to the preliminary hearings between the two delegations, the dispute regarding purgatory, the creed (Filioque), the Eucharist (unleavened bread) took place here between 14 June and 17 July 1438. San Giuliano, where Dionysus of Thessaloniki, a metropolitan bishop from Sardi was buried on 24 April 1438. We could add the "houses of Ruberti di Tripoli in the S. Maria di Boche" quarter, where the Patriarch Joseph was stayed, or the church of S. Andrea, solemnly consecrated by the Pope on 13 March 1438.