Pope from February 1, 772 – December 25, 795
Lived: c. 700 – December 25, 795
Give me the scoop on Adrian I.
A Roman by birth, Adrian set himself up well to follow Stephen III and take over the papacy at such an uneasy time in the Church’s history. Adrian was from a noble family, had been a valuable steward to both Paul I and Stephen III before him, and (perhaps most important) he was a pious man to boot. These qualities of Adrian’s helped the Roman clergy fend off a coup from the Lombards to put Stephen’s rogue assistant, Paul Afiarta, on the throne. At the election, Rome’s clergy unanimously said, “Yo, Adrian,” consecrating him pope on February 1, 772.
One of Adrian’s major successes in office was helping quash the iconoclast heresy once and for all. In the Seventh Ecumenical Council, at Nicea in 787, the question was settled and the use of images in veneration and worship approved. Though we’re unsure how large a role the pope played, Adrian I nevertheless approved the council’s findings at its closing. Adrian I died on Christmas Day, 795, and was buried in St. Peter’s Basilica.
What was he known for?
Adrian I’s near-quarter-century in office was mostly occupied in solidifying relations with Charlemagne and the Frankish Kingdom, and managing the lands he’d been given by Pepin (Charlemagne’s dad) in northern and central Italy. Charlemagne, a zealous and faithful Catholic ruler, came to the pope’s aid in defeating the Lombard king, Desiderius, and ultimately drove them from Italy for good in 774. It was then that Charlemagne reaffirmed his father’s gift to the Church a decade and a half earlier.
After his win over the Lombards, Charlemagne traveled to Rome and spent Easter with Adrian I. It was there that he also asked the pope to help him unify western Europe under canon law. Adrian was happy to do so, and provided the king with a compendium of the law from the Sixth Century, which had recently been updated and enlivened by Adrian. This move eventually helped Catholics see the pope as the source of guidance on Church law, no matter how large or small.
Adrian’s reign of 23 years, ten months, and four days was the longest of any successor of St. Peter up to that point in history, and remained so for a millennium afterward. Holding the silver medal behind St. Peter (34 or 37 years) for the next 1,003 years, it wasn’t until Pius VI’s papacy from 1775-1799 that Adrian I relinquished second place. He’s now No. 6 on the list of longest-serving popes, behind Peter, Bl. Pius IX (1846-1878), St. John Paul II (1978-2005), Leo XIII (1878-1903), and Pius VI.
What else was going on in the world at the time?
783 was a rough year for Charlemagne. On April 30, his wife, Hildegard, died in childbirth after bearing her ninth child in 12 years. Just months later, Charlemagne’s mother, Bertrada of Laon, died and was buried next to Pepin at the Abbey of St. Denis in Paris. He did, however, marry again in October.
SOURCES (and further reading)John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
Pope Adrian I – http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01155b.htm
Pope Adrian I – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Adrian_I
780s – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/780s