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Alexander III
B-Alexander III1.jpg
Papacy began September 7, 1159
Papacy ended August 30, 1181
Predecessor Adrian IV
Successor Lucius III
Personal details
Birth name Rolando or Orlando
Born c. 1100/1105
Siena, Italy, Holy Roman Empire
Died August 30, 1181
Civita Castellana, Papal States, Holy Roman Empire
Other Popes named Alexander

Pope Alexander III (c. 1100/1105 – August 30, 1181), born Rolando (or Orlando) of Siena, was Pope from 1159 to 1181. He is noted in history for laying the foundation stone for the Notre Dame de Paris.


Church career

He was born in Siena. From 14th century he is referred to as a member of the aristocratic family of Bandinelli but this is not proven.[1] For a long time, scholars believed him to be identical with the twelfth-century canon lawyer and theologian, Master Roland of Bologna, who composed the "Stroma" or "Summa Rolandi" – one of the earliest commentaries on the Decretum of Gratian – and the "Sententiae Rolandi", a sentence collection displaying the influence of Pierre Abélard. [2]

In October 1150, Pope Eugene III (1145–1153) created him cardinal deacon of the Title of Santi Cosma e Damiano; later he became cardinal priest of the Title of St Mark. In 1153, he became papal chancellor, and was the leader of the cardinals opposed to Frederick I Barbarossa (1152–1190). He negotiated the Treaty of Benevento, restoring peaceful relations between Rome and the Kingdom of Sicily.

On September 7, 1159, he was chosen the successor of Pope Adrian IV (1154–1159), a minority of the cardinals, however, electing the cardinal priest Octavian, who assumed the name of Victor IV (1159–1164). This antipope, and his successors antipope Paschal III (1164–68) and antipope Calixtus III (1168–1178), had the imperial support; but after the defeat of Legnano (1176), Barbarossa finally (in the Peace of Venice 1177) recognized Alexander III as pope. On March 12, 1178, Alexander III returned to Rome, which he had been compelled to leave twice: the first time from 1162, when he was sent into a Campanian exile by Oddone Frangipane following his brief arrest and detainment, until November 23, 1165; and again in 1167. The first period he spent in France, the latter chiefly in Gaeta, Benevento, Anagni, and Venice.

Political aspects

Frederick Barbarossa submits to the authority of Pope Alexander III (fresco in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, by Spinello Aretino).

Alexander III was the first pope known to have to paid direct attention to missionary activities east of the Baltic Sea. In 1165, his close friend, Eskil, the Archbishop of Lund, appointed a Benedictine monk Fulco as a bishop in Estonia. In 1171, he became the first pope to address the situation of the Church in Finland, with Finns harassing the priests and only relying on God in time of war.[3]

In March 1179, Alexander III held the Third Council of the Lateran, a brilliant assemblage, reckoned by the Roman Church as the eleventh ecumenical council; its acts embody several of the Pope's proposals for the betterment of the condition of the Church, among them the law requiring that no one may be elected pope without the votes of two-thirds of the cardinals, a rule only slightly altered in 1996 which allowed a simple majority vote after thirty indecisive ballots. This synod marks the summit of Alexander III's power.

Besides checkmating Barbarossa, he had humbled Henry II of England concerning the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170, to whom he was unusually close. In 1172 he confirmed the position of Henry as Lord of Ireland. He had confirmed the right of Afonso I of Portugal to the crown, and even as a fugitive had enjoyed the favour and protection of Louis VII of France. Nevertheless, soon after the close of the synod the Roman republic forced Alexander III to leave the city, which he never re-entered; and on September 29, 1179, some nobles set up the antipope Innocent III (1179–1180). By the judicious use of money, however, Alexander III got him into his power, so that he was deposed in January, 1180. In 1181, Alexander III excommunicated William I of Scotland and put the kingdom under an interdict.

He died at Civita Castellana on August 30, 1181.

In popular culture

Alexander is a character in Jean Anouilh's play Becket. In the 1964 film adaptation he was portrayed by Italian actor Paolo Stoppa.

Alexander III is mentioned in Umberto Eco's book 'Baudolino'.


  • Wikisource-logo.svg "Pope Alexander III" in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia.
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • Myriam Soria Audebert, "Pontifical Propaganda during the Schisms: Alexander III to the reconquest of Church Unity," in Convaincre et persuader: Communication et propagande aux XII et XIIIe siècles. Ed. par Martin Aurell. Poitiers: Université de Poitiers-centre d'études supérieures de civilisation médiévale, 2007,


  1. ^ W. Maleczek, Papst und Kardinalskolleg von 1191 bis 1216, Wien 1984, p. 233 note 168
  2. ^ See John T. Noonan, “Who was Rolandus?” in Law, Church, and Society: Essays in Honor of Stephan Kuttner, ed. Kenneth Pennington and Robert Somerville [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1977], pp. 21–48; Rudolph Weigand, “Magister Rolandus und Papst Alexander III,” Archiv für katholisches Kirchenrecht 149 [1980]: 3–44; reprinted in idem, Glossatoren des Dekrets Gratians [Goldbach: Keip, 1997], pp. 73*–114*.
  3. ^ Letter by Pope Alexander III to the Archbishop of Uppsala. In Latin. Hosted by the National Archive of Finland. See [1] and Diplomatarium Fennicum from the menu.
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Adrian IV
Succeeded by
Lucius III


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