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Matilda, a leading lady in medieval Europe

 

Matilda, a leading lady in medieval Europe


Countess Matilda of Canossa was a leading figure during the middle ages, an exceptional case for Europe of her time and a woman of noble origins and culture.

 Dante sang her praises in the book of Purgatory as his spiritual guide in the earthly Paradise and she is one of the very few women to have the honour of a tomb in the basilica of St Peter's.

 

Matilda of Canossa was countess, duchess, marchioness and medieval queen, crowned by emperor Henry V at Castello di Bianello. She was a powerful vassal and ardent supporter of the papacy in the Investiture Conflict.

She succeeded in dominating all the Italic territories north of the Papal States: these included Lombardy, Emilia, Romagna and Tuscany, with the castle at Canossa as the point of reference.

 

Matilda and the castle of Canossa are directly associated with an event of universal significance. In almost all the European languages, “Going to Canossa” is an expression that means submission without honour. However, speakers often do not know the origin of this saying, which is linked to the famous episode at Canossa in 1077. Henry IV, King of Germany and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, had been ex-communicated by the pope.

 

He travelled to Italy to meet pope Gregory VII, who received him while he was Matilda's guest in the castle of Canossa. To obtain revocation of the ex-communication from the pope, Henry had to kneel outside the castle gate for three days and three nights, his head covered with ashes. Gregory VII revoked the ex-communication of Henry IV, but not the declaration that dethroned him.

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