Pope Hadrian I,
a Roman of noble family, was elected unanimously and became pope on February
9, 772. Pope Hadrian I was the oldest elected pope at age 80 and
established a reputation of austere piety
Pope Hadrian I
faced political struggle in defense of the supremacy of the Church. When the
antipapal king of the Lombards marched on Rome, Pope Hadrian I immediately
mobilized his army and forbade Desiderius to enter, warning that should he
invade Rome, it would be under pain of excommunication. The Lombards
withdrew but remained a constant threat. Pope Hadrian I appealed to
Charlemagne for assistance, and after three individual meetings (774, 781,
and 787) the boundaries of the Papal States were fixed and remained until
their dissolution in 1870.
Veneration of images separated Constantinople from
Catholic unity. The Seventh Ecumenical Council, held at Nicaea in 787
under the legates of Pope Hadrian I,
reaffirmed Catholic belief in the proper veneration of images. Empress
Irene accepted the decrees returning Constantinople to Catholic unity.
Charlemagne convened the 794 Council of Frankfort to
censure the Seventh Ecumenical Council. Pope
Hadrian I gently reminded Charlemagne that it was to Saint Peter
that Christ left the government of the Church and explained the true meaning
of the decrees of Nicaea.
Pope Hadrian I was
now able to take advantage of the peaceful conditions made possible by
Charlemagne. He built and restored many churches, strengthened the
embankments of the Tiber River, fortified the walls of the city and
reconstructed four great aqueducts. His passion was care of the poor,
promoting monasticism, and church-operated farms that generated income for
charitable projects. Pope Hadrian I was a true father to his people making
time to visit them personally.
Pope Hadrian I died
on Christmas Day 795 and is buried in the portico crypt of Saint Peter's
Basilica. Mourning the pope, Charlemagne had a magnificent marble slab
inscribed with memorial verses.