Raiding Saint Peter: Empty Sees, Violence, and the Initiation of the Great Western Schism (1378)


Throughout the European Middle Ages, the death of high-ranking prelates was usually interwoven with violent practices. During Empty Sees, mobs ransacked bishops’ and popes’ properties to loot their movable goods. Eventually, in the later Middle Ages, they also plundered the goods of newly-elected popes, and the cells of the Conclave. This book follows and analyzes the history of this violence, using a methodology akin to cultural anthropology, with concepts such as liminal periodization. It contends that pillaging was attached to ecclesiastical interregna, and the nature of ecclesiastical elections contributed to a pillaging ‘problem.’ This approach allows for a fresh reading and re-contextualization of one of the greatest political crises of the later Middle Ages, the Great Western Schism.

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Joëlle Rollo-Koster, Ph.D. (1992) in History, State University of New York at Binghamton, is Professor of Medieval History at the University of Rhode Island. She has published extensively on papal Avignon.
"[...] the book presents a careful, engaging, and often brilliant presentation of both traditions and specific events". Alison Williams Lewin, Saint Joseph's University, Philadelphia. In: Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 1 (Spring 2009), pp. 197-198.

"This is a study rich in detail that deals with fascinating episodes in the history of the church. It offers many detailed and convincing readings of important sources and is successful in both surveying vast amounts of material stretching over many centuries and zeroing in on the origins of the Great Schism as one crucial part of the great complex of ideas tied to ritual looting and pillaging". Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, University of Pittsburgh. In: The Medieval Review, 08.12.06.

“Rollo-Koster’s study is undeniably exhaustive and fascinating”. Natacha-Ingrid Tinteroff, University of Paris II, Panthéon-Assas. In: The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 96, No. 2 (April 2010).



1. The Empty See
a. Empty See Governance and the Papal Electoral System
b. The Liturgy of the Empty See
c. Looting, Charity, and Liturgy

2. The Empty See as Liminal Phenomenon

3. Looting the Empty See: The Early Chronology
a. Introducing Spolia: The Connection with the Ancient
b. Early Spoils: Historiography
c. Evidence
d. Right of Spoil

4. Looting the Empty See: The Great Western Schism (1378)
a. Rome 1378: Quick Historiography
b. Rome 1378: Background
c. Rome 1378: “Romanum Volumus Papam Vel Omnes Moriemini!

Conclusion: More Loot

Works Cited and Bibliography
All those interested in the history of the Church, papal, social and cultural history, the history of religious institutions, historico-cultural issues, and historical anthropology.
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