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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 Parismarker.

Church career

He was born in Sienamarker. From 14th century he is referred to as a member of the aristocratic family of Bandinelli but this is not proven. 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.

In October 1150, Pope Eugene III (1145–1153) created him cardinal deacon of the Title of Santi Cosma e Damianomarker; later he became cardinal priest of the Title of St Markmarker. 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 Gaetamarker, Beneventomarker, Anagnimarker, and Venicemarker.

Political aspects

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 Estoniamarker. In 1171, he became the first pope to address the situation of the Church in Finlandmarker, with Finns harassing the priests and only relying on God at the time of war.

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 Castellanamarker on August 30, 1181.

In popular culture

On screen, Alexander was portrayed by the Italian actor Paolo Stoppa in the film Becket (1964).

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


  • 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,


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