In 2015 runs the ninth centenary of the death of Matilde of Canossa, one of the most powerful and fascinating women of all times. She ruled a territory that extends from Lake Garda to upper Lazio and her death, as she left her domains to the Pope, generated conflicts of interest which lasted for several centuries.
She was probably born in 1046 in Mantova, daughter of Bonifacio di Canossa and Beatrice of Lorraine. After Bonifacio was murdered Matilde and her mother were kidnapped by Emperor Henry III of Saxony, and deported at the court of Spira. They were released only in 1056.
The binding between Matilde and her mother was always very strong. Beatrice later married her second husband, Godfrey of Lotharingia. In 1067 Godfrey, seriously ill, decided to return to Lotharingia, and shortly before his death, the wedding between Matilde and his son, Godfrey the Hunchback was celebrated. In this way Matilde married her stepbrother, with whom she had a daughter, but the child died just after the birth. Perceiving a hostile climate at court of Verdun, Matilde returned to Italy to join her mother, and was later joined by Godfrey. He wished to regain control of his land, as well as the link with his wife. For some years the three acted both together and separately, but the relationships between Matilde and Geoffrey, remained cold.
Matilda was fought between loyalty to the Empire, to which she was obliged by ties of vassalage, and to the Papacy, which she felt closer spiritually. She challenged the claims of hegemony of Henry IV in favor of Pope Gregory VII for several years. Henry was excommunicated in 1076, and to retrieve the domain on its territory and the obedience of his feudatories he was forced to make a public act of repentance staying for three days in sandals and saio in front of the castle of Canossa. It was the month of January 1077, and in the following years, the struggle between the Papacy and the Empire, with excommunications, supersession and reinstatements continued unabated.
Over the years the power of Matilda was greatly scaled down, cities such as Lucca and Pisa rebelled to the Grand Countess, but she eventually recovered, at least in part, some of the confidence of the Empire. Matilda continued to support with funds and donations churches and abbeys both in Italy and in France, and to affect the elections of Popes and Bishops. Matilde was in Modena, with Pope Paschal II, for the consecration of the new Cathedral and the translation of the relics of Saint Geminiano. In mature age she attempted a second marriage, perhaps in order to have a descent, with Guelph of Bavaria, young and powerless, who was quickly driven out.
Henry IV died a prisoner of his son, Henry V, who had deposed his father and who descended in Italy to regain control of Rome. There he made prisoner Pope Paschal II and his most loyal supporters. On his way back to Germany Henry stopped at Bianello to return Matilde her feuds as well as the public powers that had been subtracted her with the announcement of Lucca. Matilda interested herself in the liberation of the prelates, but not of the Pope, who was released only after having surrendered Henry the privilege of the investiture, and guaranteed that the Emperor would never be excommunicated.
Perhaps part of the agreement of Bianello foresaw the suspension of the imperial aids to the town of Mantova, because Matilde succeeded in regaining it without problems in 1114. A few months later, old and sick, she retired in Bondno di Roncore, where she died on July 24th 1115. She was buried, as she wanted, in the Abbey of San Benedetto Polirone, which Henry V had granted several privileges. Her body has been transferred in Saint Peter in 1632, in a tomb decorated by a wonderful monument by Bernini.
On the Appennines in the Province of Reggio Emilia there are several castles that still today preserve the memories of the Grand Countess: Bianello, Rossena and Canossa are just some of the places you can visit.
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