THE DUTCH POPE at Catharijne Convent in Utrecht

Bull of Pope Adrianus VI, sealed with a lead bulla. Utrecht Archives

Interested in an audience with a Pope? Even if a long dead one?

If so, Museum Catharijne Convent in Utrecht is the place to visit. Until November they are presenting a fascinating exhibition about the only Dutch Pope.

Utrecht was granted city rights by a German Holy Emperor in 1122. We are now living in 2022, so there is cause for celebrations. The exhibition about Pope Adrian VI is part of these celebrations.

Pope Adrian was born in Utrecht in 1459, not that Adriaan Florensz remained there for long. In 1476, he left to study at Leuven’s famous university, where he met Erasmus.

Adriaan studied theology and Canon Law, became a Doctor, had a university career in Leuven and was then was offered a court job working for the Austrian governors of the Habsburg Netherlands. As he was no fool, could be trusted and he was loyal. His brilliant career continued at the Spanish Habsburg court. In fact, Adrian became regent of Spain.

So, when Pope Leo X died, Cardinal Adrian was in Spain, far away from Rome where he became a kind of compromise between various factions. Worldly power-brokers presumed he would be a pliable tool. Likely the clergy thought so too. Nobody actually asked austere Adrian – he did not fancy the job.

He was aware that the sumptuous and corrupt Catholic Church needed to reformed. Did he presume he could change things from within, as Pope? He was crowned Pope Adrian VI in Rome in 1522, 500 years ago.

As the exhibition explains, trouble began the moment Adrian arrived in Rome. The people did not like him, the clergy did not like him, the power-brokers did not like him. By September 1523, the Dutch Pope who wanted to reform the Catholic Church was dead.

This exhibition is small, less than three rooms. After Adrian’s death most of his official documents, papers and items that could be linked to him were destroyed. As hardly anybody liked him, he was kind of written out of history. Yet, there are still a few interesting items on display.

There is a portrait of Adrian, as well as engravings. There are works by him, from his time at Leuven University. There is also a Papal Bull, with Adrian’s seal.

Perhaps most interestingly there is a copy of Pope Adrian’s public apology in which he acknowledges the Roman Catholic Church itself was to blame for its corruption. This copy was Luther’s, who used it fifteen years after Adrian’s death to underpin his statements that the Roman Catholic Church had to reform.   Kate Deni  12th August 2022.

You can have your own audience with Pope Adrian VI at the Catharijne Convent in Utrecht until 13th November.