On this day in 1311 Pope Oddo V emerged bloody but victorious from the Basilica of St. John Lateran to take his place as God’s servant on Earth and leader of all catholicism.
Oddo, later known as Oddo the Gentle, was the victor in the famous no-holds barred brawl known to history as the “Thrilla in the Basilica” in which the various claimants to the papacy fought bravely for upwards of seven hours for the right to sit on the throne of Saint Peter. The fight, a suggestion of the Holy Roman Emperor Darren VI, aimed to reunite Catholicism, which had spent much of the preceding century riven by conflicts between various Popes, anti-Popes and pretenders.
Organizing the duel had been no mean feat as by the early fourteenth century there were no less than six would-be Popes scattered around Europe. As well as the Roman Pope there was the Avignon Pope, supported by the French and the Le Havre Pope, supported by a different group of French. In response the English, concerned about the development of a “strategic Pope-gap” between them and their hated rivals, quickly declared three new Popes, although two were quietly dropped when it was discovered that they were a pair of middle-aged women from Doncaster and not, as had previously been believed, the Archbishops of York and Salisbury.1
Meanwhile the Spanish and Portuguese had thrown their support behind Rodrigo the Tiresome, second son of King Alfonso of Castile, on the grounds that his anointment as Bishop of Rome would get him out of the country and force him to stop going around telling people about his dreams and talking about the bloody weather for hours on end for God’s sake.2
Finally the appearance in Moravia of a small dog named Lazlo, reputedly able to preform many wondrous tricks such as walking on his hind legs, barking in response to human speech and even preforming simple arithmetic, caused a great stir. Lazlo, now believed by historians to be some sort of greyhound/border collie mix, was quickly declared Pope by an ecstatic crowd and began marching towards Rome, recruiting followers along the way.
Persistent rumours of a seventh pope mustering a vast and merciless army of viking warriors in the north proved to be a ruse by the Livonian costermonger’s guild to drive up the price of herring. Key to this deception was the noted Finnish artist and polymath Erkki Smith, who created a mural of the supposed invasion force so convincing that all who witnessed it were convinced they had seen a living, breathing army (a tactic that Smith would later employ to great effect in his famous conquest of the Walloons). Alas this bold scheme was undone when the owner of the wall upon which the mural was painted, an unnamed local farmer, complained he had not been consulted about its use beforehand and demolished it to make way for a new tithe barn. The herring market promptly collapsed and the Livonian costermongers were forced to take in washing to make ends meet.3
After Lazlo’s ability to preform basic cartwheels on command convinced an army sent by the Duke of Milan to defect to his cause- leaving the path to Rome open- the Holy Roman Emperor was forced to step in to prevent the sacking of the city, which he was planning on sacking later in the year. It was then that he made his famous suggestion of a six-sided melee between the various claimants to finally decide the issue. All quickly agreed, with the exception of Rodrigo the Tiresome, who declared that such events were barbaric manifestations of mankind’s primeval instincts and then attempted to read a poem on the subject at which point he was torn to pieces by an enraged mob of his closest friends and family.
Of the fight itself little of known. It was decided that the dignity of the occasion demanded that proceedings be undertaken in complete privacy, with the sole exception of a timekeeper, two official referees and 18,000 paying spectators. As such first-hand accounts are scarce, although an illustration in the Codex Allegra appears to depict Oddo the Gentle using Lazlo as a flail to batter an unnamed pontiff about the groin.
Regardless all accounts agreed that it was a good, clean fight, with as little eye-gouging and concealed weaponry as could be reasonably expected from clergymen. And so it was that Catholicism was united once again under the wise leadership of the blessed Oddo, who promptly banned the eating of fowl on Wednesdays and declared a new crusade against the heathen Bulgarians.4
1-Margrave Eleazar, The Medieval Costume Party Tradition and its Political Consequences, 1234-1675 (Brasilia: Drax Publishing, 1999), 63-90.
2- Rodrigo the Tiresome, My Side of the Story! (New Orleans: The New Orleans Automatic Writing and Clairvoyance Co., 1913), 87.
3- Amon Krohn-Andersonsensan, Seventeenth-century Tithe Barns: Some Observations on the Temporal Anomalies Thereof (Tashkent: Drax Publishing, 1897.) 67-113.
4- Richard Dawkins, A Brief History and Defence of Christendom (Boston: The Baptist Press, 2011), 23,232