Pope Benedict XVI was the first German pope in 950 years. Victor was the last German pope before then. His death, in 1057, marked the end of a close working relationship between the Holy Roman Empire and the Catholic.
Born Gebhard of Dolinstein-Hirshberg, around 1018, this pope was the son of Swabian Count Hartwig of Claw, and a kinsman of Emperor Henry III. His uncle Gotebold was the canon of Eichstatt, Provost of Speyer, Imperial Chancellor of Italy and Patriarch of Aquileia. Gebhard was easily appointed bishop of Eichstatt at the age of 24. He supported the emperor’s interests and soon became a close advisor.
When Pope Leo IX died in the winter of 1055, a delegation of Roman clergy and people traveled to Mainz and asked Henry to nominate Gebhard to the papacy. At a court Diet at Ratisbon in March 1055 Gebhard accepted provided that Henry would restore the land stolen from the Apostolic See. The emperor agreed and allowed him to keep his see at Eichstatt. The official nomination was 13 April and the cardinals immediately enthroned the new pope, who took the name of Victor II.
On Pentecost 1055, Victor began his campaign to fulfill Leo IX’s goals. He held a council at Florence with the emperor and 120 bishops regarding simony, clerical marriage and loss of church property. He threatened Ferdinand, King of Spain, with excommunication if he did not accept Henry as Emperor. He sent Hildebrand to France to carry on the fight and others to the south of France to do the same. Victor also excommunicated two men for adultery.
Before Henry left for Germany, in November, he named Victor the Imperial Vicar for Italy, with an eye to keeping Duke Godfrey of Lorrain under control.
The next summer, Victor went to Germany to visit and consult with the emperor. He wanted to complain about how the Romans were treating him. He arrived in September to find that the emperor was not doing well.
They went up to the mountains to no avail. Henry must have known he had little time left. He granted Victor guardianship and regency over his six-year-old son, Henry and asked him to advise Empress Agnes. Victor had the child crowned before Christmas. He also called a Diet and recommended to the nobility that they should all be loyal to the new emperor. With his regency, Victor had much power and he used it to push for peace throughout the empire, while promoting German prelates within the Church.
In Lent of 1057, Victor and his retinue proceeded back to Rome. Right after Easter, there was a general council at the Lateran. Here they discussed a serious dispute between the diocese of Siena and that of Arezzo over a single parish. It was not settled for several months, after the Pope decided to visit the area.
Part of his trip to Tuscany was to visit that parish. But part of it was to interview Duke Godfrey, the enemy of Emperor Henry. Neither had been kind to the other. Victor decided that Godfrey’s brother, who Victor knew, should be taken under his wing to control things better. Frederick became Victor’s chancellor. He moved to put Frederick on a pedestal while the Pope was still traveling.
On June 14, back in Rome, Frederick was nominated cardinal presbyter of San Crisogono Church. Ten days after that, he was consecrated abbot of the premier Montecassino abbey.
Victor died a month later, 28 July, while still touring. He was in Abrezzo, north of Rome. His retinue planned on taking his remains to be buried in the cathedral of Eichstatt. But a group of citizens from Ravenna seized the remains and had them buried in the Church of Santa Maria Rotundo. He would not be another Pope buried outside of Italy.
It is not a surprise that Frederick became the next pope.