Imagine all the great tales and histories just sitting in these archives. I wish they'd release more of them. I'd imagine they would provide a greater historical record than the bilge we present in our school books.
A medieval tale of a dead bishop's treasure, a pope and a pirate whose name means "fire blast" or "fire fart" has been revealed in newly published documents from the Vatican archives.
The tale may seem more like Hollywood than reality.
"Hollywood could use this story. But Hollywood does not know anything about it because it is buried in the documents edited here," Charles Donahue Jr., a professor at Harvard University, wrote in the preface to the newly published book "The Spoils of the Pope and the Pirates, 1357: The Complete Legal Dossier from the Vatican Archives" (The Ames Foundation, 2014).
Edited by Daniel Williman, a professor emeritus at Binghamton University, and Karen Ann Corsano, a private scholar, the Latin-language documents published in the book bring this pirate tale to light. [See Images related to the Ancient Pirate Tale]
A dead bishop's treasure
In the early months of A.D. 1357, the São Vicente, a ship laden with a dead bishop's treasure, set sail from Lisboa (modern-day Lisbon), according to the Vatican documents.
Its cargo included gold, silver, rings, tapestries, jewels, fine plates and even portable altars. This treasure was formerly owned by Thibaud de Castillon, a recently deceased bishop of Lisboa who had acquired a vast amount of wealth during the performance of his duties.
"He governed and exploited the bishopric through a vicar general for three years while he managed a commercial collaboration with the important Montpellier merchants Peire Laugautru and Guilhem Parayre," Williman and Corsano wrote in their book.His commercial activities in the Mediterranean and Atlantic included speculative trading, buying commodities like wool in hope that its value would increase.
While De Castillon didn't have to take a vow of poverty(not all priests were required to), the ways in which he acquired his wealth were questionablefor someone in his position, Williman and Corsano said. [The 10 Most Notorious Pirates Ever]
"Usury [lending money with a high interest rate] was a mortal sin, and the profit of trading investments was considered usurious," Williman and Corsano said in an email to Live Science. To get around this mortal sin, de Castillon made "clumsy efforts to pretend that his cash wealth and its profits actually belonged to his agents," such as Laugautru and Parayre, Williman and Corsano said.
The papal administration looked the other way. His "past in Atlantic and Mediterranean commerce may have been viewed by the Camera Apostolica [the organization in charge of papal finances] as desirable experience for a bishop in Portugal, and in any case, the Camera intended to take all Thibaud's wealth as spoils when he died," Williman and Corsano wrote in their book.
The São Vicente's mission was to deliver the dead bishop's treasure to Avignon, in France, where Pope Innocent VI (reign 1352-1362) was based. In the 14th century, popes often resided in Avignon due to political turmoil in Italy. [Papal Primer: History's 10 Most Intriguing Popes]
While sailing near the town of Cartagena, in modern-day Spain, the ship's crew of about a dozen men was attacked by two pirate vessels. One of them was commanded by a man named Antonio "Botafoc." The word botafocmeans "fire blast" or "fire fart" — his real last name is lost to history. The other ship was commanded by Martin Yanes.