Almost 500 years after his death, the only Dutch Pope will be getting a statue in his native city of Utrecht. Out of an initial sixty, three sculptors will be invited to make a design that will eventually be turned into a full scale statue. As a possible location the Pausdam in the old centre of the city is being considered, although the sculptor will have a say in that.
Pope Adrian VI was Pope for less than two years, in 1522 and 1523. Although he was born in Utrecht, there is some debate about whether he can be considered a Dutchman. The city was the heart of the Prince-Bishopric of Utrecht, part of the Burgundian Netherlands in the Holy Roman Empire. There was no sovereign Dutch state to speak of at the time, so Adrian VI can also be considered a German Pope. Whatever his nationality, he was the last non-Italian Pope until Pope St. John Paul II.
Before becoming Pope. Adriaan Florensz, as his birth name was, worked his way up in the world. Vice-chancellor of Louvain University, personal advisor to the governess of the Habsburg Netherlands, tutor to the future Emperor Charles V. Heading to Spain in 1515, he was made Bishop of Tortosa and Inquisitor General of Aragon in 1516. He was created a cardinal in 1517. During Emperor Charles’ minority, Cardinal Adriaan was co-regent of Spain, and regent when the adult Charles was in the Netherlands in 1520.
In 1522, Adriaan was elected to the papacy as a compromise to break the deadlock between Spanish and French candidates. The new Pope arrived in Rome in August of 1522, more than seven months after his election. Wanting to be a peacemaker to unity the European princes against the Turks, Pope Adrian VI is perhaps most notable today for seeing the need to reform the Curia, which he privately considered part of the reason for the Protestant revolt. He died in September 1523 and is buried in the Santa Maria dell’Anima church in Rome.
In Utrecht there are few reminders of Pope Adrian, but most visible is the house he had built there for his retirement when he was still a cardinal. Of course, he never lived there because of his election to the papacy. The house is used today as a presentation space for the King’s Commissioner and the provincial government. In 1985, Pope St. John Paul II visited the house.
A statue commemorating the only pontiff to hail from what would one day become the Netherlands would certainly be a fitting addition to the city where he was born. A further valuable addition would be a renewed recognition of the role Pope Adrian VI played in Europe and in the Church.