Peniscola and the Antipope

The old town of Peniscola is much smaller than I imagined, in fact it is barely more than the castle which sits on the top of the 64m high crag jutting out into the sea. Originally it was an Arab citadel but the Templers fortified it and then it became a papal palace for Pope Benedict XIII. A freshwater spring beneath the rock provided the town with water and a cluster of medieval whitewashed houses grew around the land side of the island.
Benedict 13Today it is quiet as I follow the tourist map and read the information provided at interesting points along the route. Meandering along the same path are a loved-up young Spanish couple and an American Family with loud obnoxious kids. I wonder if they can even begin to imaging how life was here over 600 years ago when Don Pedro de Luna, from one of the 12 noble families of Aragon, arrived here in 1411. As Pope Benedict XIII he made Peniscola the third Papal Seat after Rome and Avignon, but two years earlier he had been told to renounce his position at the Council of Pisa. His succession to the papacy after the death of Pope Clement VII was disputed and several attempts were made on his life.
During his time in Peniscola he wrote many treatises and it is said that he concealed the Imperial Codex, a parchment written by Emperor Constantine and kept in a gold tube, which has never been found. When his followers finally deserted him, he created a stone stairway from the castle to the sea and used it to escape in his ship, the Santa Ventura. It is said that on that night he lost his papal ring in the sea, which has also never been found. I wonder if those armed with metal detectors who search the 5kms of beach to the north will ever find more than a few bottle tops or sardine tins.


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