Family Lessons 99: Popes and Mayors

John Crosse, my 17th great-grandfather was Mayor of Liverpool in 1460; his father before him, Richard, had served three times in the mayoralty. They were of a fairly prominent Lancashire family who played their part in their little town's municipal government.

The church of St Mary Del Quay, the small chapel which served the port of Liverpool, was too small, and funds were raised to build a larger church next door, dedicated to St Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors. Unusually, the assistance of the Pope was procured; his Holiness Calixtus III issued a Bull in 1456 which stated that anyone who visited the chapel of St Mary to worship, or who contributed to its replacement, would be granted indulgence. This meant that they would be exempted part or all of the fires of purgatory when they died. Naturally, folk who lived in fear of those flames were quick to donate, and St Nicholas’ Church was duly built. It had a pew for the mayor, which I have no doubt Grandfather John occupied with pride.

By medieval standards, Calixtus III, or Alfonso de Borgia to use his real name, was not a bad egg. However, the bar is set rather low; a pope who did not engage in homosexual orgies, blackmail and murder is generally deemed one of the better ones. His nephew Alexander VI was certainly thought one of the worst. Regardless of his personal morals, his claim to be able to relieve the suffering of Catholics in purgatory was utterly false, seeing as no place exists. And if it did, why would not the Pope relieve all of its inmates, and not just those able to leave silver in the Church’s coffers? Mayor Crosse doubtless loved the prospect of a new church for his town; he might have sincerely believed in the Pope’s claims; pre-reformation folk had few alternatives.

John went on to become Mayor again at least once, in 1476, enjoying again the prestige of the mayoral pew. I am sure that he had himself contributed to the new church’s construction- and had a copy of the papal indulgence in his chancery desk. If he trusted that piece of parchment- and the good deed which it had recorded- he is lost. If he saw beyond papal claims and his own good works, and learned to trust Christ Himself- I shall look forward to meeting him in heaven. No Pope can save anyone; no indulgence can alter anything: Christ can save, and Him alone. 

Top: the current, rebuilt Parish of Church of St Nicolas and Our Lady, Liverpool; middle: Calixtus III from the church's own information boards; bottom: stained glass window in the contemporary building showing the great Dragon of Revelation.