This narrative is adapted from a slide show prepared by the author.


In 1076 Matilda of Canossa became heir to a large part of Northern Italy. She was a strong ruler who used her position to help the civil power in Italy, the Pope, shake off the existing German domination. Due to her efforts many republics came into being in Northern Italy and the Church of Rome, as a religious institution, became independent of other civil powers. For artists’ conceptions of Matilda in her regal finery see Regal Matilda; as a Pious Noble see Pious Noble; and as a Leader see Leader.


Originally from Lucca, Matilda’s family made Canossa, a hilltop overlooking the River Po valley, its home fortress. In 1076, when she became the head of the family realm it extended over nearly half of Northern Italy, about 12,000 square miles. Its principal city was Mantua, just north of the Po. For a map of Matilda’s lands see Hereditary lands. The ancestral home, Lucca, is in Lucca; a view from Lucca North, toward Canossa is in N from Lucca; and Canossa from afar is in Distant Canossa.


A view of the hill of Canossa as it stands today is in From below, and the ruins of the fortress’s church are shown in Church. Two nearby places where Matilda had fortresses with castles are Carpineti, Carpineti, and Castellarano, Castellarano.


Born (probably) in Mantua, the Countess lived there many years. She also lived a number of years in Florence, some in Canossa itself, and a year and a half in Speyer, the German capital. She made many visits to Rome on Church concerns. Mantua, a city almost surrounded by lakes, can be seen in Mantua. The Rio, a canal that runs through Mantua, brings to mind Venice: Rio view. San Lorenzo, a round church built in the time of Matilda, is unusual for its exterior, S Lorenzo ext, and for its interior, S Lorenzo int.


In Florence she lived in a house behind the cathedral and just inside the city wall. Cathedral. The cathedral, the large structure indicated in the drawing, was later enlarged to include the area of her house. The drawing also shows the city wall and a short segment of the new wall, farther out, which she had built. The church Santi Apostoli, in the next view, is one of the few standing Florentine churches which was already there for Matilda to see as she went through the city: SS Apostoli. The appearance of the center of the city in Matilda’s time is captured in the following museum model: City center.


In Germany the young Countess and her mother lived a year and a half in Speyer, the German capital at the time. Speyer, shown in Speyer, lies in a plain along the middle Rhine River.


On her frequent visits to Rome Matilda, it is assumed, stayed in the fortress-like houses of noble families who were friends with her own family. Such a house is shown in Theater-fortress-home. It is an ancient Roman theater – the Theater of Marcellus – fortified by the Pierleoni family.


In 1077 King Henry IV, Matilda’s cousin, hypocritically let himself be humbled by Pope Gregory VII at a meeting in Canossa itself, arranged by Matilda. For the next 15 years Henry was at war in Northern Italy against Matilda, who fought on the side of the Pope. In 1080 Henry’s troops defeated hers at Volta, outside Mantua; in 1084 hers defeated his at Sorbara, outside Modena; in 1092 hers defeated his at Canossa itself, and he returned to Germany, leaving her in possession of her realm. Henry and Matilda shows Henry asking for his cousin Matilda’s help in lifting his Papal excommunication, and Henry and Pope is an artist’s conception of Henry’s capitulation, for which the excommunication was temporarily lifted. In Volta we look up to the hill at Volta, in Sorbara we see the river flats of Sorbara, and in Fog on hill we see how the fog prevented Henry’s army from finding the way up to Canossa and favored the defenders.


In addition to her battles and politics, Countess Matilda made a great contribution to European civilization by being a patron to the program of civil law studies at the young University of Bologna, which was, and remained a great center for the study and development of law in Europe. A sculptor’s conception of a law school class can be seen in Law students.


Countess Matilda wanted to be allowed to die in San Benedetto Po, a large abbey near Mantua. Although she had been outstandingly generous to the abbey, her wish was not granted because she was a woman.  She died in one of her villas, Bondeno, and then was buried at the abbey. Five hundred years later her remains were moved to St. Peter’s in Rome and placed in a huge ornamental monument. The modern appearance of the Bondeno villa can be seen in Bondeno; the spread of San Benedetto Po shows in S Benedetto; the monumental tomb of the Countess in St. Peter’s is in Tomb.


For the written sources used to compile the information in this presentation see Sources.


The text and all photos are by P.T.; as to the rest:


Regal Matilda.                       Matilde e il tesoro, 513

Pious Noble                        Matilde e il tesoro, 75

Leader                                  Matilde e il tesoro, 453

Lucca                                    postcard

Mantua                                tourist map

S Lorenzo ext                      postcard

S Lorenzo int                      postcard


Roman theater                       Gregorovius 984

Henry and Matilda           Matilde e il papato, 343

Henry and Pope                 Matilde e il papato, 457

Fog                                        Matilde e il tesoro, 242

S Benedetto                        San Benedetto Po, 7

Tomb                                    www photo