Catholics and Chess

In 900 A.D. , Genadio de Astorga (died in 936),the Bishop of Astorga from 909 to 919,was introduced to chess.  He later became a saint in the Catholic Church.  He was the first Christian saint associated with chess. His disciples referred to Genadio’s devotion to chess as a help for concentration and as “an approximation to God.”   Some of his ivory chess pieces, known as the Mozareb chess pieces, are preserved in the Mozarabic monastery in Leon, Spain.  The pieces are considered even today by the local folklore as miraculous talismans.

In 938 A.D. crystal chess pieces were donated to the San Rosendo Monastery in Celanova, Galacia, Spain.  The monastery is located in the mountains of Orense.  Recently, the chess pieces have been transferred to the Diocesan Museum in Barcelona.

Saint Rudesind (also listed as Rosendo) (907-977) was a chessplayer.  He became  the bishop of Mondonedo at the age of 18.

Pope Gregory VI (970-1048) was introduced to chess.

In 1061, the Italian cardinal bishop of Ostia, Petrus (Peter, Pedro) Damiani (1007-1072), wrote a letter to the pope-elect Alexander II (pope from 1961 to 1073), and to Archdeacon Hildebrand (who was Pope Gregory VII from 1073 to 1085), complaining that priests were playing chess (scacorum).  He was particularly outraged that his traveling companion, the Bishop of Florence, was seen playing chess in public (a hotel).  Damaini labeled chess as a game of chance, like dice, which was banned.  Damaini was ignorant of chess and prejudiced against it.  He said that playing chess made” a buffoon of a priest.”  Damiani’s denunciation of chess led to a number of ecclesiastical decrees which put chess among the games forbidden to the clergy and monastic orders.  Damiani became a saint and was made a Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Leo XII in 1828.

In 1107, the mosaic floor in the Saint Savino Church in Piacenza, Italy was made that depicts two men playing chess.

In 1110, John Zonares, a monk, excommunicated chess players and banned chess as a kind of debauchery.  He wrote a commentary on the rules of Apostolic Canon and laid down excommunication as the penalty for playing chess, even among the laity.

In 1125, Bishop Guy of Paris banned chess in Paris and excommunicated a few priests who were caught playing chess.

In 1128, Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) forbade the Knights Templars from playing chess.  The prohibition of chess play was extended to other orders.  He became a saint and was given the tile “Doctor of the Church.”

In 1140, the Franciscan monk, William de Malmesbury (1095-1143), mentioned chess in his writing.  He was the foremost English historian of the 12th century.

In 1180, a Winchester monk writes about chess.  It is the first British reference to chess.

In 1198, Eudes de Sully (1168-1208), the Bishop of Paris forbade the clergy to even have a chess set or chess board in their houses.

In 1210, Pope Innocent III (1160-1216) was alleged to have written A Morality on Chess.  Pope Innocent once said that if any man plays chess and should quarrel in consequence and kill his opponent, it was not homicide.  The Innocent Morality was probably written by John of Waleys, a Franciscan friar.

In 1215, the council of Rome forbade priests from playing chess.

In 1240, the Worcester Synod of England declared that chess was forbidden.

In 1255, the Provincial Council of Beziers stated that chess was forbidden by the clergy.

Jacobus de Cessolis (1250-1322), a Dominican monk in Lombardy, was an Italian author of the most famous morality book on chess in the Middle Ages, written in Latin.  He used chess as the basis for a series of sermons on morality.  His book became one of the first books printed in English, The Game and Playe of the Chesse, printed by William Caxton in 1474.  Cessolis later moved from Lombardy to Genoa and became the Inquisition’s vicar at the San Domenico convent.  Cessolis’s manuscript on chess was believed to be the most copied manuscript of any other medieval work and found in nearly every Italian library.

Around 1280, chess moralities were being written which began as sermons in the Catholic Church.  These chess moralities rivaled the Bible in popularity.

Priests in the Catholic Church were forbidden to play chess up to 1299.  The Clementine Kormch of 1282 includes a series of directions of priests, which include no chess playing.

In 1310, the Council of Trier (which dealt with witchcraft) ruled that chess was forbidden to the clergy in Germany.

In 1329, the Synod of Wurzburg forbade chess in the clergy in Germany.

In the 1370s, Pierre Roger de Beaufort (1329-1378), who became Pope Gregory XI, became an avid chess player.  He was the 7th and last of the Avignon Popes.  His jasper anc crystal chessboard passed later into the possession of the kings of France.

In 1420, Werner von Orseln, the Grand Master of the Knights of the Teutonic Order, abandoned the prohibition of chess on the grounds that chess was a proper amusement for a knight, and not based on luck, but skill.

Pope Leo X (1475-1521), was an avid chess player.

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (1475-1530) was an avid chess player.

In 1527, Marco Girolamo Vida (1485-1566), the bishop of Alba, wrote a famous poem on chess.  He was part of the court of Pope Leo X.

Rodrigo (Ruy) Lopez de Segura (1530-1580), a Spanish Franciscan priest and later bishop in Segura, is considered by many to be the first unofficial world chess champion.  He wrote one of the first definitive books about modern chess.  He attended the pontification of Pope Gregory XIII in 1572.

In 1549, Pope Paul III (1468-1549) played chess with Paoli Boi (1528-1598), one of the strongest chess players in the world.  The pope offered to make Boi a cardinal for his chess activities, but he refused.  Later, Pope Pius V offered him a priesthood, but he declined.

In the 16th century, Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada, Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), was proclaimed patroness of chess players by the Catholic Church authorities in Spain.  In 1562, she included chess in her writings.  She used chess as a metaphor in here classic work, “The Way to Perfection.”  She once saved a soldier’s soul by teaching him chess.  In 1970, she was named a Doctor of the Church, the first woman to be so named, by Pope Paul VI. 

Giacomo Boncompagni (1548-1612), Duke of Sora and illegitimate son of Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1585), was a leading Italian chess patron.  His father named him leader of the Papal Army.  When his father, the Pope, died, Boncompagni was the most powerful man in central Italy.

Cardinal Armand Richelieu (1585-1642) was an avid chess player.

Cardinal Giocchino Pecci (1810-1903), who became Pope Leo XIII, was an avid chess player.  He may have been the strongest pope to play chess.

Pope Paul Vi (1897-1978), commended the teaching of chess to children.  He suggested that if children were occupied over the chess board instead of playing with war toys, the cause of peace might be served.

Karol Jozef Wojtyla (1920-2005), who became Pope John Paull II, was an avid chess player in his younger days.  While acting as a vicar for university students in Krakow, Poland, he frequently played chess with other students.

Bobby Fischer requested a Catholic burial in Iceland.  He was buried in Iceland in 2008 during a private Catholic ceremony.