In 1450 Giovanni Rucellai, a Florentine visitor to Rome, counted 1022 inns ‘with signboards’, and a quantity of other hostelries. For centuries, Rome had been a magnet that drew the faithful by the tens of thousands to its venerable walls. The reason, of course, was that it was the ancestral home of the Holy See – the centre of the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Although urbs Roma could not boast of this honour throughout the entire Middle Ages, by the middle of the fifteenth century, with the reign of Nicholas V, the Holy See was securely re-established at Rome, never to depart again.
The flood of religious pilgrims to the Holy City, during Jubilee years and at other times, certainly accounted for a large part of the crowds of visitors to Rome. It is not, however, the Rome of the pilgrim that will concern us here, but the city that housed the papal Curia, the vast bureaucracy established to assist the pontiff with the temporal and spiritual responsibilities of his office. Thousands of petitioners came to Rome not to seek plenary indulgence but to secure for themselves a particular and specific papal Grace.