Adrian I, clerk, notary, regionary, and then cardinal-deacon, was a Roman, son of Theodore, and belonged to the noble family of Colonna. He was elected pope on the 9th of February, 772. This pontiff, notwithstanding the rudeness of the time, was endowed with a merit which enhanced the effect of the beauty of his person. His principle was that great point of ancient discipline, forgiveness of the guilty. He was always desirous of saving life, in order to give time for repentance. Under his authority no prisoner ever suffered torture. He set at liberty some Roman nobles accused of various offences. On that subject Anastasius and De Marca repeat that at that time the popes exercised full power in civil affairs, unless when they were hindered by popular seditions.
Desiderius, king of the Lombards, intended to seize upon Rome and expel the pope, who applied to Charlemagne. That victorious and pious prince besieged Desiderius in Pavia, in 773, made him prisoner, sent him to the monastery of Corbie, in France, and put an end to the authority of the Lombards.
The Lombard kingdom had existed two hundred and six years. The name of Lombards, however, was not extinct with their princes. Not only did they remain on the lands which the Lombards had possessed in the environs of the Po, but the dukes of Benevento gave the name of Lombardy to the lands over which they had dominion. In this revolution the Greek emperors entirely lost the hope which till then they had cherished of recovering the exarchate and the pentapolis.
In 773 Charles gave the fine domain of the duchy of Benevento to the Holy See.
In 781 Adrian baptized Pepin, son of Charlemagne, and anointed him as King of Italy. He also crowned another of Charles's sons, Louis, as King of Aquitaine. Adrian ordered that the pontiffs should put up prayers for the kings of France in the pontifical High Mass that is celebrated at the beginning of Lent. This order was obeyed in other Catholic kingdoms by the priests who were subjects of those kingdoms.
Adrian received Charlemagne at Rome three times: the first time in 773, the king having gone to celebrate Easter at Rome; the second time in 781, when he visited Rome in company with his wife and his son Pepin; and the third time in 787, when he went to repress the arrogance of Arigisa, Duke of Benevento, who had revolted against the Holy See.
In all those expeditions the principal object of Charles was to defend the domains of the Church, which had been given by King Pepin, and increased by Charles himself, the pious donor of the territory of Sabina and of the duchies of Spoleto and Benevento.
Adrian having, by the zeal of Constantine VI and his mother Irene, obtained peace with the Eastern Church, resolved to assemble the seventh general council for the putting down of the Iconoclasts. The council commenced its session in 786, and was transferred to Nice in 787. It was attended by three hundred and fifty bishops. They established the veneration of images, and to the symbol of the faith they added these words: "Qui a Patre Filioque procedit"—"Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son."
In the council that was celebrated at Frankfort in 794, Felix, Bishop of Urgel, in Catalonia, and Elipand, Archbishop of Toledo, were condemned for not admitting the veneration of images, and for maintaining that Christ was only the adoptive son of God.
The reign of Adrian was longer than that of any pope from Saint Peter. He reigned twenty-three years, ten months, and seventeen days.
In two ordinations he created one hundred and eighty-five bishops, twenty-four priests, and seven deacons. He was so charitable that he everywhere increased the revenues of the poor, and he was so munificent that upon the church of the Vatican alone he expended two thousand five hundred and eighty pounds of gold and nine hundred and seven pounds of silver. He expended nearly as much upon the ornamenting of Saint Paul outside the walls. This illustrious benefactor devoted eleven hundred pounds of gold to the rebuilding of the walls of the city, and an immense sum to defray the expense of repairing the basilica and churches. He died on the 25th of December, 795, and was buried in the Vatican. On his tomb was placed an inscription of nineteen couplets, said to have been composed by Charlemagne, who wept bitterly on the death of the pope, whom he had always looked upon as a father.
This biographical data is from "The Lives and Times of the Popes" by The Chevalier Artaud De Montor. Published by The Catholic Publication Society of New York in ten volumes in 1911. The pictures, included in the volumes, were reproduced from " Effigies Pontificum Romanorum Dominici Basae."