In 1076, in a contest of the Holy Roman Empire’s secular power and the Catholic Church’s ecclesiastical power, Pope Gregory VII excommunicated the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV. The following year, Henry was forced to travel through a blizzard to Canossa Castle, in Italy, to beg the pope to revoke the excommunication. Henry IV supplicated himself on his knees at the castle entrance for three days and nights before the pope granted him an audience.
This humiliating trip was called the “Walk to Canossa,” and Canossa has come to mean a place or occasion of submission, humiliation, or penance. To use Merriam-Webster’s example, “He went to Canossa when he reversed his policy.”
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