In 1195, Giovanni was the first of many members of the Colonna family to become a Cardinal. His life was one of intense activity. A crusader, he was freed from a Saracen prison with the intervention of St. Francis of Assisi, of whom he was both friend and supporter, having been instrumental in the recognition of his monastic order. He also acted as mediator on behalf of Popes Honorius III and Gregory IX with Emperor Federick II. Becoming disillusioned with the Pope, he later took sides with the Emperor in the internecine strife which then wracked Italy and founded the Ospedale di San Giovanni on the Caelian Hill, which remains Rome’s largest hospital.
At this time a rivalry began with the pro-papal Orsini family, leaders of the Guelph faction. This reinforced the pro-Emperor Ghibelline course that the Colonna family followed throughout the period of conflict between the Papacy and the Holy n Empire. Family enmity with Pope Boniface VIII led to destruction of the fortress at Palestrina and to the seizure of the Pope at Anagni by Sciarra Colonna in 1303. It was he who, in old age, crowned Louis IV as Emperor in 1328. In honor of this event, the Colonna family was granted the privilege of using the imperial pointed crown on top of their coat of arms.
The family remained at the centre of civic and religious life throughout the late Middle Ages. In 1248, after having dedicated her entire life to serving God and the poor, Margherita Colonna died. A member of the Franciscan Order, she was beatified by Pope Pius IX in 1848.
In 1314, Cardinal Egidio Colonna died at Avignon, where the Popes had withdrawn. An Augustinian, he had studied theology in Paris under St. Thomas of Aquinas to become one of the most authoritative thinkers of his time, and tutor to French king Philip the Fair. The celebrated poet Petrarca was a great friend of the family often living in Rome as Stefano Colonna’s guest. He composed a number of sonnets for special occasions within the Colonna family, including