At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Pope Leo X

Renaissance pope supported art but did not foresee the Reformation


Pope Leo X, with cardinals Giulio de Medici  and Luigi de Rossi, in a portrait by Raphael
Pope Leo X, with cardinals Giulio de' Medici
 and Luigi de Rossi, in a portrait by Raphael
Pope Leo X was born as Giovanni de' Medici, on this day in 1475 in Florence.

The second son of Lorenzo de' Medici - Lorenzo Il Magnifico - who ruled the Florentine Republic, Leo X has gone down in history as one of the leading Renaissance popes, who made Rome a cultural centre during his papacy.

He is also remembered for failing to take the Reformation seriously enough and for excommunicating Martin Luther.

Giovanni was always destined for a religious life and received a good education at his father’s court, where one of his tutors was the philosopher Pico della Mirandolo. Giovanni went on to study theology and canon law at the University of Pisa.

In 1492 he became a member of the Sacred College of Cardinals, but after his father died later that year, he returned to Florence to live with his older brother, Piero.

He was exiled from Florence in 1494 with the rest of his family, accused of betraying the Florentine republic, and spent the next six years travelling throughout northern Europe.

On his return to Italy in 1500 he settled in Rome and on the death of his brother, Piero, he became the head of the Medici family. Giovanni took part in the conclaves in 1503 that elected first Pope Pius III and then Pope Julius II.

Giovanni was named papal legate to Bologna and Romagna in 1511 and supervised the restoring of Medici control over Florence the following year. Although his younger brother, Giuliano, was in charge of the Florentine republic in name, it was really his older brother, Giovanni, the Cardinal, who ruled.

Giovanni was elected Pope on March 11, 1513 and took the title of Leo X.

He was ordained a priest on March 15 and consecrated Bishop of Rome before being crowned Pope.

Having spent his youth at the court of Lorenzo dè Medici, Leo X personified Renaissance ideals. He was lavish with both the church’s money and his own. Under his patronage, Rome became the cultural centre of Europe once again.

St Peter's Basilica in Rome, as seen from the roof of  Castel Sant'Angelo
St Peter's Basilica in Rome, as seen from the roof of
Castel Sant'Angelo
Work was speeded up on the construction of the new St Peter’s Basilica, which had been initiated by Pope Julius II. The holdings of the Vatican Library were increased and the arts flourished during his papacy.

As ruler of the Papal States and head of the Medici family who ruled the Florentine republic, Pope Leo X gave offices and benefits to his family to strengthen still further his position.

In 1517, after an attempt had been made on his life, Leo X named 31 new Cardinals. A former Cardinal was strangled in prison and several other imprisoned and executed after being implicated in the attempted assassination.

The Pope also had to contend with the power of France from the north and Spain to the south in the struggle to control Italy.

To raise additional money for the reconstruction of St Peter’s Basilica, Leo X reaffirmed granting papal indulgences for the remission of sins to those who contributed.

Martin Luther, whom Leo X believed was a heretic
Martin Luther, whom Leo X believed was a heretic
This was challenged by Martin Luther, who circulated his Ninety-Five Theses attacking the practice. Leo X issued a papal bull charging Luther with 41 instances of deviation from the teaching and practice of the church and ordered him to recant within 60 days or be excommunicated. Luther defied the Pope and was excommunicated by him on 3 January 1521.

Leo X believed Luther was a heretic whose teaching would leave some of the faithful astray, but that true religion would triumph.

Leo X died in Rome in December 1521 leaving behind political turmoil in Italy and religious turmoil in northern Europe. He did not take seriously the demand for church reforms that would later grow into the Protestant Reformation.

Travel tip:

The stunning Renaissance Basilica of St Peter’s in Rome was completed and consecrated in 1626, helped by the funding acquired by Pope Leo X. Believed to be the largest church in the world, Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano was built to replace the original fourth century Basilica that had been constructed on what was believed to be the burial site of St Peter. Bramante, Michelangelo and Bernini were among the many artistic geniuses who contributed to the design of the church, which is considered to be a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. Located within Vatican City, the Basilica is approached along Via della Conciliazione and through the vast space of St Peter’s Square. It is believed that St Peter, one of the disciples of Jesus, was executed in Rome on October13, 64 AD during the reign of the Emperor Nero. He was buried close to the place of his martyrdom. The old St Peter’s Basilica was constructed over the burial site 300 years later. Archaeological research under the present day Basilica was carried out during the last century and Pope Pius XII announced the discovery of St Peter’s tomb in 1950.


The Sistine Hall of the Vatican Library
The Sistine Hall of the Vatican Library
Travel tip:

The Vatican Library, inside the Vatican Palace, was built up by Pope Leo X during his papacy. It is one of the oldest libraries in the world but was formally established in 1475, the year Leo X was born. Today it is a research library for history, law, philosophy, science and theology and can be used by anyone who can document their qualifications and research needs. The Vatican Library contains a defence of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church against Martin Luther, supposedly written, or at least signed by, Henry VIII, King of England. He added a couple of lines to the text in his own hand before presenting the book to Pope Leo X.

More reading:



How Pope Julius II came to commission Michelangelo

The consecration of St Peter's Basilica

Bernini and the fountains of Rome


Also on this day:


1912: The birth of film producer Carlo Ponti

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