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, 7 January 2018

Pope Innocent X

Political pontiff dominated by sister-in-law

The portrait of Innocent X by the Spanish artist Diego Valesquez, notably for a terse facial expression
The portrait of Innocent X by the Spanish artist Diego
Velázquez, notable for a terse facial expression
A politically charged and controversial period in papal history ended on this day in 1655 with the death in Rome of Pope Innocent X.

Described by some historians as a scheming and bitter pontiff, Innocent X’s tenure was notable for his malicious attack on a rival family, his destruction of the ancient city of Castro, a squabble with France that almost ended in war, his interference in the English Civil War and his refusal to recognise the independence of Portugal.

It was also overshadowed by rumours of an immoral relationship with his sister-in-law, Olimpia Maidalchini, the widow of his late brother. Historians generally agree that these were unfounded, yet Innocent X was dominated by her to the extent that she became the most powerful figure in his court, her influence so strong that ambassadors, cardinals and bishops knew that the pope would defer to her before making any decision and consequently would address any issues directly to her.

Born in Rome in 1574 and baptised as Giovanni Battista Pamphili, he came from a wealthy and well-established family who originally came from Gubbio in Umbria.

His parents, Camillo Pamphili and Flaminia de Bubalis, groomed him from an early age with the ambition that he would one day become pope.

Innocent X's predecessor, Urban VIII, as  depicted by Caravaggio in 1598
Innocent X's predecessor, Urban VIII, as
depicted by Caravaggio in 1598
He studied jurisprudence at the Collegio Romano and succeeded his uncle, Girolamo Pamphili, as auditor (judge) of the Roman Rota, the most important court in the ecclesiastical legal system.

Under Pope Gregory XV, he became nuncio (ambassador) to the court of the Kingdom of Naples, and was sent by Urban VIII to accompany his nephew, Francesco Barberini, whom he had accredited as nuncio, first to France and then Spain.

In May 1626, he was made apostolic nuncio to the court of Philip IV of Spain, an appointment that led to a lifelong association with the Spaniards. He was made a cardinal in 1627 at the age of 53.

He was elected pope in 1644 after a long and stormy conclave to find a successor to Urban VIII, undermined by the difficult relations between the Spanish and the French.  Pamphili was put forward as a compromise candidate, despite his sympathies towards Spain.  Cardinal Jules Mazarin, the de facto ruler of France, travelled to Rome to veto the appointment but arrived too late.

Soon after his accession, having given himself the name of  Innocent X, he began a legal action against the Barberini family, long-time rivals of the Pamphili, for alleged misappropriation of public funds.

It led the brothers, Francesco, Antonio and Taddeo Barberini, to flee to Paris, where they found a powerful protector in Cardinal Mazarin.  Innocent X confiscated their property and issued a bull (decree) that all cardinals who might leave the Papal States for six months without express papal permission would be deprived of their benefices and eventually cease to be cardinals.

A painting by an unknown artist believed to show Olimpia Maidalchini
A painting by an unknown artist believed
to show Olimpia Maidalchini
France refused to recognise the papal ordinance but it was only when Mazarin prepared to send troops to Italy that Innocent X yielded. Papal policy towards France became softer and in time the Barberini brothers were rehabilitated.

Innocent X’s destruction of the ancient city of Castro in Lazio seems to have been an act of revenge against Odoardo Farnese, Duke of Parma, over a defeat suffered by Urban VIII and the humiliation that seemed to hasten his demise.

His intervention in the English Civil War was to send the archbishop of Fermo, Giovanni Battista Rinuccini, to Ireland as nuncio extraordinary, along with a large quantity of arms, gunpowder and money, to support the foundation of an independent Catholic-ruled Ireland, only for Oliver Cromwell to hold sway and restore Ireland to his side.

Innocent X's decision to side with Spain over Portugal’s bid for independence was consistent with his general policy of supporting Spanish ambitions and, as an extension of that position, opposing France.

Although his papacy was dominated by political matters, he did not entirely neglect ecclesiastical issues. The most important in his time concerned the condemnation of Jansenism, an interpretation of the teachings of St. Augustine about grace and free will that he decreed was heretical.

He was cautious financially, although he did commission the completion of the interior of St. Peter’s as well as the transformation of Piazza Navona into the artistic masterpiece we see today, and the restoration of Palazzo Pamphili, the home of Pope Urban VIII, which looks out on the piazza.

Innocent X was pope for 11 years until his death in Rome at the age of 80. Religious historians are divided on his legacy, some believing he weakened the papacy, others that he increased its power. He was succeeded by Alexander VII, from the Chigi family.

Bernini's Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi
Bernini's Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi
Travel tip:

Built on the site of the Roman Stadium of Domitian, Piazza Navona became a public open space in the 15th century, when Rome’s main market moved there from Campidoglio. It already contained the Fontana del Moro (Moors Foutain) and the Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune), sculpted by Giacomo della Porta between 1574 and 1575, but Innocent X commissioned Gian Lorenzo Bernini to create its magnificent centrepiece, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) in 1651, which is topped by the Obelisk of Domitian, moved from the Circus of Maxentius.

A typical staircase in medieval Gubbio
A typical staircase in medieval Gubbio
Travel tip:

Gubbio, the town in Umbria from which Innocent X’s family originated, is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Italy, partly because, perched on the side of Monte Ingino, it is not accessible easily enough to attract hordes of visitors.  Full of narrow streets, alleyways and staircases, most of them dramatically steep, it has been dubbed La Città del Silenzio – the City of Silence – for its sometimes eerie serenity and calm. 


No comments:

Post a Comment