30 April 2016

Pope Pius V - Saint

Pontiff dismissed jester and clamped down on heretics

Painting of Pope Saint Pius V
Saint Pius V: a painting by El Greco
The feast day of Saint Pius V is celebrated every year on this day, the day before the anniversary of his death in 1572 in Rome.

Saint Pius V, who became Pope in 1566, is remembered chiefly for his role in the Counter Reformation, the period of Catholic resurgence following the Protestant Reformation.

He excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I of England for heresy and for persecuting English Catholics and he formed the Holy League, an alliance of Catholic states against the Turks.

Saint Pius V was born Antonio Ghislieri in Bosco, now Bosco Marengo, in Piedmont. At the age of 14 he entered the Dominican Order, taking the name of Michele. He was ordained at Genoa in 1528 and then sent to Pavia to lecture. 

He became a bishop under Pope Pius IV but after opposing the pontiff was dismissed. After the death of Pius IV, Ghislieri was elected Pope Pius V in 1566. His first act on becoming Pope was to dismiss the court jester and no Pope has had one since.

Protestantism had by then conquered many parts of Europe and Pius V was determined to prevent it getting into Italy. He therefore took a personal interest in the activities of the Inquisition in Rome and appeared to be unmoved by the cruelty practiced.

After his death in 1572, Pius V was buried in the Vatican despite having asked to be buried in Bosco.

He was canonised by Pope Clement XI in 1712.  Cardinal John Henry Newman later explained his severity as necessary for the time. He wrote about Pius V: “He was a soldier of Christ in a time of insurrection and rebellion, when in a spiritual sense, martial law was proclaimed.”

Photo of church in Bosco Marengo
The parish church in Bosco Marengo with a monument
to Pope Saint Pius V in the foreground
Travel tip:

Bosco Marengo is a town in the province of Alessandria in Piedmont, southeast of Turin and Alessandria. The 16th century church of Santa Croce in the town was commissioned by Pope Pius V in the year of his election to the papacy to house his tomb and it now contains a marble monument to the pope.

Travel tip:

In 1698 the body of Pope Pius V was transferred to a tomb in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Piazza del Esquilino in Rome, not far from the Termini railway station. The front of the tomb has a bronze lid engraved with a likeness of the Pope which was designed to be lifted down to allow pilgrims to view the saint’s remains.

(Photo of church in Bosco Marengo by Davide Papalini CC BY-SA 3.0)


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