26 July 2017

Pope Paul II

Flamboyant pope who helped make books available to ordinary people

Cristofano dell'Altissimo's portrait of Pope Paul II
Cristofano dell'Altissimo's portrait
of Pope Paul II
Pietro Barbo, who became Pope Paul II, died on this day in 1471 in Rome at the age of 54.

He is remembered for enjoying dressing up in sumptuous, ecclesiastical finery and having a papal tiara made for himself, which was studded with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, topaz, large pearls and many other precious gems.

Barbo was born in Venice and was a nephew of Pope Eugenius IV through his mother and a member of the noble Barbo family through his father.

He adopted a spiritual career after his uncle was elected as pope and made rapid progress. He became a cardinal in 1440 and promised that if he was elected pope one day he would buy each cardinal a villa to escape the summer heat. He then became archpriest of St Peter’s Basilica.

It was reported that Pope Pius II suggested he should have been called Maria Pietissima (Our Lady of Pity) as he would use tears to help him obtain things he wanted. Some historians have suggested the nickname may have been an allusion to his enjoyment of dressing up or, possibly, to his lack of masculinity.

Barbo was elected to succeed Pope Pius II in the first ballot of the papal conclave of 1464.

Beforehand an agreement had been drawn up that bound the future pope to continue the Turkish war, to not journey outside Rome without the consent of the majority of the cardinals, nor to leave Italy without the consent of all of them.

Pope Paul II as depicted in the Nuremberg Chronicles in 1493
Pope Paul II as depicted in the
Nuremberg Chronicles in 1493
The maximum number of cardinals was to be limited to 24 and any new pope was to be limited to having only one cardinal-nephew.

Upon taking office, the new pope, Paul II, was obliged to convene an ecumenical council within three years.

Paul II later modified these terms for his own benefit, losing the confidence of the college of cardinals as a result.

After his coronation, Paul withdrew from public life and became almost inaccessible. Audiences were granted only at night and even his good friends waited a fortnight to see him.

Paul II is reputed to have worn rouge in public. There was a story told by one cardinal that he meant to take the name Formosus II, which means handsome, but that he was persuaded not to. Another story claimed he was dissuaded from choosing Marcus because he was Venetian and the Cardinal of San Marco and because 'Viva San Marco' was the war cry of Venice.

Paul II built the Palazzo San Marco, which is now called Palazzo Venezia, in Rome and continued to live there even when he was pope.

He annoyed the College of Cardinals by creating new cardinals in secret without publishing their names. Some were believed to have even died before their names were published.

The house in Venice's Calle della Pietà, where Pietro Barbo was born.
The house in Venice's Calle della Pietà,
where Pietro Barbo was born.
He often clashed with papal officials and had some of them imprisoned and tortured and he excommunicated the King of Bohemia.

When Paul II died suddenly of a heart attack, reports of the cause of death varied. Some said he had collapsed with indigestion after eating an excess of melons. Some said he had died while being sodomised by a page boy.

Paul II oversaw the introduction of printing into the Papal States with the results that books became less expensive and enabled more people to be educated.

He also put on popular amusements for the locals such as a horse race during the Carnival along a main street in Rome, which then became known as Via del Corso.

He is said to have forced Jews to run naked in the streets for the amusement of non-Jews and it is claimed he made them identify themselves by wearing yellow handkerchiefs in public, a tactic used later during the Holocaust. After the death of Paul II, the next pope and a selecct group of cardinals discovered a quantity of jewels, pearls and gold that he had amassed.

Travel tip:

Before he became Pope Paul II, Pietro Barbo was made archpriest of the old St Peter’s Basilica, the church built over the burial site of St Peter in the fourth century. It contained tombs for most of the popes from St Peter to the 15th century  but in 1505, after Paul’s death, Pope Julius II decided to demolish the old Basilica and replace it with a bigger, far more imposing structure, which would house his own tomb. The present Basilica was designed by Donato Bramate, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

The Palazzo San Marco - now Palazzo Venezia - was Pope Paul II's favoured residence in Rome
The Palazzo San Marco - now Palazzo Venezia - was Pope
Paul II's favoured residence in Rome
Travel tip:

Paul II lived at Palazzo San Marco in Rome even when he was pope. Now known as Palazzo Venezia, north of Capitoline Hill, the palace was originally a modest, medieval house for cardinals to live in. It took on a new layout in 1451 when owned by Pietro Barbo, the future Pope Paul II. It had some of the first Renaissance architectural features in Rome and much of the stone used was quarried from the nearby Colosseum, a common practice until the 18th century.

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