20 August 2022

Pope Pius X

Good hearted pontiff was made a saint

A retouched photograph of Pius X, taken in 1903 by Francesco De Federicis
A retouched photograph of Pius X,
taken in 1903 by Francesco De Federicis 
Pope Pius X, who chose to live in poverty and devote his life to the Blessed Virgin Mary, died on this day in 1914 in the Apostolic Palace in Rome.

His body was exhumed from its tomb nearly 30 years later and was found to be miraculously incorrupt and Pius X was made a saint in 1954.

Pius X was born Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto in 1835 in Riese in the province of Treviso, which was then part of the Austrian Empire.

He was the second son of the ten children born to the village postman and his seamstress wife. Although the family were poor, they valued education and, as a young boy, Sarto walked six kilometres (3.7 miles) to attend school every day.

In 1850 he was given a scholarship to attend the seminary in Padua, where he completed classical, philosophical and theological studies with distinction.

After being ordained a priest, he continued to study while carrying out the duties of a parish pastor. He then became an arch priest, a vicar capitular and was appointed Bishop of Mantua and Patriarch of Venice.

Pope Leo XIII made Sarto a Cardinal in 1893 and he progressed to become one of the most prominent preachers in the Catholic Church. He was elected Pope after the death of Leo XIII in 1903.

Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, photographed as a young man
Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto,
photographed as a young man
As Pius X, he made the defence of Roman Catholicism his main cause. He rejected attempts to reinterpret traditional Catholic teaching by Modernists and placed some Modernist books on the index of forbidden books.

He promoted liturgical reform and scholastic theology and initiated the Code of Canon Law,  which was introduced in 1917.  He regularly gave sermons from the pulpit, which was rare for popes at the time.

As a member of the Third Order of Saint Francis he remained committed to living in poverty and refused to do any favour for members of his family who were also impoverished. His brother remained a postal clerk, his sisters lived in straitened circumstances in Rome and his nephew remained a simple parish priest.

After the 1908 Messina earthquake, Pius X housed refugees in the Apostolic Palace, long before the Italian Government reacted to the disaster.

Pius X suffered a heart attack in 1913. The following year he is said to have become distressed by the seemingly inevitable approach of war and he died after falling ill again in August 1914.

He had been loved for his essential goodness of heart and crowds of pilgrims came to pray before his tomb in the crypt of St Peter’s.

Pius X was beatified in 1951 and canonised in 1954 by Pope Pius XII in front of an estimated 800,000 people. Pius X was the first Pope to be made a saint since Pius V, 400 years before.

The house in Riese, Treviso, where Pope Pius X was born in 1835, is now a museum
The house in Riese, Treviso, where Pope Pius X
was born in 1835, is now a museum
Travel tip:

Pius X’s birthplace of Riese, a municipality in the province of Treviso in the Veneto, was renamed Riese Pio X in his honour. The house in which the Pope was born has now become a museum dedicated to his life. In the village of Cendrole just outside Riese Pio X, Santuario della Beata Vergine delle Cendrole, which the Pope often visited as a child, has also become popular with pilgrims. Formerly a pagan temple, the Sanctuary, in Via Cendrole, became a Christian Church but had to be rebuilt several times over the centuries after fires. The present building dates back to 1730 when it was rebuilt with a fa├žade in Doric style to the design of architect Ottavio Scotti. An effigy of the Vergine delle Cendrole, which would be a childhood memory for Pius X, remains on the Baroque major altar to this day.

Travel tip:

There is a monument to Saint Pio X in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Designed by the architect Florestano Di Fausto and carved by the sculptor Pietro Astorri, the white marble statue was erected in 1923 on the 20th anniversary of his accession to the papacy.  It can be found to the left of the nave, squeezed into a small niche above a column between the Presentation Chapel and the Choir Chapel.  The body of Pius X can be seen under the altar in the Presentation Chapel, to which it was transferred from the original, simple tomb in the crypt following the canonisation in 1954.

Also on this day:

1561: The birth of composer and singer Jacopo Peri

1799: The death of poet and revolutionary Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel

1936: The birth of ballerina Carla Fracci

1937: The birth of composer Stelvio Cipriani


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