Showing posts with label Popes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Popes. Show all posts

2 June 2024

Battle of Marino

Bloody fight that entrenched rival factions in Catholic Church

Robert of Geneva, rival pope to Urban VI
Robert of Geneva, rival
pope to Urban VI
Giacomo Orsini, a member of the Orsini family of Rome that produced five popes between the eighth and 18th centuries, stormed the Castle of Marino - in the area south of Rome known as the Castelli Romani - on this day in 1379, bringing a decisive conclusion to a military battle that would end any hopes that the 1378 split in the Catholic Church might be quickly resolved.

The Battle of Marino was fought between armies loyal to Pope Urban VI, the former Archbishop of Bari who had been elected as successor to Pope Gregory XI, and the antipope Clement VII, who had set up rival courts a year earlier following the split that became known as the Great Schism or Western Schism.

The papacy had only just been returned to Rome by Gregory XI from Avignon in France following a fragmentation that had occurred 70 years earlier but the election of Bartolomeo Prignano to rule as Urban VI reignited the division.

Urban VI was hostile toward the French cardinals who had gained significant power during the Avignon years and wanted the papal court to remain in the city in southeastern France.

Those cardinals, fearing that they would become marginalised, responded by declaring that Urban VI’s election was invalid due to having taken place in a climate of fear and instead elected Robert of Geneva to lead the church as Pope Clement VII.

The two rival factions assembled armies. The troops backing Urban VI were mainly Italian mercenaries under the command of Alberico da Barbiano, while the anti-papal army consisted of French mercenaries led by the Count of Montjoie.

The scene of the Battle of Marino, fought to the  south of Rome, as it looks in the present day
The site of the Battle of Marino, fought to the 
south of Rome, as it looks in the present day
They faced each other in the Battle of Marino, fought in the valley east of the town that is now known as the Valley of the Dead, perhaps on account of the bloody battle fought there.

Victory went to the Italians, the battle concluded when the Castle of Marino - on the site of  which the Palazzo Colonna now stands - was besieged by papal troops. The fact that the castle was commanded by Giordano Orsini, a supporter of the antipope, yet the papal soldiers who took it on June 2, 1379 were led by Giordano's son Giacomo, illustrates how the split in the church also divided families. 

Following the defeat of his army, Clement VII, who had based himself in Anagni, 72km (45 miles) southeast of Rome, felt vulnerable and fled Anagni first for Sperlonga, then Gaeta, finally landing in  Naples.

He was received well by Queen Joanna I of Naples, who afforded him great respect, but in the streets he found himself confronted by angry mobs declaring their support for “Papa Urbano". He returned to Gaeta, where he boarded a ship that would ultimately take him to Avignon.

The Western Schism, also known as the Great Schism, would last from 1378 to 1417, a tumultuous period in which there were two - later three - rival popes, each claiming to be the legitimate pontiff.

The division was finally ended by The Council of Constance, which met over a period of four years between 1414 and 1418, eventually finding a mutually acceptable pope in Oddone Colonna, a Roman, who was elected as Pope Martin V. 

Via Roma in Marino, looking  towards Palazzo Colonna
Via Roma in Marino, looking
 towards Palazzo Colonna
Travel tip:

Marino today is a town in Lazio, set among the Alban Hills, 21 km (13 miles) southeast of Rome, with a population of 37,684. It is bounded by the towns of Castel Gandolfo, Albano Laziale, Rocca di Papa, Grottaferrata, and Ciampino.  Marino is famous for its white wine, and for its Grape Festival, which has been celebrated since 1924.  Marino suffered extensive damage during World War Two. In 1944 it was heavily bombed by aircraft from the United States Air Force and in the spring of 1945 it was the scene of heavy fighting between troops of the British Indian Army and Axis troops which caused much of the city to be destroyed.  As well as the Palazzo Colonna, built on the site of the former castle, Marino's  main sights include the Basilica of San Barnaba, built in Baroque style, with an imposing façade dating to 1653. Among other works of art, it houses the Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew by Guercino and a bust of St. Anthony Abbot by Ercole Ferrata.

The former palace of Boniface VIII in the town of Anagni, which has produced four popes
The former palace of Boniface VIII in the
town of Anagni, which has produced four popes
Travel tip:

Anagni is an ancient town in the province of Frosinone in Lazio, built on a hillI above the Sacco Valley, southeast of Rome. It is in an area known as Ciociaria, named after the primitive footwear - ciocie - favoured for many years by people living in the area. It was a papal residence in the Middle Ages and the birthplace of no fewer than four popes: Innocent III, Gregory IX, Alexander IV, and Boniface VIII. With the death of Boniface VIII, the power of the town declined. The mediaeval Palace of Boniface VIII is near the Cathedral. Among sights worth seeking out is the majestic cathedral of Santa Maria Annunziata, built with a mix of Romanesque and Gothic styles and completed in 1104, which stands out as a city’s symbol and seat of the local diocese, with a steeple about 30m (98ft) high. The crypt of San Magno is sometimes called the 'Sistine Chapel of the Middle Age', owing to its  fresco cycle with images telling about the genesis of the world, the creation of humans and their salvation, as well as the lives and miracles of the Saint and other martyrs.

Also on this day: 

1882: The death of unification hero Giuseppe Garibaldi

1957: The birth of cycle racer Roberto Visentini

Festa della Repubblica 


13 March 2024

Pope Innocent XII

Pontiff who banned nepotism in papal appointments 

A divided papal conclave elected Pope  Innocent XII as a compromise candidate
A divided papal conclave elected Pope
 Innocent XII as a compromise candidate 
Pope Innocent XII, whose nine years as Pope at the end of the 17th century were notable for his ban on the practice of pontiffs appointing relatives to key positions in the papal court, was born Antonio Pignatelli on this day in 1615.

Innocent XII, who was elected Pope in July 1691 and led the Catholic Church until his death in September 1700, issued the papal bull entitled Romanum decet pontificem within a year of taking office, abolishing the position of Cardinal-Nephew in the church hierarchy.

Cardinal-Nephew as an office in the church had been officially recognised since 1566 but the practice of appointing family members had been used by a succession of popes since the Middle Ages to help them consolidate family power and wealth in an era when papal authority extended well beyond the confines of the church.

The practice gave rise to the use of the term nepotism to describe the act of granting an advantage, privilege, or position to relatives or friends in any occupation or field. The word originates from cardinalis nepos, the Latin translation of cardinal nephew - cardinale nipote in Italian.

It was a practice Pignatelli was determined to stamp out, viewing it as an abuse of power, and he set out to build on the groundwork done by Pope Innocent XI between 1676 and 1689 but which his immediate predecessor, Pope Alexander VIII, had not advanced.

Pignatelli was born in Spinazzola, a town now in Puglia but then in the Kingdom of Naples, about 80km (50 miles) west of Bari. His aristocratic family included several Viceroys and ministers of the crown.  He was educated at the Collegio Romano in Rome where he earned a doctorate in both canon and civil law.

Pope Innocent XII's tomb in  Saint Peter's Basilica
Pope Innocent XII's tomb in 
Saint Peter's Basilica
He became an official of the court of Pope Urban VIII at the age of 20 and thereafter held a number of diplomatic roles including Inquisitor of Malta and Governor of Perugia. 

After he was ordained as a priest, he was made Titular Archbishop of Larissa. He subsequently served as the Apostolic Nuncio to Poland and later Austria. Pope Innocent XI appointed him as the Cardinal-Priest of San Pancrazio and then of Faenza. His final post before the papacy was  Archbishop of Naples. 

Pope Alexander VIII died in 1691, after which the conclave to select his successor was split between factions loyal to France, Spain and the broader Holy Roman Empire. After a five-month deadlock, Cardinal Pignatelli emerged as a compromise candidate and was crowned on July 15, when he was given possession of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran.

As well as outlawing the Cardinal-Nephew position, which meant that popes could not bestow estates, offices, or revenues on any relative, Innocent XII introduced other reforms.

These included economies in the way the church was run and improvements in the way the church administered justice. He also appointed Marcello Malpighi, a pioneer in the use of the microscope in medicine, as his personal physician and made him Professor of Medicine at the Sapienza University of Rome.

After a long period of ill health that caused him to miss a number of important engagements in 1700, Innocent XII died on September 27 of that year, to be succeeded by Pope Clement XI.

His tomb in Saint Peter's Basilica was sculpted by Filippo della Valle.

Via Acerenza is typical of the narrow, cobbled streets that fan out from Spinazzola's main street
Via Acerenza is typical of the narrow, cobbled
streets that fan out from Spinazzola's main street
Travel tip:

Formerly part of Basilicata, the border of which is less than 5km away, Spinazzola has been part of Puglia since 1811.  It is a charming small town in the province of Barletta-Andria-Trani, with narrow cobblestone streets, traditional stone houses and a number of historic buildings, with Roman and Byzantine influences.  The countryside around it is particularly picturesque. Pope Innocent XII’s family owned a castle in the town but it fell into disrepair and was demolished at the beginning of the 20th century. Some remains of a medieval city wall still exist, along with the 16th century mother church of San Pietro Apostolo and the first Templar hospital. Historic palaces include the Saracen Palace on Corso Vittorio Emanuele, one of the main streets through the town’s narrow historic centre.  The centre of the town’s social life is Piazza Plebiscito, a square at the junction of Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Corso Umberto I.

Book your stay in Spinazzola with

Rome's Collegio Romano, which Antonio Pignatelli attended before becoming Pope, was built in 1582
Rome's Collegio Romano, which Antonio Pignatelli
attended before becoming Pope, was built in 1582
Travel tip:

Rome’s Collegio Romano - the city’s Jesuit College - was established in 1551 by Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order. A new building was erected for the College, under the patronage of Pope Gregory XIII, in 1582. The building can be found in the central Pigna district of the city in a square now known as Piazza del Collegio Romano. It is currently used partly by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture and partly by the Ennio Quirino Visconti high school.  Pigna takes its name from an enormous Roman bronze statue in the shape of a pine cone, which once adorned an ancient Roman fountain.  The sculpture was later moved to the Cortile del Belvedere at the Vatican Palace, where it stands alongside a pair of bronze Roman peacocks from Hadrian’s mausoleum. The area’s tourist attractions include the Pantheon, built in 118AD and considered to be Rome’s best preserved ancient building.

Accommodation in Rome from

More reading:

Urban VIII, the pope whose extravagance led to disgrace

Why a 16th century Pope decreed that 10 days would not happen

The Pope who commissioned Michelangelo for the Sistine Chapel

Also on this day: 

1853: The birth of actor and playwright Eduardo Scarpetta

1925: The birth of actor Corrado Gaipa

1955: The birth of footballer Bruno Conti

1960: The birth of rock musician Luciano Ligabue

1980: The birth of dancer Flavia Cacace

(Picture credits: tomb by Samuraijohnny; Via Acerenza by Forsehairagione; Collegio Romano by Lalupa; via Wikimedia Commons)


15 February 2024

Carlo Maria Martini – Cardinal

Liberal leanings prevented scholar’s elevation to the papacy

Carlo Maria Martini, a liberal within the Catholic Church, lost out to papal rival Joseph Ratzinger
Carlo Maria Martini, a liberal within the Catholic
Church, lost out to papal rival Joseph Ratzinger 
Carlo Maria Martini, who was once a candidate to become pope, was born on this day in 1927 in Orbassano in the province of Turin.

As Cardinal Martini, he was known to be tolerant in areas of sexuality and strong on ecumenism, and he was the leader of the liberal opposition to Pope John Paul II. He published more than 50 books, which sold millions of copies worldwide.

Martini, who expressed views in his lifetime on the need for the Catholic Church to update itself, was a contender for the papacy in the 2005 conclave and, according to Vatican sources at the time, he received more votes than Joseph Ratzinger in the first round. 

But Ratzinger, who was considered the more conservative of the candidates, ended up with a higher number of votes in subsequent rounds and was elected Pope Benedict XVI.

Martini had entered the Jesuit order in 1944 when he was 17 and he was ordained at the age of 25, which was considered unusually early.

His doctoral theses, in theology at the Gregorian University and in scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, were thought to be so brilliant that they were immediately published.

After completing his studies, Martini had a successful academic career. He edited scholarly works and became active in the scientific field, publishing articles and books. He had the honour of being the only Catholic member of the ecumenical committee that prepared the new Greek edition of the New Testament. He became dean of the faculty of scripture at the Biblical Institute, was rector from 1969 to 1978, and then rector of the Gregorian University. 

In his later years, suffering from Parkinson's disease, Martini moved to Jerusalem
In his later years, suffering from Parkinson's
disease, Martini moved to Jerusalem
In 1979, he was appointed Archbishop of Milan, which was considered unusual, as Jesuits are not normally named bishops. He was made a cardinal in 1983. 

He started the so-called ‘cathedra of non-believers’ in 1987, an idea he conceived with philosopher Massimo Cacciari. He held a series of public dialogues in Milan with agnostic, or atheist, scientists, and intellectuals about the reasons to believe in God.

He was presented with an honorary doctorate from the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1996 and an award for Social Sciences in 2000. In the same year, Martini was admitted as a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI was considering retirement, but was being urged against it by some of his confidants. By then, Martini was himself suffering from Parkinson’s disease and he encouraged the Pope to go ahead with his decision to retire.

After his own retirement, Martini moved to Jerusalem to continue his work as a biblical scholar. 

He died in Gallarate in the province of Varese in 2012. More than 150,000 people passed before his casket in the Duomo di Milano. The Italian Government was represented by Prime Minister Mario Monti and his wife. Martini was buried in a tomb on the left side of the cathedral facing the main altar.

Piazza Umberto I in Orbassano, overlooked by the parish church of San Giovanni Battista
Piazza Umberto I in Orbassano, overlooked by
the parish church of San Giovanni Battista
Travel tip:

Orbassano, the comune (municipality) where Martini was born, is about 13km (8 miles) southwest of Turin, falling within the Piedmont capital's municipal area. It can trace its history back to the Roman conquest of Cisalpine Gaul because two imperial era tombstones were found there in the 19th century. The Indian politician, Sonia Gandi, was brought up in Orbassano, although she was born near Vicenza. While studying at Cambridge, Sonia met Rajiv Gandi, who she married in 1968. The couple settled in India and had a family but he was assassinated in his home country in 1991.  Orbassano has a pleasant central square, the Piazza Umberto I, the site of the town's two main churches, the parish church of San Giovanni Battista and the Baroque church of the Confraternita dello Spirito Santo, in which the artworks include a Pentecost by Giovanni Andrea Casella from 1647 and a Madonna and saints by Michele Antonio Milocco from 1754.

Book your stay in Orbassano with

Liberty-style villas built by architect Carlo Moroni and his partner, Filippo Tenconi, abound in Gallarate
Liberty-style villas built by architect Carlo Moroni
and his partner, Filippo Tenconi, abound in Gallarate 
Travel tip:

Gallarate, where Martini died after he spent his final years living in a Jesuit house, is a small city in the province of Varese, about 42km (26 miles) northwest of Milan. It has a Romanesque church, San Pietro, which dates from the 11th century. In Piazza Garibaldi, where there is a statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, there is an historic pharmacy, Dahò, where members of the Carbonari used to hide out during the 19th century.  Founded by the Gauls and later conquered by the Romans, Gallarate enjoyed prosperity under Visconti control in the 14th and 15th centuries, when the area's textile industry began to develop and grow. By the 19th and 20th centuries, it was an important industrial city, where thousands of workers were employed in Liberty-style factory buildings. The heavy industry has largely gone now, with high-tech businesses a features of the city's modern economy, but the architectural echoes remain. Piazza Garibaldi also features Casa Bellora, a Stile Liberty mansion commissioned by the local captain of industry, Carlo Bellora, who had factories in Gallarate, Somma, Albizzate, and in the Bergamo area, who hired the architect Carlo Moroni to build a house for his family.  Moroni and the engineer Filippo Tenconi combined to build numerous villas in what is known as the 'Liberty district' between Corso Sempione and the railway. 

Find accommodation in Gallarate with

More reading:

How the first railway line in northern Italy sparked 19th century boom

Karol Wojtyla - the first non-Italian pope for 455 years

Carlo Maria Viganò, the controversial archbishop who shocked Catholic Church

Also on this day:

1564: The birth of astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei

1898: The birth of comic actor Totò

1910: The birth of circus clown Charlie Cairoli

1944: Monte Cassino Abbey destroyed in WW2 bombing raid

(Picture credits: Main picture by Mafon1959; older Carlo Martini by RaminusFalcon; Piazza Umberto I by Simoneislanda; via Wikimedia Commons)



13 July 2022

Vannozza dei Cattanei - popes’ mistress

Mother of Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia was figure of influence

Vannozza dei Cattanei hailed from an aristocratic family in Mantua
Vannozza dei Cattanei hailed from
an aristocratic family in Mantua
Vannozza dei Cattanei, who was for many years the chief mistress of Cardinal Rodrigo de Borgia - later Pope Alexander VI - was born on this day in 1442 in Mantua.

Herself from the aristocratic Candia family, Vannozza - baptised as Giovanna de Candia - grew up to be a beautiful woman but also a successful businesswoman, acquiring a number of osterie - inns - after she moved to Rome.

In 15th century Italy, it was not unusual for cardinals and popes to have mistresses, despite Holy Orders coming with a vow of celibacy.  Before her relationship with Rodrigo de Borgia, Vannozza allegedly was mistress to Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, the future Pope Julius II and a rival to Borgia in the 1492 papal election that he won.

Rodrigo made no attempt to hide his sexual dalliances, acquiring the nickname Papa Cattivo - the naughty pope - not only for his promiscuity but his questionable morals in other areas, with allegations that he was involved in bribery and extortion on his rise to the top, and rumours that he poisoned some of his rivals.

Unusually, compared with other popes and cardinals who flouted the rules, Borgia openly acknowledged the children that Vannozza bore him during their relationship, which is thought to have lasted between 20 and 25 years, providing for them financially and having a significant influence over their lives.

The eldest, Cesare, born in 1475, became a cardinal and as leader of the Papal armies captured large amounts of territory that were added to the Pope’s empire.  Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince, the treatise on power that was written as a kind of reference point for new princes and royals, was influenced by Cesare’s lust for power.

Pope Alexander VI is thought to have fathered four children with Vannozza
Pope Alexander VI is thought to have
fathered four children with Vannozza
Of the others, Giovanni - also known as Juan - became the second Duke of Gandia but was murdered at the age of 21, possibly by Cesare; Gioffre married the daughter of the King of Naples, which was advantageous to Rodrigo Borgia.

Lucrezia, meanwhile, was forced to marry three times to elevate Rodrigo’s own status and acquire land and wealth. She took lovers of her own and there were rumours that Giovanni was in fact her own son, the product of an affair with her father's chamberlain.

Vannozza herself had to agree to marriages arranged by Borgia, first to Domenico d'Arignano, an officer of the church, then Giorgio di Croce, for whom Borgia had procured a position as apostolic secretary, and later Carlo Canale, the warden of a papal jail.

Her relationship with Rodrigo Borgia is thought to have changed after she turned 40 and Borgia’s passion for her had diminished by the time he was elevated to Pope in 1492. The care of all her children was entrusted to others in Borgia’s circle, although she remained part of it herself as a sort of matriarchal figure and her former lover sought her counsel as Pope.

He continued to support her financially and by the time she died in 1518, at the age of 76, she had acquired a considerable portfolio of property around the city.

Vannozza outlived Rodrigo de Borgia by 15 years yet despite the nature of their relationship she was granted a public funeral, recognised by Pope Leo X as the widow of Alexander VI. She was buried in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, near her son, Giovanni, after a ceremony attended by the Papal Court. 

The skyline of Mantua has changed little since it was the Renaissance seat of the Gonzaga family
The skyline of Mantua has changed little since it
was the Renaissance seat of the Gonzaga family

Travel tip:

The small, historic city of Mantua in Lombardy, which can be found approximately 150km (93 miles) southeast of Milan along the Po Valley, is flanked on three sides by artificial lakes created in the 123th century as the city’s defence system, filled with water from the Mincio river, a tributary of the Po. There was a fourth lake, which meant the city was once surrounded by water, but it dried up in the 18th century and never replenished. It was traditionally the seat of the Gonzaga family, who established a court with a heavy emphasis on music, art and culture. The city has a number of architectural treasures and elegant palaces, while the skyline of its historic old centre has changed little since Renaissance times. At its heart is Piazza Mantegna, where the 15th century Basilica of Sant’Andrea houses the tomb of the artist, Andrea Mantegna. Inside the Palazzo Ducale, the seat of the Gonzaga family between 1328 and 1707, the Camera degli Sposi is decorated with frescoes by Mantegna.

The Church of Santa Maria del Popolo is in Piazza del Popolo, adjoining Porta del Popolo
The Church of Santa Maria del Popolo is in Piazza
del Popolo, adjoining Porta del Popolo
Travel tip:

The Church of Santa Maria del Popolo is a minor basilica in Rome that stands on the north side of Piazza del Popolo, hemmed in between the Pincian Hill and Porta del Popolo, one of the gates in the Aurelian Wall, its position making it the first church encountered by many travellers arriving in the city. The original church was founded by Pope Paschal II in 1099. The existing structure was built largely between 1472 and 1477 as part of an urban renovation programme instigated by Pope Sixtus IV. A trio of great architects - Andrea Bregno, Donato Bramante and Gian Lorenzo Bernini - contributed to its design and are among those whose works can be found inside, along with Raphael, Caravaggio, Alessandro Algardi, Pinturicchio and Guillaume de Marcillat. 

Also on this day:

1478: The birth of Giulio d’Este of Ferrara 

1814: The founding of the Carabinieri police force

1928: The birth of Mafia mobster and ‘pentito’ Tommaso Buscetta 

1974: The birth of racing driver Jarno Trulli


7 February 2022

Pope Pius IX

Pontiff who regarded himself as a prisoner

Pope Pius IX's reign was the longest in history but ended in controversy
Pope Pius IX's reign was the longest in
history but ended in controversy
Pope Pius IX, who died on this day in 1878 in the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City in Rome, had the longest verified papal reign in history, having been head of the Catholic Church since 1846.

He is also remembered for permanently losing control of the Papal States, which became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1870. Afterwards he refused to leave Vatican City and often referred to himself as ‘a prisoner of the Vatican’.

Pius IX was born Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti in 1792 in Senigallia in Le Marche which was then part of the Papal States.

While studying theology, Mastai Ferretti met Pope Pius VII when he was visiting his hometown and afterwards, he entered the Papal Noble Guard. He was dismissed after he suffered an epileptic seizure, but Pius VII supported him continuing with his theological studies and he was ordained a priest in 1819.

Pope Leo X chose him to support the Apostolic Nunzio on a mission to Chile and although it ended in failure the Pope gave him new roles and appointed him Archbishop of Spoleto in 1827, where he gained the reputation of being both efficient and liberal.

Mastai Ferretti became Cardinal Priest of Santi Marcellino e Pietro, where he was known for visiting prisoners, devising programmes to help street children and sympathising with the nationalist movement in Italy.

The murder of Pellegrino Rossi sparked an  angry uprising against the papal government
The murder of Pellegrino Rossi sparked an 
angry uprising against the papal government
After he was elected Pope in 1846, Mastai Ferretti chose the name Pius IX to honour Pope Pius VII, who had helped him at the beginning of his career. Pius IX was a popular choice at the time, because he was expected to be a reforming liberal who supported the movement to unify Italy.

But after the revolutions of 1848, Pius IX changed his position. He had appointed Pellegrino Rossi, an economist and politician as his Interior Minister and put him in charge of a programme of unpopular reforms. He also withdrew the support of the Papal Army from the First Italian War of Independence against the Austrian Empire.

On November 15 1848, when Rossi arrived at the Palazzo della Cancelleria to present his plans for a new constitutional order, he was stabbed in the neck while climbing the stairs to the assembly hall.

The murder of Rossi encouraged an uprising against the papal government and Pius IX was besieged inside the Palazzo del Quirinale by an unruly mob. Pius IX was forced to negotiate with the revolutionaries and to appoint a more liberal ministry.

Victor Emanuel II was excommunicated by Pius IX
Victor Emanuel II was
excommunicated by Pius IX
However, on the evening of 24 November, helped by his close allies, he was able to escape from the palace disguised as an ordinary priest and flee to Gaeta, in the Kingdom of Naples, where the King of the Two Sicilies had promised him refuge.

A Roman Republic was declared in February 1849 and Pius IX responded form his exile by excommunicating all those taking part.

When the Pope returned to Rome in 1850, he decided to move from the Quirinale to the Vatican, where popes have resided ever since.

After defeating the papal army in 1860, Victor Emanuel II of Sardinia seized all the papal territories and took the title King of Italy. Pius IX refused to recognise the new Italian kingdom and excommunicated all the leaders, including the King.

Pius IX absolved Victor Emanuel II of all excommunications and punishments before the King died in January 1878 and gave permission for him to be buried in the Pantheon. The Pope died himself one month later on 7 February, aged 85. Although tradition holds that Saint Peter was Pope for 37 years, this can’t be verified, so Pius IX is on record as having had the longest, verified papal reign, at almost 32 years.

He was originally buried in St Peter’s grotto, but his body was moved in a night procession in 1881 to the Basilica of St Lawrence outside the Walls. As the procession approached the river, soldiers had to prevent a group of protesting Romans from throwing the coffin into the Tiber.

Pius IX was beatified in 2000 by Pope John Paul II, who gave him a more elaborate tomb in the Basilica rather than the simple grave where he was originally laid to rest. The annual liturgical commemoration for Pius IX was declared to be 7 February, the date of his death.

The 1930s Liberty-style Rotonda a Mare is  an attraction of modern-day Senigallia
The 1930s Liberty-style Rotonda a Mare is 
an attraction of modern-day Senigallia
Travel tip:

Senigallia, where Pope Pius IX was born, is a port town on the Adriatic coast in the province of Ancona in Le Marche. Senigallia was captured and recaptured many times by opposing sides in the Guelph and Ghibelline wars. In 1503, Cesare Borgia carried out a raid on Senigallia to punish some of his disloyal supporters. The port was then ruled by the Della Rovere family and Medici family in turn before being annexed to the papal states. The town was damaged during World War I, by a powerful earthquake in 1930, and during World War II. It is now a popular summer holiday destination.

Gaeta is built on a promontory jutting out into the Gulf of Gaeta
Gaeta is built on a promontory jutting
out into the Gulf of Gaeta

Travel tip:

Gaeta, where Pope Pius IX fled after being besieged in Palazzo del Quirinale in Rome, is a city in the province of Latina in Lazio, 120 km (75 miles) south of Rome, set on a promontory stretching towards the Gulf of Gaeta. Today it is a fishing and oil seaport and a popular resort with tourists. It has a huge Aragonese-Angevine Castle, which dates back to the sixth century and the Cathedral of Assunta e Sant’Erasmo, which was built over a more ancient church and consecrated by Pope Paschal II in 1106. 

Also on this day:

1497: The Bonfire of the Vanities

1622: The birth of Vittoria della Rovere, Grand Duchess of Tuscany

1909: The birth of army horseman Amedeo Guillet

1941: The birth of pop singer Little Tony


4 December 2020

Saint Giovanni Calabria

Priest offered himself to God to save a Pope

Giovanni Calabria dedicated his life to the poor and sick
Giovanni Calabria dedicated
his life to the poor and sick
Giovanni Calabria, who dedicated his life to helping the poor and the sick, died on this day in 1954 in Verona.

Roman Catholics throughout the world will celebrate his feast day today as a result of his canonisation by Pope John Paul II in 1999.

When Pope Pius XII became ill in 1954, Calabria offered himself to God to die in the place of the Pope. Pius XII began to get better and went on to live for another four years, but Calabria died the next day. After the Pope recovered he sent a telegram of condolence to Calabria’s congregation.

Giovanni Calabria was born in 1873 in Verona. He was the youngest of the seven sons of Luigi Calabria, a cobbler, and Angela Foschio, a maid servant.

Calabria was only a young child when his father died but he had to drop out of school to become an apprentice.

However, a rector at his local church saw his potential and gave him private tuition to prepare him for an exam that would determine whether he could begin studying for the priesthood.

But first Calabria had to serve in the army where he converted his fellow soldiers and was renowned for the strength of his faith. After completing his military service he resumed his theology studies with the intention of becoming a priest.

The letters between Calabria and CS Lewis have been published
The letters between Calabria and
CS Lewis have been published
One winter’s night in 1897 he returned from visiting the sick in hospital to find a child on his doorstep who said he was running away from violence and so Calabria gave him shelter in his own home.

The following year he founded a charitable institution to help sick and impoverished people and started a home for abandoned young people.

Calabria was ordained as a priest in 1901 and then appointed as a confessor and a curate at a church in Verona.

He became the rector of San Benedetto al Monte in 1907, where he helped care for soldiers.

Later that same year he founded the Poor Servants of Divine Providence. Three years later, he formed a female branch, the Poor Women Servants of Divine Providence.

During World War II, Calabria helped a Jewish doctor to hide among his female congregation for 18 months, under the name of Sister Beatrice.

His longing for Christian unity led him to correspond in Latin with the British writer and theologian, CS Lewis, who spoke on the religious programmes broadcast by the BBC from London while the city was suffering air raids.

After offering himself to God to spare the life of Pope Pius XII, Calabria died on 4 December 1954 and was buried in his congregation’s motherhouse in Verona.

Pope John Paul II named Calabria as venerable in 1986, beatified him in 1988 and canonised him in 1999.

The balcony that featured in the Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet attracts thousands of visitors
The balcony that featured in the Shakespeare play
Romeo and Juliet attracts thousands of visitors
Travel tip:

Verona, where Giovanni Calabria was born and carried out his Christian works, is famous throughout the world as the setting for Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, ‘in fair Verona where we lay our scene’. You can visit the home of the real life Juliet, Casa Giulietta, and see the balcony where the famous scene with Romeo took place. Verona is also famous for its Roman amphitheatre, L’Arena di Verona in Piazza Bra, where operas and music concerts are performed in the open air.

Calabria was rector of San Benedetto al Monte in Verona
Calabria was rector of San
Benedetto al Monte in Verona
Travel tip:

The Church of San Benedetto al Monte, where Giovanni Calabria served as rector from 1907 to 1912, is in Vicolo Monte, just a short walk from Piazza Erbe in the centre of Verona. The church dates back to the year 1000 but was rebuilt in 1617. The 11th century Romanesque crypt, which has recently been restored, still has some Roman remains visible as it is located next to the site of Verona’s ancient Roman forum.

Also on this day:

1154: The election of Pope Adrian IV

1798: The death of physicist Luigi Galvani

1927: The birth of architect Gae Aulenti

1956: The birth of golfer Constantino Rocca


19 November 2020

Pope Clement VII

Calamitous papacy of a vacillating Medici

Pope Clement VII, captured by Sebastiano del Piombo, complete with beard
Pope Clement VII, captured by Sebastiano
del Piombo, complete with beard
Giulio di Giuliano de’ Medici, remembered as the unfortunate Pope who was imprisoned in Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, was elected on this day in 1523 as Pope Clement VII.

Clement VII also went down in history for refusing to allow the King of England, Henry VIII, to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, causing England to break away from the Catholic Church forever.

One month before Giulio de Medici’s birth, his father was murdered in Florence Cathedral in what is referred to as the Pazzi conspiracy. His mother is believed to have been Fioretta Gorini, the daughter of a university professor, and Giulio was born illegitimately in May 1478 in Florence.

Giulio spent the first seven years of his life living with his godfather, the architect Antonio da Sangallo, the Elder. Then Lorenzo the Magnificent took over, raising him as one of his own sons, alongside Giovanni, the future Pope Leo X, Piero and Giuliano. Young Giulio received a humanist education at Palazzo Medici and became an accomplished musician. He studied canon law at the University of Pisa and accompanied his cousin, Giovanni, to the conclave of 1492 when Rodrigo Borgia was elected Pope Alexander VI.

Titian's portrait of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V
Titian's portrait of the Holy Roman
Emperor, Charles V
After Giovanni became Pope Leo X, Giulio was named Archbishop of Florence. A papal dispensation declared his birth legitimate and he was made a Cardinal. Giulio also governed Florence between 1519 and 1523 after the death of Lorenzo II de’ Medici.

Following the death of Pope Leo X in 1521, Cardinal Giulio was expected to succeed him, but the College of Cardinals elected Pope Adrian VI, who was from the Netherlands.

Cardinal Giulio was influential throughout Adrian’s 20-month reign, splitting his time between Palazzo Medici in Florence and Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome.

After Adrian’s death in 1523, Giulio finally succeeded in being elected Pope Clement VII in the conclave of 19 November.

During his reign there were many political, military and religious struggles that were to have far-reaching consequences for Christianity.

The protestant reformation was spreading, the Catholic Church was nearing bankruptcy and foreign armies were invading Italy. Clement VII started out by trying to unite Christendom and liberate Italy from foreign occupation.

Europe’s two most important rulers, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and King Francis I of France, both demanded that Clement VII should choose to take their side.

Michelangelo's extraordinary Last Judgement,
commissioned by Clement VII just before he died
After Clement VII made the serious error of signing a treaty with Francis I of France, Charles V sent his army into Italy, which led to the violent and damaging Sack of Rome.

Clement VII escaped through a covered passageway to Castel Sant Angelo, where he remained imprisoned for six months before he was able to escape in disguise and take shelter in Orvieto and Viterbo. While imprisoned, he had grown a full beard, which he kept for the rest of his life, setting a fashion that the next 25 popes who came after him were to follow.

After Clement VII returned to Rome, he agreed to crown Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor in Bologna. This was to be the last time a Holy Roman Emperor was crowned by a Pope.

When King Henry VIII asked Clement VII to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Clement refused because Catherine was the aunt of Charles V, who he daren’t offend. His refusal led to England becoming a protestant country.

A few days before his death in 1534, Clement VII, who had been a great patron of the arts, commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Last Judgment on a wall in the Sistine Chapel.

Clement VII died in September 1534, aged 56. His body was interred in St Peter’s Basilica and later transferred to a tomb in the Choir of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome.

Castel Sant'Angelo on the banks of the Tiber, illuminated at night
Castel Sant'Angelo on the banks of the Tiber,
illuminated at night
Travel tip:

Castel Sant’Angelo was originally built as a mausoleum for the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his family on the right bank of the Tiber between 134 and 139 AD. There is a legend that the Archangel Michael appeared on top of the mausoleum, sheathing his sword as a sign of the end of the plague of 590, which is how the castle acquired its present name. Pope Nicolas III commissioned a covered fortified corridor, the Passetto, to link it to the Vatican and Pope Clement VII was able to use it to escape from the Vatican during the siege of Rome by Charles V’s troops in 1527. Castel Sant’Angelo was used as the setting for the third act of Giacomo Puccini’s 1900 opera Tosca, during which the heroine leaps to her death from the ramparts.

The church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva,  where Pope Clement VII is buried
The church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, 
where Pope Clement VII is buried
Travel tip:

The Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, which houses Clement VII’s tomb, is on the opposite side of the Tiber from the Vatican in Piazza della Minerva off Via Minerva, south east of the Pantheon.  It is the only Gothic church in Rome. The first Christian church on the site was built directly above, (sopra), a temple dedicated to the goddess Minerva. The present structure was built in 1280 by the Dominicans. The tombs of both Leo X and Clement VII are in the church, both designed by the Renaissance sculptor Baccio Bandinelli in 1541.

Also on this day:

1877: The birth of Venice Film Festival founder Giuseppe Volpi

1893: The birth of boxer Giuseppe Curreri, aka Johnny Dundee

1907: The birth of Olympic champion Luigi Beccali

1926: The birth of neo-fascist politician Pino Rauti


12 April 2020

Pope Julius I

Day of remembrance for the Pope who chose the date for Christmas

Pope Julius I chose 25 December as a celebration of the birth of Christ
Pope Julius I chose 25 December as a
celebration of the birth of Christ
Pope Julius I died on this day in 352 AD in Rome and soon after his death he was made a saint. His feast day is celebrated on this day every year by Catholics all over the world.

Julius I is remembered for setting 25 December as the official date of birth of Jesus Christ, starting the tradition of celebrating Christmas on that date.

He also asserted his authority against Arianism, a heretical cult that insisted Christ was human and not divine.

Julius was born in Rome but the exact date of his birth is not known. He became pope in 337 AD, four months after his predecessor, Pope Mark, had died.

In 339 Julius gave refuge in Rome to Bishop St Athanasius the Great of Alexandria, who had been deposed and expelled by the Arians.

At the Council of Rome in 340, Julius reaffirmed the position of Athanasius.

He then tried to unite the Western bishops against Arianism with the Council of Sardica in 342. The council acknowledged the Pope’s supreme authority, enhancing his power in ecclesiastical affairs by granting him the right to judge cases of legal possession of Episcopal sees.

Mosaic depicting Pope Julius I
Mosaic depicting
Pope Julius I
Julius restored Athanasius and his decision was confirmed by the Roman emperor Constantius II, even though he himself was an Arian.

During the years of his papacy, Julius built several basilicas and churches in Rome.

Although the exact date of birth of Jesus has never been known, Julius decreed 25 December to be the official date for the celebration. This was near the Roman festival of Saturnalia, held in honour of the god Saturn from 17 to 23 December. Part of the reason he chose this date may have been because he wanted to create a Christian alternative to Saturnalia.

Another reason may have been that the emperor Aurelian had declared 25 December the birthday of Sol Invictus, the sun god and patron of Roman soldiers. Julius may have thought that he could attract more converts to Christianity by allowing them to continue to hold celebrations on the same day.

Julius died in Rome on 12 April 352 and was succeeded by Pope Liberius.

He was buried initially in the catacombs on the Aurelian Way but his body was later transported for burial to Santa Maria in Trastevere, one of the churches he had ordered to be completed during his papacy.

Inside one of the long passageways in the Catacomb of Callixtus on the Appian Way, where Julius I was first buried
Inside one of the long passageways in the Catacomb of
Callixtus on the Appian Way, where Julius I was first buried
Travel tip:

The Catacomb of Callixtus, where Pope Julius I was first buried, contained the crypts of the Popes buried between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD. They were named after Pope Callixtus I, who was himself entombed in them. The catacomb was vast, covering an area of 15 hectares and going down five levels, with some 20km (12 miles) of passageways. At one time, they contained the relics of some 1.5 million people. The crypts fell into decay over the years after the relics they contained were transferred to churches in Rome.  At the time of writing, the catacombs are closed along with all visitor attractions because of the Covid-19 outbreak. In normal circumstances, they are open for visitors each day except Wednesdays. For more information, visit

Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches in Rome
Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest
churches in Rome
Travel tip:

Santa Maria in Trastevere, where Pope Julius I was finally buried, is in the Trastevere district of Rome and is one of the oldest churches in the city. It was built between 221 and 227 by Pope Callixtus I and was later completed by Pope Julius I.  It is thought to be the first church in Rome dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus, although the claim is disputed by some who believe that honour lies with the church of Santa Maria Maggiore.  The church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, which was razed and re-erected by Pope Innocent II in 1140-43, is notable among other things for its 13th century mosaics by Pietro Cavallini and an octagonal ceiling painting, Assumption of the Virgin (1617) by Domenichino.

Also on this day:

1710: The birth of castrato opera singer Cafarelli

1948: The birth of World Cup-winning football coach Marcello Lippi

1950: The birth of entrepreneur Flavio Briatore

1992: The birth of child actor Giorgio Cantarini


6 March 2020

Giovanni Battista Bugatti - executioner

An 18th century woodcut shows Mastro Titta showing off the head of a victim
An 18th century woodcut shows Mastro
showing off the head of a victim

‘Mastro Titta’ ended 516 lives in long career

Giovanni Battista Bugatti, who served as the official executioner for the Papal States from 1796 to 1864, was born on this day in 1779 in Senigallia, a port town on the Adriatic coast about 30km (19 miles) northwest of the city of Ancona.

Bugatti, who became known by the nickname Mastro Titta - a corruption of the Italian maestro di giustizia - master of justice - in Roman dialect, carried out 516 executions in his 68-year career.  He was the longest-serving executioner in the history of the Papal States.

The circumstances of him being granted such an important role in Roman life at the age of just 17 are not known.  What is documented is that while not carrying out his grim official duties he kept a shop selling painted umbrellas and other souvenirs next to his home in the Borgo district, in Vicolo del Campanile, a short distance from Castel Sant’Angelo, which served as a prison during the time of the Papal States.

It seemed an incongruous day job for someone whose very name struck a chill among Rome’s criminal fraternity. Yet he treated his responsibilities with the utmost solemnity, leaving his home early in the morning on the days an execution was to take place, dressed in his scarlet executioner’s coat, stopping off first at the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina for confession.

Bugatti would often offer the condemned man or woman a pinch of snuff
Bugatti would often offer the condemned
man or woman a pinch of snuff
For his own safety, he was not permitted to enter the central part of Rome except to carry out his official duties.  When Mastro Titta was spotted crossing the bridge it became a signal to Romans that an execution was due and crowds would gather.

Executions did not take place solely in Rome. Bugatti was required to travel to all parts of the Papal States to fulfil the terms of his service. Indeed, his first execution took place more than 150km (93 miles) north of the capital in the city of Foligno in Umbria. His first victim, on 22 March, 1796, was Nicola Gentilucci, who had been convicted of strangling and killing a priest, a coachman and of robbing two friars.

In Rome, many of the executions took place in Piazza del Popolo, in the shadow of the famous Egyptian obelisk, others on the Ponte Sant’Angelo, which links Castel Sant’Angelo with central Rome.  Both Lord Byron and Charles Dickens witnessed Bugatti’s work during visits to Rome and wrote about it for their English readers.

Bugatti himself called the executions justices and referred to the condemned as patients.  He bore no personal animosity towards his victims and would often offer them a pinch of snuff as a last experience of earthly pleasure. He was skilled in what he did, whether it was execution by hanging, beheading by axe, the administering of a fatal blow with a mallet or, latterly, with the guillotine, and prided himself on being both neat and quick.

Notices of impending executions were posted in churches, asking for prayers for the condemned, and so crowds would assemble. Fathers would bring their children so that they learned at an early age what fate might befall them as adults if they disobeyed the law.

Remarkably, Bugatti is said to have maintained his strength and the precision into his work even into old age and he was 85 when at last he agreed to retire, accepting a pension from Pope Pius IX.  He returned to Senigallia and lived a further five years.

Today, his blood-stained scarlet coat, plus a selection of axes and guillotines, are on display at Rome’s Museo Criminologico - Museum of Criminology - in Via del Gonfalone.

The Ponte Sant'Angelo, which connects Castel Sant'Angelo with the centre of Rome across the Tiber river
The Ponte Sant'Angelo, which connects Castel Sant'Angelo
with the centre of Rome across the Tiber river 
Travel tip:

Castel Sant’Angelo, the towering cylindrical building in Parco Adriano, on the banks of the Tiber, was originally commissioned by the Roman emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. It was later used by the popes as a fortress, castle and prison, and is now a museum. It was once the tallest building in Rome.  Hadrian also built the Pons Aelius – now Ponte Sant’Angelo – which provides a scenic approach to the mausoleum from the centre of Rome across the Tiber. Baroque statues of angels were later added, lining each side of the bridge.

The beach at Senigallia, with its art nouveau pier and  pavilion, the Rotonda al Mare
The beach at Senigallia, with its art nouveau pier and
pavilion, the Rotonda al Mare
Travel tip:

Badly damaged in both world wars and by an earthquake in between, the Adriatic port of Senigallia has a modern look today but has a long history. It takes its name from a third century Roman settlement Sena Gallica.  Captured and recaptured many times by opposing sides during the Guelph and Ghibelline war, it was the scene of a bloodbath early in the 16th century as Cesare Borgia routed some of his disloyal supporters. It became the property of both the Medici and Della Rovere families before the Papal States took charge.  In more recent years, it has become an important holiday resort but retains some historic attractions, such as the well-preserved Gothic Rocca Roveresca, which was restored in the 15the century.