For more about me, click on the image
In 313, the emperor Constantine recognized Christianity among other religions by the Edict of Milan. Pope Silvester I, who baptized him, came back from exile in the Mount Soratte were he was hidden, being afraid of the still ongoing persecutions of Christians, and took residence in the former palace of Saint Helen, the mother of Constantine. The Liber Pontificalis has a lot of details of gifts, given to the early Church. Only recently (2014) they discovered the “Castrum“ of the former Pretorian Guards under the Basilica Saint John in Lateran.
Beautiful frescoes in the chapel San Silvester at the church SS. Quattro Coronati in Rome are depicting the story how the pope ended up in what is today the complex of Saint John of Lateran. In this fresco above we see how the pope is receiving the regalia from the emperor. (to understand them go to my article about “Basilica”: the miter as symbol of the Pontifex Maximus or spiritual power, the Umbrella as symbol of Judge, and the white horse and chair as symbol of temporal power.
The early Basilica St. John in Lateran and annex buildings became the first residence of the popes. That explains also why this church has the primate among all others: it is the Mater Ecclesia, the mother & head of all churches. The relic-shrine over the altar contains in golden masks the relics of St. Peter and St. Paul. 1600 years later, Mussolini would sign here the famous Lateran Pacts, recognizing on February 11, 1929 the Vatican City as the smallest autonomous country in the world.
Pepin, the father of Charlemagne, accepted the Donation of Constantin and on top gave the Pope large pieces of land of central Italy. This further gift of land was called the Donation of Pepin in 756, This territory would become the basis for the Papal States, over which the popes ruled until 1870.
On Christmas 800, Charlemagne was crowned in the old Saint Peter’s basilica as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, recognizing the spiritual authority of the Popes. His grandson Charles the Bald donated a chair ... the “Chair of Saint Peter”.
Meanwhile the popes continued to live in the residence of St. John in Lateran. He shortly left it in 846, when he took refuge in the fortified convent SS. Quattro Coronati in the neighborhood, during the invasion of the Saracens. They destroyed and sacked Rome and specially those treasures outside the Aurelian Walls: the old Saint Peter Basilica and Saint Paul outside the Walls. To avoid similar defeats in the future, pope Leo IV started to build the wall of what surrounds today the Vatican City.
In 843, by the treaty of Verdun, the empire of Charlemagne got divided under three. The east over history became France, the West Germany, and the middle part, crossing Europe from the north over the Alps to Italy was for Lotharius, the eldest son.
His part was the most precious, but also the most difficult to defend. After him, what was on the northern part of the Alps got divided between today France and Germany, beneath the Alps we got the creation of the future italian city-states.
Now we have three players: France, Germany and Italy, who all were seeking for the approval of the Pope in Rome for the legitimation of their worldly power. And is starting the battle of the investiture: Who has the right to nominate the bishops? The Pope or the Emperor. The Concordat of Worm (1122, between Henry V and Pope Calistus II) was a victory for the Popes. Day after day it became for the rulers in Europe more important to have on the chair of Saint Peter a pope who is agree with their politics. This became even more important during the crusades.
Unlike the previous millennium when the successor of Saint Peter happened by acclamation, the process for papal selection became somewhat fixed during this period. Pope Nicholas II promulgated In Nomine Domini in 1059, which limited suffrage in papal elections to the College of Cardinals. The rules and procedures of papal elections evolved during this period, laying the groundwork for the modern papal conclave. The driving force behind these reforms was Cardinal Hildebrand, who later became Gregory VII.
Caused by political instability (mostly rivalry between the aristocratic fractions in Rome)the popes frequently sought different locations to reside: among them are the cities of Perugia, Viterbo and Orvieto (see photo). If it happens that the pope died during his stay, the college of Cardinals would come in that city together to elect a new one.
In 1271, the election that ended with the choice of Gregory X at Viterbo had lasted over two years and nine months. The fractions of the different nations could’t agree who should be the pope.
I really can understand and feel sorry for the people of Viterbo: for over two years they had to give hospitality to the cardinals, feeding them, entertaining them .... and not only them. Each cardinal arrived with all his relatives. Finally, the local authorities, weary of the delay, shut up the cardinals within narrow limits and thus hastened the desired election (Raynald, Ann. Eccl., ad ad. 1271). There is even the legend that when the Cardinals were not speeding up enough, so it was said that the people of Orvieto took off the roof of the building were the Cardinals were reunited. The elements did the rest. A few days later Gregory X emerged as the new Pope.
The new pope endeavored to obviate for the future such scandalous delay by the law of the conclave, which, almost in spite of the cardinals, he promulgated at the fifth session of the Second Council of Lyons in 1274. It is the first occasion on which we meet with the word “conclave” in connection with papal elections. (Cum Clave, with the keys, is the latin root of the today word conclave).
Over the history, gossip stories, well worth Agatha Christi, tell us how “papabili”-cardinals with hugh chances to become pope- got eliminated by poisoned food smuggled in the closed area. Also messages from the various fractions, hidden into bread or oranges, entered the secrecy of the conclave, in the hope to influence the outcome. The stake was high, but the risk also. The punishment for breaking the silence of the conclave was/is direct excommunication. It became a tradition that the first act of the Camerlengo after announcing the death of the pope was also the emulation of the “Edict of the Lantern”. This edict orders the obligation to every head of family to illuminate at least one window of their houses, up to the top floor. So avoiding that snipers and brigands would make the streets unsafe during the “interregnum” between two popes. (see Andrieux, p.17)
The election of a new Pope until 1870 is very similar to the election of the President of the USA today. When we talk about the next one? Indeed, on the 21st of January four years earlier. And so it happened with the Popes. As soon one was elected, the cardinals started to think already of their chances during a future election. For becoming popular, the princes of Rome became therefore the heads of "Arciconfraternities". One for supporting widows and orphans, another one for the pestilence, a third one for the education of the poor a.s.o. The same happens in America. Four years before the election, future candidates try to come in the press by their "good deeds": One will visit aids-patients, another one will visit victims of a hurricane a.s.o. They have to show that they "care" about you!
And then the Pope dies. The Camerlengo -usually the eldest cardinal- will become the head of the state for the running affairs. The other cardinals prefer for that job someone who is old and weak. At least, he is less tempted to take the full power just to him. His first act is approaching the defunct Pope and with a silver hammer, then he knocks three times on his forehead (one knock for charity, one for hope and one for faith), asking by his latin name if he is still alive. Not hearing a positive answer (maybe the age of the Camerlengo deteriorated his hearing), he will knock a second time. If again negative, a third time calling the defunct Pope by his christian name. If still there is no answer, he declares the Pope dead. (Today after this ritual, a doctor will confirm)
The following step is that he takes away the fisher-ring of the Pope, with which he used to seal official documents. So, nobody will be able to make postume laws or -even more important in those days- new nominations of officials.
Shortly after you see the Camerlengo at the balcony of the saint Peter's Basilica, addressing the world with the following message: "I've bad news, and ... I have good news!" The bad is that the Holy Father just died .... the good is that we have again a chair free: the chair of Saint Peter; The seat is vacant and he calls the conclave together. Even a special post stamp for the occasion will be made. Before turning back in the palace he announces also the "Decree of the Lantern": Every house has to put a candle, torch or other light at each window, until a new Pope would be sitting on the Chair of Saint Peter. This was done partly in piety for the late Pope, but mostly for keeping the city under control. (Street light is a newt since 1910) Rival fractions of cardinals tried in the past eliminate the competition for the papacy before entering the conclave.
For the Romans, this was their convention time, like the last months of the presidential campaign in America. Balloons, parties and fireworks brook out. Finally, without fear you could go by night over the streets. And the Papabili (cardinals with a hugh chance for becoming Pope) took their care for the common people to a higher level. From the fountain in the Via Giulia, behind the Palazzo Farnese: from the day the Holy Father died until a new was elected, no water would come out of the fountain .... but only wine for the people! That was for sure a papabile that the people wanted to see becoming Pope!
When the cardinals after 10 days reunited in the Sistine Chapel for the conclave, they always received two recommendations of the people: "First of all", they would say, "take your time for electing a new one, let the Holy Spirit does his work!" Of course, the longer it took the cardinals to make up their mind, the longer the party would last. The second recommendation was: "And if you have to choose a new one, take somebody who is old and weak!" At least, than the people didn't had to wait too many years before an other party would enlighten their misery lives-
Over the last 2000 years the average of a Pope is 6 years and 7 months. Not many ruled as long as Saint John Paul II.
You can imagine the joy of the common people when Benedict XIV got elected in 1740. Only 65 years old, but in bad shape. Unfortunately for the people he ruled for an other eighteen years until 1758. What a disappointment for the people. Pasquino, a talking statue of Rome, gave the following comment: "A good Pope should rule seven years but not much longer!"
In 1305, during the conclave was elected by the French fraction Clement V, of course of french origin. It took him only a few years to decide to move the capital of Christianity to Avignon in France. Seven popes -all french- lived there and built their lavish courts. The story of Cola di Rienzo, and his going to Avignon, is well-worth to make a Hollywood soufflé. Finally pope Gregory IX decided to return and to die in Rome in 1378. Two women were helpful during this return.
One became immediately saint: Catherine of Sienna. For that reason we have her statue at the end of the Via della Conciliazione, close to Castel Sant’Angelo, looking to the Basilica Saint Peter.
(made by Francesco Messina 1961) The other one ... got on the fire: Joan of Arc. Of course, by helping the pope to return to Rome, France lost a most lucrative business of the papal court in Avignon. The palace that the popes built for themselves is still today one of the biggest palaces in the world. And only built in 70 years. Someone had to be punished for that return and for the lost of the papal business ... and it was Joan of Arc.
Back in Rome ... but Where to go?
And so the pope came back to Rome ... in a total neglected and almost empty city. Problems were not over because with the return of the Pope to Rome started the Western Schism, the great controversy of the antipopes. From 1378 until 1417 we had two popes: one in Rome, one in Avignon.
The council in Constance in 1417, having finally cleared the field of popes and antipopes, elected Pope Martin V, from the good old roman family Colonna, as pope in November.
Upon the return of the popes from Avignon, The former palace, St. John in Lateran, on top of the hill was almost in disrepair. And the ancient roman aqueducts didn’t supply water anymore on the seven hills of Rome. In ended by the decision to build a new palace within the compound and walls of Pope Leo at the Vatican: The Vatican palaces and museum of today. At least, it was close to the Tiber, where they got a water supply. Not really ideal to live, being the area often flooded by the Tiber, and the enormous fields and swamps (Prati) that surrounded it were unhealthy with malaria and infested by insects. Nonetheless, with great zeal they started building a renaissance palace. The popes gave the rural village of Rome the allures of a capital. Money for rebuilding was not direct the issue. By simony (selling functions), concessions and of course indulgences, money came freely in. In the latter half of the 15th century the renaissance heart moved from Florence to Rome. The best artist of those days could be attracted: Bramante, Perugino, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Raphael, Michelangelo. We are on the hight of the Renaissance and a magnificent palace was build in a village of merely 35,000 inhabitants called Rome. Just think that in those days Florence and Venice were cities of over 140,000 inhabitants.
1527: Sack of Rome: Castel Sant’Angelo
The Passettto di Borgo connects the Vatican City with the Angel Castle since 1277 when pope Nicolas II built the wall with the alley. In case of emergency, the pope could escape and seeking refuge in the fortress that once was the Mausoleum of the emperor Hadrian in 138 AD.
And than, the emperor Charles V hadn’t paid his mercery troops for years. On May 6th, 1527, they mutinied and marched to Rome. It resulted in the ugly sack of Rome. Women were raped, priest were killed and churches and palaces got looted and destroyed. Stendhal described it in all his cruel details. Clement VII escaped with 42 members of the Swiss Guard in safety in the Angel Castle through the Passetto.
The rest of the 189 were killed on the steps of the Saint Peters’ Basilica. In the aftermath, the Swiss Guards received the honor for remaining the private guards of the Holy Father, responsible for his safety. In only three days Rome was reduced in a village of merely 10 000 inhabitants.
In the book Angels & Demons it was the route by which cardinals were abducted and hold prisoner. Even when Dan Brown is claiming that all facts are real, it is quite impossible. Il Passetto starts in the Vatican City in the sleeping quarters of the Swiss Guards, only their Colonel has a key to open that door..... but finishes in Castel Sant’Angelo, in Italy. The key of that door belongs to the Ministery of Culture in Italy. Nobody has the two keys!
The Passetto is not as pretty as the Gallery Vasari in Florence between Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti, crossing the Arno, but at least, it was efficient to escape from the Vatican in time of uproar. Paulus III, Farnese, built a residence on top of the Angel Castle in 1535. He never knew if he would needed again in the future. At least, a comfort accommodation would be ready!
After 1575 Gregory XIII
The Church had found a new élan after the Council of Trent. It was the Council of the Catholic Reformation. The scandalous years of the Pope Borgia were behind, and often austere but pious popes ruled over christianity.
Pilgrims, who couldn’t go in pilgrimage to Jerusalem anymore after the collapse of Constantinople in 1453 and the almost total loss of the Holy Land, came to Rome for seeing the “true face” (verum effigies, verum faciem, verum icona= Veronica) of Jesus, the veil with the imprint of Jesus’ face, that the pope showed the pilgrims on Good Friday during the holy week.
The Jubilee-years, that are celebrated every 25 years became the first kind of mass-tourism to Rome (more about this in my article about Saint Philipp Neri and the Santissima Trinita dei Pellegrini).
During the Holy Years, the small population of Rome received hundred of thousands pilgrims. The logistics were enormous! That convinced pope Gregory XIII, Boncompagni, to repair some of the old roman aqueducts. He started with the eldest one: the Aqua Vergine ... The water that flows so beautiful today in the Trevi Fountain. But as soon the healthy water was back, the Popes decided to move out of the less salubrious area of the Vatican and started to build on top of the Quirinal hill (above the Trevi-Fountain) a brand new palace.
The palace extends for an area of 110,500 square meters and is the 6th largest palace in the world in terms of area, as well as the largest residence of a Head of State in the world. (today the residence of the president of Italy). It is almost a copy of the Vatican Residence. There is even a chapel of the same size of the Sistine Chapel. Unfortunately, there was no Michelangelo anymore to decorate it.
With a fantastic view over the City and the Saint Peters Dome, it has housed thirty popes until the dramatic 20 September 1870.
(In the picture you can see also the golden carriage of the popes, today in the Vatican Museum in the renewed gallery of the carriages.)
Summer Holidays: Castel Gandolfo
In the beautiful setting of the volcanic lake of Albano, at 20 miles from Rome. Build in the 16th century on top of a residence of the emperor Domitianus (81-96). Perfect for leaving the malarious area of the Vatican in those days. But it is not only the pope who is leaving Rome. Even today the Romans are waiting to start their holidays. It’s like a sign: When the Pope leaves Rome in the beginning of July, the whole city is leaving together with him. When he returns at the end of August, also the Romans are picking up their daily tasks. Since 2014 the Vatican opened the gardens for visitors. I think the Pope is the only king in the world today whose summer residence is bigger than his land.
Prisoner in the Vatican 1870-1929
Very strange enough, the movement that united Italy under Cavour and the king Vittorio Emanuele II, was a movement of freemasons and industrials of the north of Italy. Pasquino, the talking statue of Rome said of Pius IX, when he lost his temporal power: “per mantenere la fede, ha perso la sede”. “To keep his faith, he lost his seat”. There was the idea during the illuminism of the 19th century that, if the pope would lose his temporal power, it would eradicate christianity as well.
But Providence works sometimes in strange ways: The Holy Father, not anymore restricted by practical duties of governing the declining Pontifical States, could concentrate himself exclusively on spirituality. And for sure, that saved a church, in those days more occupied by rituals and external forms than a Church seeking the Salvation. Spirituality became again the core activity of the Church and the revival was celebrated with the first Vatican Council and the dogma “Pastor Aeternus” of 1870 with the infallibility of the popes in spiritual and moral matters in.
But how was is possible that freemasons could convince christian Italy to get united under their banner? Of Rome in the 18th century they said: “everybody and nobody obeys command, yet things are going fairly”. But is that enough? Maurice Andrieux (p.40) gave us the following quote:
“It is hardly necessary to emphasize that the pope was the object of general veneration. He offered the eyes of the faithful the lavish ceremonies which has changed little since then.
It is intriguing to see the popes of that time to engage their army to religious pump, when we know that this army was ridiculously weak and we can say nonexistent.”
That the common people in the Vatican States were seeking a way out of misery, caused by a total inert political & economical system in the years upcoming to 1870, was for sure a good reason. The Vatican States had missed the train of the industrial revolution in the north. But that doesn’t explain it all, especially not with a Pope as Pius IX, who was very much beloved by the people. Pasquino, the talking statue said: “Pio Nono, sei buono, Ma Stai!!” “Pius IX, you are a good man, but sai put!!”, a clear allusion on the last name of the pope of the family Mastai. But he lived in a time of neo-classicism. And whatever is neo- (especially in the Church), shows signs of fatigue, lacks inspiration.
A way out of poverty was for sure one reason, but the hatred against the influence of Austria and France, who claimed since their intermarriages with the Medici-family, big parts of Italy was another good reason.
But I believe it was the fantastic Public Relations Machine of the founders of Italy that convinced the people of Rome not to give resistance at the call of unification with the rest of Italy. The charismatic Garibaldi, heroes everywhere, and last but not least, the biggest propagator of all: the composer Giuseppe Verdi. The wikileaks of those days made that everybody was singing Verdi’s arias of Nabucco, the hebrew slaves chorus, revolting against oppression. (click to listen with Italian/English subtitles) Even before the first performance in the Opera house, you could hear it in the streets and at the barbershops. It came to the point that even Verdi’s name was used as an acronym: V.E.R.D.I. equals with Vittorio Emanuele Re Di Italia: Victor Em. King of Italy! It created that nationalistic feeling Italians were seeking for.
When Rome got captured, the pope was offered the Leonine City on the West bank of the Tiber, but he refused and became a self declared prisoner in the Pontifical Palace without public appearance for 59 years. No blessings from the occupied balcony of Saint Peter, no public appearances until February 11, 1929.
In his own words, Mussolini said that the Treaties would “bury” the worldly power of the Pope. But that was a mistake. Through the Pacts, the Pope became today the only spiritual director of a religion and at the same time the Head of the State. There are a few more: Queen Elisabeth II is head of State and at the same time the head of the Anglican Church. (however, she has no power at all over those two bodies). And then we have the Dalai Lama. Spiritual director, but head of a state in exile. And the Order of Malta with only extraterritorial properties ...The Pope instead is the only one who is the spiritual director of over a billion Roman Catholics (the pope as head of the Holy See) and at the same time he exercises in full the legislative, judicial an executive power even it is over the smallest country in the world; 1/8 of the size of Central Park in New York. In this function the pope is Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City. The whole treaty is divided in three parts: The first by recognizing the Vatican city as an independent country, the second financial compensations for the loss of the Vatican States in 1870, and last but not least, Catholicism is becoming the state-supported religion of Italy. Furthermore, a certain amount of buildings in the city became extraterritorial property, a..e. the Sacra Curia, the College Propaganda Fidei, the large basilica’s a.s.o. From 1870 until today the Pope lived in the Vatican City, but since 1929 as head of a state, with an own mint, stamps, army (Swiss Guards). “Today the effects of the Lateran Pacts extend far beyond Italy. A few months after the Treaty was signed, the newly-constituted Vatican State joined the Universal Postal Union and later used this as a springboard to get influence in international bodies. In the end, the popes’ strategy of staying stubbornly within the walls of the Vatican for 59 years has paid off handsomely. It is thanks to the Lateran Pacts that the pope can now travel around the world as a head of state and even speak at the United Nations. Mussolini's boast that the Lateran Treaty would “bury” the temporal power of the pope has proven wide of the mark.”
The Treaties of Saint John in Lateran, February 11, 1929
Johannes XXIII was the first pope who left the sumptuous rooms of the Apostolic Palace and moved in the same palace in what were once the servant rooms. It’s from those rooms that the Holy Father delivers and prays the Angelus or the easter prayer Regina Coeli with the faithful on ordinary Sundays. Francis I went even a step further: He is living in a guest house in the Vatican Gardens, the Domus Sancta Marthae. Here he is sharing his life and prayers with others. If you ever want to write him, be free to do so: His Holiness Pope Francis Vatican City State, 00120
From John XXIII until Francis I
2ooo years of papal residence
Succession of the Popes in the Basilica St. Paul outside the walls
Nero, about 30 yrs old
The bones of St. Peter
Pope Francis showed them for the first time to the public !
The Death of St. Peter - Caravaggio
The church of Achileo & Nereo at the beginning of the Appian Way
Saint Domitilla Flavia, a princess of the Emperial court surrounded by saints Achileo & Nereo
Pieter Pauwel Rubens in the Chiesa Nuova-Rome
How it all started
Saint Peter and his successors
First Public Residence of the Popes: St.John in Lateran
Charlemagne and the Pope: The Frankish influence
The Wandering Popes (1257-1309)
Coronation of Charlemagne by Raphael - Vatican
How proceeds the election of a new pope until 1870 ?