February 19, 2016

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Renaissance Church: Julius II, the warrior pope

John F. Fink(Third in a series of columns)

Last week, I began to write about the notorious Pope Alexander VI, the Borgia pope who was elected in 1492, and about the way he took care of children he had fathered, especially Cesare, Juan, Lucrezia and Goffredo. Lucrezia Borgia was perhaps the most powerful woman in the history of the papacy.

Alexander and Cesare plotted together to appropriate the entire Papal States and central Italy for the Borgia family. To achieve this, there were assassinations followed by seizures of property and the creation of cardinals who had to pay for their elevation. They continued scheming until 1503 when both were suddenly taken ill. Cesare survived, but Alexander did not.

The Oxford Dictionary of Popes says that “there are strong grounds for believing that father and son were victims of poison intended for a cardinal, who was their host at dinner, which was mistakenly given to themselves.” Nice people, this particular father and son.

After Alexander’s death, there was a deadlock between supporters of the Borgias and of Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, who had fled to France after Alexander was elected and then remained in hiding during Alexander’s papacy. The deadlock was finally solved with the election of a neutral candidate, an elderly cardinal who took the name Pius III. However, his health proved to be so fragile that he died 26 days after his election.

At the next conclave, Cardinal Rovere finally achieved his ambition to be pope, taking the name Julius II. He was determined to return Rome and the papacy to its former power and glory. He became known as Il papa terribile for his temper, and as “the Warrior Pope” because he led troops into battle wearing full battle armor, taking his cardinals with him.

His enemies were the Italian cities that he wanted to reclaim for the Papal States, and King Louis XII of France. His allies were King Henry VIII of England and King Ferdinand of Spain. He managed to drive Cesare Borgia out of Italy. He was more of a warrior than a religious figure.

He did do some papal things, though. In 1503, he issued the dispensation that enabled England’s King Henry VIII to marry his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon, an event that would have great consequences in the future.

Pope Julius was also the patron of the artists and sculptors Michelangelo, Raphael and Bramante. It was Pope Julius who commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The chapel had been built by Pope Julius’s uncle, Pope Sixtus IV.

Michelangelo also sculpted what was supposed to be Pope Julius’s sepulchre. Today that sculpture is in St. Peter in Chains Basilica in Rome, although Pope Julius’s body is not.

While Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, Rapahel painted frescoes in the pope’s private apartments.

Pope Julius was also determined to build a new St. Peter’s Basilica to replace the church built by Constantine over the tomb of St. Peter some 1,200 years earlier. Donato Bramante prepared the plans for it, and Julius officially laid the cornerstone on April 18, 1506. †

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