Thursday, 27 September 2012

Pope Urban VII - the papal troublemaker

Portrait of Urban VII by an unknown artist

On this day 522 years ago, 27th September 1590, Pope Urban VII died of malaria. A virtuous and selfless man, he eschewed all the perks and privileges traditional with his high office - wealth, nepotism, incest, murder, adultery - and in their place decided to dedicate his pontificate to the cause of helping the poor. On the very first day he ordered that money be distributed around the districts of the poor, and that a list of the poor in each parish be established in order to assess their needs. He ever ordered that the bakers of Rome must bake larger loaves and sell them at lower prices. 

And he didn't stop there. He forbade the wearing of silk by Vatican officers and banned the smoking of tobacco in public places. He even cancelled the debts of bankrupts in the Ecclesiastic State.

Then a thunderbolt strikes! Just several days into his pontificate he becomes grievously ill with malaria. The faithful  flock to the churches to pray for his recovery. Forty-eight hours of prayers are ordered. There are processions in the streets around St. Peter's. But to no avail. The pious pope is given his last rites, and just 13 days after his election, he dies.

He is succeeded by Gregory XIV, whose first act as pope is to reward the 52 cardinals who elected him with a gift of 1,000 ecus each. Normal service had been resumed.