Tuesday, April 19, 2011

St, Peter's Basilica: Roll over Peter, Julius needs a grave.

Julius II Della Rovere
Well, to pick up our saga of the popes and Old Saint Peter’s—Alexander VI, rotting even before they got him into his coffin—was laid to rest (temporarily) in Old St. Peter’s but his son, Caesare, was alive, well, and determined to control the papacy because his own power depended on papal patronage.  The very last thing he wanted was a pope from the Della Rovere faction among the Cardinals (the family of Sixtus IV—the guy who made the pretty-boy cardinals and built the Sistine Chapel) as the Della Roveres and the Borgias were mortal enemies.  You may remember that Caesare’s father, the dead and rapidly decomposing Alexander, beat out Giuliano della Rovere in the 1492 conclave despite Giuliano’s shelling out 300,000 ducats in “tokens of esteem” to the electors.  (Bribe is such a coarse term.)
It is hard to know from the sources what exactly Caesare’s role in the election was.  In fact Caesare himself was under the weather when his father died.  He and his father had both become ill after having dinner with Cardinal Adriano da Corno (aka Cornetto or dei Castelli).  Here is where the story gets even more confusing.  Adriano was a partisan of the Della Rovere faction and some say that the dinner was an attempt at reconciling with the Borgias.  Others say that Borgia—Father and Son—had accepted the invitation to have the opportunity to poison Adriano and the death of Alexander and illness of Caesare was due to the Borjas’ confusedly drinking from the cup they had “prepared” for the Cardinal.   While the state of Alexander’s body almost immediately after death—discolored, swollen, mouth black and  protruding, emitting gases and fluids—indicates poisoning, modern historians attribute the death of Alexander and the serious (but not fatal) illness of Caesare to malaria which was indeed the nemesis of many a Renaissance Roman.   I myself favor the poisoning theory except for the fact that I can’t figure out a motive of the Borjas trying to do away with Adriano.  He may have been a friend of the Della Roveres, but Alexander had made him a cardinal only the year before.  And if Caesare wanted him out of the way, he would have framed him with some accusation that would have enabled Caesare to seize his property—which was considerable.  The Cardinal had built the Palazzo Torolonia standing on what is today the Via della Conciliazione just outside the Vatican.  To my estimation it is one of the most beautiful palaces in Rome. If Adriano died naturally—or even by murder—his property would go to his heirs.  Perhaps Adriano was trying (successfully) to poison the Borjas.  Frankly it is just one of those things historians argue about.  Furthermore, when a della Rovere finally did come to the papal throne, the Cardinal fled Rome, so he probably had betrayed his Della Rovere allies and turned his loyalty to the Borjas and they, in turn, probably had malaria to blame for their problems.  Just with the Borjas and poison one never knows. 
Caesare may have been too sick to leave his bed, but he had troops at his command and they dominated the conclave of 1503.  Or, I should say, the first conclave of 1503 because the new pope, Pius III—a Piccolomini and nephew of Pius II Piccolomini (The pope who refashioned and renamed Pienza and used to write letters to Dracula—see April 17) only lasted 26 days on the papal throne.  He died either of an ulcerated leg or was poisoned on the orders of an old enemy from Siena.  It wasn’t easy being pope in those days—great perks and low expectations for moral character, but you better have your own chef and sommelier. 
Caesare wasn’t able to control the next conclave and the Cardinals thought it was time for a change.  Giuliano della Rovere finally got his chance.  The nephew of Sixtus IV, he had tried in three successive conclaves to get his uncle’s old job but had never made it.  He spent 300,000 ductats –again almost 50 million dollars in a vain attempt to be elected in 1492.  On November 1, 1503 he was elected on the first ballot  of the Conclave.  Now finally we have a pope who will decide to do something about the basilica that was all but falling down. 
It is Julius II who decided to build a new Saint Peter’s, but before you give him too much credit you need to know why.  It wasn’t that he decided to build a new shrine to the Apostle; it was that one of the first decisions he made was to build a tomb for himself and needed a church to hold it.  This was no ordinary tomb, no simple sarcophagus.  It was to be over 20 feet wide, 30 feet long, and twenty feet high.  it was to be free standing in the middle of a great space and Michelangelo was hired to carve the forty statues that were to adorn it.  All he needed was that great space in which it could stand.  This new Basilica was not to be a monument on the grave of Peter, but a monument over the grave of Julius.  You have to understand papal chutzpah.  More tomorrow.   By the way, don't give up hope just because the Church is going to be built--there is still plenty of sex in the Vatican left to tell you about

No comments:

Post a Comment