Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Saint Peter's Basilica and Martin Luther.

This fresco in one of the Roman basilicas is the only
surviving depiction of Old St' Peter's which was torn
down by Julius II to build the current St, Peter's.
Well, the Rome of Julius II was a busy place.  The south-west pier of what was to be the central dome was rising up behind and towering over Old Saint Peter’s.  This would be one of the four piers that would support the central dome.  The old basilica was still standing and in fact being used, but the plan was for the new one was to grow up around and over it.  As his rival (and nemesis) Bramante was supervising the building plans, Michelangelo was collecting marble in a vast workyard –wagonload upon wagonload of marble from Cararra, tons of marble, to be used for the 40 larger-than-life figures that were to adorn the tomb.  Julius was expanding the Vatican Palace and hiring Raphael—a friend of Bramante’s—to decorate the suite of rooms that he had built for himself overlooking the Belvedere courtyard.  Meanwhile, Raphael and Bramante were conspiring together to bring down Bramante’s rival, Michelangelo and they persuaded the pope to abandon, at least for the present, the project  of his tomb have Michelangelo, a sculptor and not a painter, fresco the ceiling of the chapel that Julius’ uncle, Pope Sixtus IV, had built some thirty years before.  Michelangelo was not happy about this change in project—he was even more dedicated to the tomb project that Julius, its future occupant (or so Julius thought).  All this was enormously expensive.  The first year’s construction cost over 12,000 ducats.  The second year’s building more than doubled that to just under 30,000.  To give you an idea of cost—a middle class family income might be about 40 ducats a year.  That would translate to approximately 15,000,000 the first year and 35,000.000 the second.  This is not to complete the church—far from it.  The Church was to take approximately 105 years to complete and while every year’s projects may not be as intensive as this first year, all they had to show at this point—50,000,000 spent—is one pier of the dome!  And that doesn’t include the work on the palace or the tomb.  And there are other projects going on all over Rome—though many are being paid for my various cardinals and princes who, like the pope, were vying for displays of power and wealth. 
     So where is the money going to come from to pay for this basilica?  Welll, there were various sources of income.  The Papal States, like other nations, have taxes.  They also have monopolies on certain items.  Central Italy—the Papal States—contained some of the richest alum mines in the world and alum was a necessity for the dying of cloth and Europe’s economy rested heavily on the cloth trade.  But still—this was barely enough.  Well there were a wide variety of fees coming in to Rome.  Every Archbishop, bishop, abbot, cathedral dean, and other major official needed to have his election or appointment confirmed by the Holy See.  He was expected to pay the “annate”—the first year’s income from his new post—to the Holy See.  Moreover, during the time the see or abbacy or deanery had been empty—its income was frequently appropriated by the Holy See.  Money was flowing into Rome from every part of Europe!  Lots of money!  Renaissances are not cheap!  When kings and dukes and minor nobles needed to have a marriage annulled—well there were fees for that sort of thing.  A university or a cathedral or a monastic foundation required a certain privilege that exempted them from a particular law or obligation or gave them some honor over their peers—it could be arranged, for a price. During the reign of Julius II, a young Augustinian friar was sent down to Rome from Germany on business for his congregation.  Entering the city through the Flaminian Gate—he fell to his knees on the site of today’s Piazza del Popolo (in front of the Church and monastery of Santa Maria del Popolo where he would live for his stay in Rome, and cried “Hail, Holy Rome—thrice Holy for the Blood of the Martyrs shed here.  When he left Rome a month later he had a different opinion. “Everything is for sale in Rome,” he would declare.  And indeed it was!!!  This was the visit of Martin Luther and it established a direct connection between the construction of Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Reformation.      

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