Pope Gregory XVI was the 16th pope to bear the name Gregory and 254 person to bear the responsibility of overseeing the Catholic Church. This article intends to highlight details of his life prior to becoming pope as well as mention some of the notable elements of his papacy.
Bartolomeo Cappellari was born to Italian nobility hailing from the village of Pesariis within Friuli. His father made a living as an attorney.
Cappellari joined the Catholic Church after turning 18 years of age. He became a member of the Benedictine order of the Camaldolese and studied the Bible within Murano’s Monastery of San Michele. Four years later, in 1787, he was ordained as a priest. While studying within the Camaldolese monastery, Bartolomeo quickly became notable for his exceptional grasp of language and theology. This reputation and aptitude was so great that he was called to teach philosophy and theology.
In 1790, as Bartolomeo became 25, he was elevated to the position of censor librorum for Camaldolese and the Holy Office of Venice. Five years later, he would go to Rome, even publishing a book, titled “II Trionfo della Santa Sede,” in 1799. 1800 saw him join the Pope Pius VII’s Academy of the Catholic Religion, where he would regularly put forth meditative texts regarding theology and philosophy. Bartolomeo received another advancement, to the position of abbot, in 1805. Abbot Cappellari was in charge of the Monastery of San Gregorio, atop Caelian Hill in Rome.
Career after Napoleon.
After Napoleon conquered Rome and saw to the arrest and deportation of Pope Pius VII, Cappellari rushed to Murano, to the same monastery he had first become a monk. Cappellari joined up with several other monks and relocated their college to Padua in 1814. Once Napoleon was sufficiently dealt with, and the Papal States regained sovereignty over central Italy, Cappellari was recalled to Rome as the Camaldolese vicar general. He would soon ascend to Counsellor to the Inquisition, then Consultor on February 29, 1820, then Prefect of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide on October 1, 1826. The last of these positions involved oversight of all missionary work beyond the reach of the Spanish Empire, including any missions within European, non-Catholic states. Although twice offered the position of bishop, he declined each time.
March 21st, 1825 marked Cappellari’s promotion to cardinal in pectore by Pope Leo XII. Not too long after this, he was called to negotiate an agreement that would safeguard Catholic rights in the Netherlands. His work was deemed successful, as was a subsequent peace treaty between the Ottomoan Empire and Armenian Catholics. He despised Polish revolutionaries as he believed they were trying to undermine Russia’s eager support of French Catholic royalists.
The Papacy of Gregory XVI.
Cappellari became Pope Gregory XVI after 51 days of debate, spanning 1829 to 1830. First, a Spain’s King Ferdinand VII vetoed the leading cardinal candidate. Then, a deadlock arose among Emmanuele De Gregorio and Bartolomeo Pacca that was only dislodged upon hearing that the northern Papal States were about to revolt. After reaching a two-thirds majority of 83 votes, Pope Gregory XVI became successor to Pope Pius VIII.
While Gregory XVI saw that the northern insurrections were rewarded with executions, hard labor and exile, these did little to stop unrest within the Papal States. In 1839, he spoke out against the Atlantic slave trade.
Quick Facts About Pope Gregory XVI.
- He was born in Belluno, Venice, Italy on the 18th of September in 1765.
- His full name before becoming pope was Bartolomeo Alberto Cappellari.
- He lost his life within the Papal State of Rome on the 1st of June, 1846. He was 80 years old.
- The cause of Gregory XVI’s death was erysipelas, a skin-reddening infected rash attributed to A. Streptococcus. Despite sensing his failing health on the 20th of May in 1846, it was not until the 31st of May that he would not last much longer. Erysipelas literally translates from Greek as “red skin” and cause a number of symptoms from chills and vomiting to blisters and even necrosis of the affected skin.
- Gregory XVI’s papacy began on February 2nd, 1831.
- Like most popes, Gregory XVI’s papacy ended with his life on June 1st, 1846.
- After the death of Gregory XVI, the papal conclave of 1846 nominated Pius IX as his successor.
Six Interesting Facts About Pope Gregory XVI.
- His book, which was published in 1799 and translates into English as “The Triumph of the Holy See,” was a politically motivated text intended to change the minds of Italian Jansenists. The Jansenists were a French theological movement that many Catholic denominations felt was an affront to God and the Church.
- He was a very insular leader, having never left his homeland of Italy.
- He spoke Latin, Italian and Armenian. While fluent in the first two languages, his Armenian was notable enough that an 1827 edition of Severian of Gabala, translated into Armenian is dedicated to Cappellari.
- He despised new technologies like gas lighting and railways. He felt that it would lead to less power for the Pope within Italy. His dislike for rails was so strong that he banned them within the Papal States and referred to them as the “road to Hell.”
- He used Church coffers to patronize several Italian intellectuals connected to the church, to the Church’s financial detriment. One such recipient, Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti, was fluent in over 30 languages.
- He canonized Veronica Giuliani, an Italian nun and mystic. Giuliani first exhibited signs of stigmata at 34, bleeding from the forehead. Three years later, the stigmata returned, manifesting as the Five Holy Wounds.