Pope Leo XII

pope leo xii

Leo XII was the 252nd pope to serve as the leader of the Catholic Church and the 12th to assume the papal name of Leo.

Born Annibale Francesco Clemente Melchiore Girolamo Nicola della Genga, he ascended to the papacy in 1823, embarking on a tenure that would last until his death in 1829.

His papacy occurred in an era fraught with political upheaval and the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, a time when the Catholic Church sought to reaffirm its authority and influence amidst the rise of secularism and liberalism.

This piece aims to shed light on Pope Leo XII, a pontiff often remembered for his conservative stance, efforts to restore traditional Catholic values, and his navigation through the complexity of European politics.

From his early life and ecclesiastical career to his strategies for combating the challenges faced by the Church in the 19th century, we explore the legacy of a pope who endeavored to lead the Catholic Church through a period of significant transition and turmoil.

Early Life.

Count Annibale della Genga was the six of Flavio della Genga’s and Maria Luisa Periberti di Fabriano’s ten children.

Career with the Church.

Della Genga majored in Theology at Osimo’s Collegio Campana from 1773 until 1778, then continued his education at Rome’s Collegio Piceno and the Pontifical Academy of Ecclesiastical Nobles. His became a subdeacon in 1782, then a deacon and finally full ordination was ordained on June 14th, 1783. Cardinal Marcantonio Colonna personally oversaw della Genga’s elevation to the last two ranks.

As a fully ordained priest, della Genga’s first work was ambassadorial work with Switzerland. His noble bearing and fluidity of language allowed him to tactfully handle a commemorative ceremony of Emperor Joseph II. 1793 would see him declare Archbishop of Tyre by Pope Pius VI. Della Genga was consecrated the following year and sent to serve Switzerland as its Apostolic Nuncio, complete with a transfer of office to Colonge, where he lived in Augsburg. Della Genga believed this would be his final post within the church and saw to the construction of a pair of tombs, one for his mother and the second for himself.

In the time spent serving the German people and German-speaking Swiss, he saw to several trying missions that brought him into regular contact with the politics of Dresden, Munich, Napoleonic France, Vienna and Wurttemberg. It is regarded that this is period of time is where much of his noble coffers were expended; suspicions arose that he had sired three children with a Swiss Guardsman’s wife.

Once Napoleon I abolished the Papal States in 1798, della Genga spent his time in Monticelli’s abbey, doing his best to enjoy his hobbies. 16 years later, della Genga would be chosen as Pope Pius VII’s messenger to France’s King Louis XVIII. Della genga was to pass on a message of congratulations to the French King for signing the Treaty of Paris that restored much of France during the Bourbon Restoration.

Cardinal della Genga and Beyond.

On March 8th, 1816, della Genga became Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria, receiving his red zucchetto three days later and his church on April 29th of the same year. Soon after, he would be elevated to Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. While he was appointed to Sinigaglia’s episcopal see, he resigned from the position in 1818 due to health concerns and without having even entered the archdiocese. On may 9th of 1820, Pope Pius VII elevated della Genga to Vicar General of His Holiness for the Roman diocese.

Papal Legacy and Actions.

Pope Leo XII was a hardly conservative Pope who had an uncompromising perspective on the direction of the Church and of society. While many believed he fully believed what he said, the results of his actions and policies plus the finances of the Church during his papacy, paint an unpleasant picture of the man.

  • Despite lowering taxes to save money, the Church’s finances had considerable trouble recovering.
  • He reworked education so that it was solely under the purview of the Church.
  • He changed charitable hierarchies so that the Church had absolute oversight.
  • He fully enforced antisemitic laws such as forbidding Jews from owning property or residing in the area only long enough to sell off their possessions. This resulted in in the relocation of many Roman Jews to friendlier regions like Lombardy, Trieste and Tuskany.
  • He established and enforced a number of laws that softened or trampled private life and public living.
  • He revived Medieval practices like segregation and impressing marks upon individuals for easy identification.

List of Events In The Life of Pope Leo XII (Annibale Francesco Clemente Melchiore Girolamo Nicola della Genga)

2 Aug 1760Born
178322.4Ordained DeaconDeacon
14 Jun 178322.8Ordained PriestPriest
21 Feb 179433.5AppointedTitular Archbishop of Tyrus
24 Feb 179433.5Ordained BishopTitular Archbishop of Tyrus
23 Apr 179433.7AppointedApostolic Nuncio to Germany
180039.4ResignedApostolic Nuncio to Germany
8 Mar 181655.5AppointedArchbishop (Personal Title) of Senigallia, Italy
8 Mar 181655.5Elevated to Cardinal
29 Apr 181655.7AppointedCardinal-Priest of Santa Maria in Trastevere
10 Sep 181656.1ResignedBishop of Senigallia, Italy
9 May 182059.7AppointedPrefect of the Congregation of Ecclesiastical Immunity
10 Feb 182160.5AppointedArchpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore {Saint Mary Major Basilica}
28 Sep 182363.1ElectedPope (Roma, Italy)
5 Oct 182363.1InstalledPope (Roma, Italy)
10 Feb 182968.5DiedPope (Roma, Italy)

Quick Facts About Pope Leo XII.

  • He was born on August 22nd, 1760 within Genga, Papal States. Today, this would be within the Italian province of Ancona.
  • His full personal name was Annibale Francesco Clemente Melchiorre Girolamo Nicola Sermattei della Genga.
  • He died on February 10th, 1823 within Papal States-era Rome.
  • After holding a meeting with Tommaso Bernett, the freshly appointed Cardinal Secretary of State, Leo XII was struck with an illness that made him very aware of his mortality. Three days later, on February 8th, he requested the Viaticum and anointment. He became comatose a day later and succumbed to whatever was affecting him, dying on February 10th, 1823.
  • His papal start occurred on September 28th, 1823.
  • His papacy ended on February 10th, 1829.
  • Just as he succeeded a Pope Pius, Pope Pius VII succeeded him.

Five Interesting Facts About Pope Leo XII.

  1. His papacy was first the of the 19th Century. Because Pius VII’s papacy began in 1800, this means it was actually the last papacy of of the 18th Century.
  2. His nephew, Gabriele della Genga Sermattei, was the only papal nephew to become a cardinal.
  3. His two great hobbies, music and shooting birds, were simple peasures he continued to pursue during his relatively short papacy.
  4. Among his many draconian punishments, he decreed that any dressmaker who sold indecent, revealing attire was to be automatically excommunicated.
  5. He was known to be in less than perfect health. Accounts mention revealing his swollen, ulcerated legs during the papal conclave of 1823 to support his belief that nominating him would be nominating a dead man.

See the full list of Popes