Biography - Pope Leo XII - The Papal Library
Annibale della Genga born 1760
The interval between the close of one pontificate and the commencement of another is a period of some excitement, and necessarily of much anxiety.
In elective monarchy, and in the only one surviving in Europe, there is of course a space of provisional arrangements, foreseen and predisposed. Time is required for the electors to assemble from distant provinces or even foreign countries; and this is occupied in paying the last tribute of respect and affection to the departed pontiff. His body is embalmed, clothed in the robes of his office, of the penitential color, and laid on a couch of state within one of the chapels in Saint Peter's, so that the faithful may not only see it, but kiss its feet.
These preliminaries occupy three days, during which rises, as if by magic, or from the crypts below, an immense catafalque, a colossal architectural structure, which fills the nave of that basilica, illustrated by inscriptions and adorned by statuary. Before this huge monument, for nine days, funeral rites are performed, closed by a funeral oration. The body of the last pope has a uniform resting-place in Saint Peter's. A plain sarcophagus of marbled stucco will be there seen, though hardly noticed, by the traveller, over a door beside the choir, on which is simply painted the title of the latest pontiff. On the death of his successor it is broken down at the top, the coffin is removed to the under church, and that of the new claimant for repose is substituted for it. This change takes place late in the evening, and is considered private.
In the afternoon of the last day of the novendiali, as they are called, the cardinals assemble in a church near Quirinal Palace, and walk thence in procession, accompanied by their conclavisti, a secretary, a chaplain, and a servant or two, to the great gate of that royal residence in which one will remain as master and supreme lord. Of course the his is crowded by persons lining the avenue kept open for the procession. Cardinals never before seen by them, or not for many years, pass before them; eager eyes scan and measure them, and try to conjecture, from fancied omens in eye or figure or expression, who will be shortly the sovereign of their fair city, and, what is much more, the head of the Catholic Church from the rising to the setting sun. They all enter equal over the threshold of that gate; they share together the supreme rule, temporal and spiritual; there is still embosomed in them all the voice, yet silent, that will soon sound from one tongue over all the world, and the dormant germ of that authority which will soon again be concentrated in one man alone. Today they are all equal; perhaps tomorrow one will sit enthroned, and all the rest will kiss his feet; one will be sovereign, the others his subjects; one the shepherd, and the others his flock.
This is a singular and a deeply interesting moment, a scene not easily forgotten. There pass before us men of striking figure and of regal aspect. There is the great statesman of whom we have spoken, somewhat bowed by grief and infirmity, yet still retaining his brilliant gaze. There is the courteous, yet intrepid, Pacca, tall and erect, with a bland look that covers a sterling and high-principled heart; there is the truly venerable and saintly De Gregorio, lately a prisoner for his fidelity, with snow-white head, and less firm step than his companion–Galeffi, less intellectual in features, but with a calm, genial look that makes him a general favorite; Opizzoni, Archbishop of Bologna, who had boldly asserted the claims of papal over imperial authority in regard to his counsels, in a manner that caused his imprisonment; beloved and venerated by his flock, and admired at Rome, dignified and amiable in look. There were many others whose names have not remained inscribed so deeply in the annals of the time, or have not retained their hold on the memory of its survivors. But one was there who no doubt entered as he came out–without a flutter of anxiety, when he faced the gate on either side. This was Odescalchi, young still, most noble in rank and in heart, with saintliness marked in his countenance, and probably already meditating his retreat from dignity and office, and the exchange of the purple robe the novice's black gown. Many who preferred holiness to every other qualification looked on his modest features with hope, perhaps, that they might soon glow beneath the ponderous tiara. But God had said: "Look not on his countenance, nor on the height of his stature. Nor do I judge according to the look of men; for man seeth the things that appear, but the Lord beholdeth the heart" (I Reg. xvi. 7).
On this occasion, when the cardinals assembled after the death of Pius VII, Cardinal della Somaglia, dean, stated that he had received from his predecessor some papers, with orders not to open them till after the pope's death, and in presence of the Sacred College assembled. On opening them His Eminence found two briefs, dated at Fontainbleau. By the first the pope ordered the cardinals to assemble at once under the presidency of the cardinal dean, and, derogating from the ancient constitutions, to consider only the force of circumstances and the dangers of the Church, and to elect a pope with the least possible delay by a plurality of votes. The second brief contained the same dispositions, except that the pope required, according to ancient custom, a vote of two thirds to constitute a valid election. Monsignor Mazio, secretary of the Sacred College, then declared that he was the depositary of a third brief, which, by the pope's orders, he had drawn up and retained. This brief was dated in October, 1821, contemporaneous with the bull against the Carbonari. The Holy Father ordered them to proceed to an election as soon as possible after his death, if possible by acclamation, and, so to say, over his expiring body; that the election should be secret, and without waiting for cardinals absent from Rome, without notifying the accredited ministers, without informing the courts, without taking any steps regarding his funeral till it was accomplished. The Holy Father, with most pathetic expressions, recommended union; reminding the cardinals that they were almost all created by him, and that gratitude, together with a love for religion and their country, should insure their obedience. This last brief caused great emotion. Yet the Sacred College felt that none of these briefs, under the present altered circumstances, required adoption.
The conclave proceeded, therefore, in the usual form. It began on the 22nd of September, 1823.
The conclave, which formerly used to take place in the Vatican, was on this occasion, and has been on subsequent ones, held in the Quirinal Palace. This noble building, known equally by the name of Monte Cavallo, consists of a large quadrangle, round which run the papal apartments. From this stretches out an immense wing, divided in its two upper floors into a great number of small but complete suites of apartments, occupied permanently or occasionally by persons attached to the court.
During conclave these are allotted, literally so, to the cardinals, each of whom lives apart, with his attendants. His food is brought daily from his own house, and is overhauled, and delivered to him in the shape of "broken victuals," by the watchful guardians of the turns and lattices, through which alone anything, even conversation, can penetrate into the seclusion of that sacred retreat. For a few hours, the first evening, the doors are left open, and the nobility, the diplomatic body, and in fact all presentable persons may roam from cell to cell, paying a brief compliment to its occupant, perhaps speaking the same good wishes to fifty, which they know can only be accomplished in one. After that all is closed; a wicket is left accessible for any cardinal to enter who is not yet arrived; but every aperture is jealously guarded by faithful janitors, judges, and prelates of various tribunals, who relieve one another. Every letter even is opened and read, that no communications may be held with the outer world. The very street on which the wing of the conclave looks is barricaded and guarded by a picket at each end; and as, fortunately, opposite there are no private residences, and all the buildings have access from the back, no inconvenience is thereby created.
While conclave lasts, the administrative power rests in the hands of the cardinal-chamberlain, who strikes his own coins during its continuance; and he is assisted by three cardinals, called the "heads of orders," because they represent the three orders in the Sacred College of bishops, priests, and deacons. The ambassadors of the great powers receive fresh credentials to the conclave, and proceed in state to present them to this delegation at the grille. An address, carefully prepared, is delivered by the envoy, and receives a well-pondered reply from the presiding cardinal.
In the meantime, within, and unseen from without, fervet opus. That human feelings, and even human passions, may find their way into the most guarded sanctuaries, we all know too well. But the history of conclaves is far from justifying the estimate made of them by many prejudiced writers. There will indeed be, at all times, diversities of opinion on matters of ecclesiastical and civil polity. As to both, this is sufficiently obvious. For in the former there will be some who conscientiously desire things to be ruled with a strong hand and corrected by severe measures, while others will be in favor of a more gentle pressure and a gradual reform. Some will be inclined to yield more to the demands of the temporal power, and so prevent violent collisions; others will think it safer to resist every smaller encroachment that may lead to greater usurpations. It may even happen that a politico-ecclesiastical cause of division exists.
And it must, indeed, be further observed that the is of a prince as well as of a pontiff, and that serious diversities of opinion may be held relative to the civil policy most conducive to the welfare of subjects and even to the peace of the world.
Thus, upon the three great divisions of papal rule, the purely ecclesiastical, the purely civil, and the mixed, there may be held, by men of most upright sentiments and desires, opinions widely different; and when a choice has to be made of one who has to work out his own principles, it is most natural that each elector will desire them to be in harmony with his own. But it is equally in conformity with ordinary social laws that, in spite of personal peculiarities of ideas, men should combine in the unity of certain general principles, and that some individuals, more energetic or more ardent than others, should become the representatives and leaders of all consentient with them, and so come to be reputed heads of parties, or even their creators.
Such divisions in opinion will be more deeply marked and more inevitably adopted after violent agitations and great changes, such as had distinguished the pontificate of Pius. The Church and the State had almost had to be reorganized, after such devastation as had completely swept away the ancient landmarks. New kingdoms had arisen which literally effaced the outlines of old ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and even what before had been a Catholic State had come under protestant dominion. Conventual life and property had been annihilated in most of Europe; canon law had been abolished; church endowments had been confiscated; civil codes had been introduced at variance with ecclesiastical jurisprudence; the authority of bishops had been deprived of all means of enforcing its decrees; in fine, a state of things had been produced totally different to what the Catholic worId had ever before seen.
Many remembered well the epoch antecedent to these changes, and formed living links with what had been, and what was justly considered the healthy condition of the Church. They deplored the alteration; and they believed too much had been conceded to the changeable spirit of the times. This would be enough to form a most serious and a most deeply conscientious party, in the highest and best sense of the word. Others might just as conscientiously believe that prudence and charity had guided every portion of the late policy, and wish it to be continued under the same guidance. Without exaggeration, we may allow such conflicts of principle to have swayed the minds of many who entered the conclave of 1823; while there were other who had espoused no decided views, but had simply at heart the greatest general good, and reserved their final judgement to the period when they must authoritatively pronounce it. From such a condition of things it may happen that a papal election will appear like a compromise. The extreme views on either side must be softened: the intermediate party will do this. Two thirds of the votes are required for a valid election. If this proportion could be commanded by one section, it would cease to be a party, and, therefore, where different opinions divide the body, a moderate view, more or less conciliatory, will prevail after a time; and the choice will probably fall on one who has lost the confidence of none, but who has not taken a prominent part in public affairs.
Twice a day the cardinals meet in the chapel belonging to the palace, included in the inclosure, and there, on tickets so arranged that the voter's name cannot be seen, write the name of him for whom they give their suffrage. These papers are examined in their presence, and if the number of votes given to any one do not constitute the majority, they are burned in such a manner that the smoke, issuing through a flue, is visible to the crowd usually assembled in the square outside. Some day, instead of this usual signal to disperse, the sound of pick and hammer is heard, and a small opening is seen in the wall which had temporarily blocked up the great window over the palace gateway. At last the masons of the conclave have opened a rude door, through which steps out on the balcony the first cardinal-deacon, and proclaims to the many, or to the few, who may happen to be waiting, that they again possess a sovereign and a pontiff. On the occasion of which we treat, the announcement made on the 28th of September ran as follows:
"I give you tidings of great joy; we have, as pope, the most eminent and reverend Lord Annibale, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, Della Genga, Priest of the title of Saint Mary's beyond the Tiber, who has assumed the name of Leo XII."
The cardinal thus raised to the pontifical throne was cardinal-vicar, yet so afflicted with sickness that he was known to few.
Annibale della Genga was the sixth of ten children of Count Hilary della Genga and Mary Louisa Periberti, and as born at the family seat August 22, 1760. He received his early education in a college at Osimo, from which he passed to the college of Piceno, in Rome. There, embracing the ecclesiastical state, he entered the Academia Ecclesiastica, and was ordained priest by Cardinal Gerdil, June 4, 1783.
Attracting the attention of Pius VI, on a visit paid to the house by that pope, he was taken into his household. In 1793, notwithstanding his youth and his strong remonstrances, he was made Archbishop of Tyre in partibus, and consecrated by Cardinal York at the cathedral of Frascati. He was then sent as nuncio to Lucerne, and in the following year succeeded the illustrious Pacca in the more important nunciature of Cologne. Benevolent towards all, and always worthy; serious without pride; an enlightened friend and protector of art; of perfect serenity; full of wit and repartee in society, yet never descending to unseasonable or unbecoming pleasantry; a severe observer of the duties inspired by his vocation and rank; retiring from every occasion of public distraction as soon as his dignity seemed compromised, but assiduous whenever his conduct could edify; familiar with the learned and artists; a bishop in all the rigor of the term; a prudent and beloved statesman, condescending when conscience permitted it; rigorously adhering to right when the good of the Church and his sovereign required, he won the respect and esteem of all who had occasion to meet him.
In 1805 he became the subject of a grave contest between the Holy See and Napoleon. For the pope named his extraordinary envoy to the German Diet, and the emperor wished the Bishop of Orléans to be appointed. The first prevailed, and ordered the return of Monsignor della Genga to Germany. He resided at Munich, and was there universally esteemed. In 1808 he was in Paris, engaged in diplomatic affairs on behalf of his sovereign; and having witnessed, on returning to Rome, the treatment which he was receiving from his enemies, he retired to the abbey of Monticelli,which he held in commendam, and there devoted himself, as he thought for life, to the instruction of a choir of children and the cultivation of music.
He was drawn from his obscurity at the restoration, and deputed to present to Louis XVIII, at Paris, the pope's letter of congratulation. This circumstance led to differences between him and Cardinal Consalvi, nobly repaired on both sides when the one had mounted the throne.But della Genga returned so broken in health that he thought only of returning to his abbey, soon to fill the long sepulchre which he had prepared for his interment.
Yet the Almighty sustained that frail form, and della Genga was, in 1816, raised to the purple and made Bishop of Sinigaglia. In 1820 he was made vicar of Rome, discharged the duties of his office with exemplary exactness, zeal, and prudence, till the day when he was raised to the throne.
The votes of the Sacred College were divided between Cardinals Severoli, Castiglioni, and della Genga. Austria, however, excluded the first, in order to secure the election of the second; but the Sacred College, to act without bias, chose Cardinal della Genga.
Alarmed at his elevation, he at first resisted and would not yield. "Why," he exclaimed, "would you make a skeleton a pope?" The newly elected pontiff generally takes the name of the pope from whom he received the cardinal's hat. Della Genga, from delicacy, took that of Leo XII. He said to Cardinal Castiglioni that it was a pity that they did not adopt the wishes of Pius VII, who called his friend Castiglioni Pius VIII; but that he himself, broken down by infirmities, had not long to live, and that the cardinal would certainly succeed under that title.
On the 5th of October the imposing ceremony of Leo's coronation took place. No other court could present so grand and so overpowering a spectacle. In the very center of the sublimest building on earth, there stood a circle of officers, nobles, princes, and ambassadors in their dazzling costumes; and within this circle were the highest dignitaries of religion on earth, bishops and patriarchs of the Western and of the Eastern Church, with the Sacred College in their embroidered robes, crowned by heads which an artist might have rejoiced to study, and which claimed reverence from every beholder. But rising on his throne, above them, was he whom they had raised there, in spite of tears and remonstrances. Surely, if a life of severe discipline, of constant suffering, and of long seclusion had not sufficed to extinguish ambition in his breast, his present position was calculated naturally to arouse it. If ever in his life there could be an instant of fierce temptation to self-applause, this might be considered the one.
And wherefore this pause in the triumphant procession towards the altar over the apostles' tomb, and to the throne beyond it? It is to check the rising of any such feeling, if it present itself, and to secure an antidote to any sweet draught which humanity may offer; that so the altar may be approached in humility, and the throne occupied in meekness. A clerk of the papal chapel holds upright before him a reed, surmounted by a handful of flax. This is lighted; it flashes up for a moment, dies out at once, and its thin ashes fall at the pontiff's feet, as the chaplain, in a bold, sonorous voice, chants aloud, "Pater Sancte, sic transit gloria mundi" –"Holy Father, thus passeth away the world's glory!" Three times is this impressive rite performed in that procession, as though to counteract the earthly influences of a triple crown.
The pope, pale and languid, seemed to bend his head, not in acquiescence merely, but as though in testimony to that solemn declaration, like one who could already give it the evidence of experience. His eye was soft and tender, moist indeed, and glowing with spiritual emotion. He looked upon that passing flash as on a symbol which he deeply felt, as on the history of a whole pontificate–of his own–not long to read. But the calm serenity with which he seemed to peruse it, the sincere acceptance of the lesson stamped upon his features, allowed no suspicion of an inward feeling that required the warning. It seemed in most perfect harmony with his inmost thoughts.
Years of suffering by enfeebling illness had robbed the pope, already in his sixty-fourth year, of many graces which adorned his earlier life. He appeared feeble and fatigued; his features, never strongly marked, wore upon them a sallow tinge, though the marks of age were not deeply engraven on them. His eye, however, and his voice compensated for all. There was a softness and yet a penetration in the first, which gained at sight affection and excited awe–which invited you to speak familiarly, yet checked any impulse to become unguarded. And his voice was courteously bland and winning; he spoke without excitement, gently, deliberately, and yet flowingly. One might hear him make severe remarks on what had been wrong, but never in an impetuous way, nor with an irritated tone.
There was a peculiar dignity and gracefulness, natural and simple, in his movements, especially in ecclesiastical functions. Being tall in person, the ample folds and even somewhat protracted length of the pontifical robes gave grandeur to his figure, though his head might have been considered small; he stood conspicuous among his attendants; and he moved with ease, and yet with stateliness, from place to place. And then his countenance glowed with a fervent look of deep devotion, as though his entire being were immersed in the solemn rite on which he was intent, and saw and heard and felt naught else.
There were two portions of the sacred function here described that displayed these two gifts, immeasurably, indeed, removed as they are from one another in quality, but most admirably harmonizing when combined. The first of these acts was the communion at that his first pontifical celebration, and the first at all witnessed by many. It is not easy to describe this touching and overawing ceremonial to one who has never witnessed it. The person who has once seen it with attention and intelligence needs no description. He can never forget it.
In Saint Peter's, as in all ancient churches, the high altar stands in the center, so as to form the point from which nave, aisle, and chancel radiate or branch. Moreover, the altar has its face to the chancel, and its back to the front door of the church. Consequently the choir is before the altar, though, according to modern arrangements, it would look behind it. The papal throne is erected opposite the altar, that is, it forms the farthest point in the sanctuary or choir. It is ample and lofty, ascended by several steps, on which are grouped or seated the pontiff's attendants. On either side, wide apart, at nearly the breadth of the nave, are benches, on which assist the orders of cardinals, bishops, and priests, on one side, and deacons on the other, with bishops and prelates behind them; and then, between them and the altar, two lines of the splendid noble guard, forming a hedge to multitudes, as varied in class and clan as were the visitors at Jerusalem at the first Christian Whitsuntide. Then, beyond, rises truly grand the altar, surmounted by its sumptuous canopy, which at any other time would lead the eye upwards to the interior of Saint Peter's peerless crown, the dome hanging as if from heaven over his tomb. But not now. At the moment to which we are alluding, it is the altar which rivets, which concentrates, all attention. On its highest step, turned towards the people, has just stood the pontiff, supported and surrounded by his ministers, whose widening ranks descended to the lowest step, forming a pyramid of rich and varied materials, but moving, living, and acting with unstudied ease. Now, in a moment, it is deserted. The high priest, with all his attendants, has retired to his throne; and the altar stands, in its noble simplicity, apparently abandoned by its dignified servants. And yet it is still the object of all reverence. There is something greater there than all that has just left it. Towards it all look; towards it all bend, or kneel, and worship. There stands upon it, alone, the consecrated elements, on the paten and in the chalice. The sovereign pontiff himself is nothing in their presence: he is a man, dust and ashes, there in the presence of his Lord and Maker.
The cardinal-deacon advances to the front of the altar, takes thence the paten, elevates it, and then deposits it on a rich veil hung round the neck of the kneeling subdeacon, who bears it to the throne. Then he himself elevates, turning from side to side, the jewelled chalice; and, with it raised on high, descends the steps of the altar, and slowly and solemnly bears it along the space between altar and throne. A crash is heard of swords lowered to the ground, and their scabbards ringing on the marble pavement, as the guards fall on one knee, and the multitudes bow down in humble adoration of Him whom they believe to be passing by.
After this the new pontiff was borne to the loggia, or balcony, above the door of Saint Peter's, and the triple crown was placed upon his head by the cardinal-dean, the venerable Pacca. He then stood up to give his first solemn benediction to the multitudes assembled below. As he rose from his chair to his full height, raised his eyes, and extended his arms, then, joining his hands, stretched forth his right hand and blessed, nothing could exceed the beauty and nobleness of every motion and of every act. Earnest and from the heart, paternal and royal at once, seemed that action, which, indeed, was far more; for every Catholic there–and there were few else–received it as the first exercise, in his favor, of vicarial power from Him whose hands alone essentially contain "benediction and glory, honor and power."
The promises of the new reign were bright and spring-like. If the pope had not taken any part in public affairs, if his health had kept him even out of sight, during previous years, he now displayed an intelligence and an activity which bade fair to make his pontificate one of great celebrity. But he had scarcely entered on its duties when all the ailments of his shattered constitution assailed him with increased fury, and threatened to cut short at once all his hopeful beginnings. Early in December he was so ill as to suspend audiences; before the end he was considered past recovery. In the course of January, 1824, he began to rally, against all hope.
All Rome attributed the unexpected recovery to the prayers of a saintly bishop, who was sent for, at the pope's request, from his distant see of Macerata. This was Monsignor Strambi, of the congregation of the Passion. He came immediately, saw the pope, assured him of his recovery, as he had offered up to Heaven his own valueless life in exchange for one so precious. It did indeed seem as if he had transfused his own vitality into the pope's languid frame. He himself died the next day, the 31st of December, and pontiff rose like one from the grave.
As he recovered, his character and his policy gradually developed themselves. In the first a great simplicity, in the second an active spirit of reform, were manifested.
One of the vast enterprises undertaken in this reign was the rebuilding of the great Ostian basilica, consumed by fire in the last days of his predecessor. It was soon discovered that no single portion of the edifice was secure, and that not a fragment of wall could be allowed to stand. Many were for merely covering the center altar and tomb with a moderately sized church, and leaving the ample nave to be a Palmyra in the wilderness. But the Holy Father took a more generous view. In spite of an exhausted treasury and of evil times, he resolved to begin the work of reconstruction on the original scale of the immense edifice which bore the name, in golden mosaic, of his holy patron, Saint Leo the Great. He appealed, indeed, to the charity of the faithful throughout the world, and he was generously answered. But the sums thus collected scarcely sufficed for preliminary expenses. In the meantime the crowbar and the mine were dislodging huge masses from Alpine quarries, the blocks of granite which had to form the monolith shafts of the giant columns for the nave and aisles–in all, four rows, besides the two, still more colossal, which the Emperor of Austria gave to support the triumphal arch leading to the sanctuary. Each, when shaped on the mountain-side, had to be carried down to the sea, embarked in a vessel of special construction, brought round Sicily into the Tiber, and landed in front of the church.
Another great and useful work, not fully completed till the reign of his second successor, was the repression of the ravages committed by the Anio at Tivoli. One of those traitorous outbreaks of this classical stream occurred in November, 1826. It was more than usually destructive; and the ravages committed and the damage inflicted on the neighboring inhabitants were beyond the reach of local resources. The pope gave immediate orders for effectual repairs on such a scale as would give security against future repetition of the calamity. A great deal was done; and, in October of the following year, he went, according to his practice, without giving notice, to inspect the progress of his works. It may well be imagined what delight this unexpected visit caused to the inhabitants of that poor, though industrious and beautiful, city. They crowded around him and accompanied him to the cathedral, where, after the usual function of benediction, he received in the sacristy the clergy and people of the place.
Later it was found necessary to take a bolder and more effectual measure, that of cutting a double and lofty tunnel through the hard travertine rock, and diverting the main stream before it reaches the town. These cunicoli, as they are called, form one of the grandest works of Gregory XVI's pontificate. They are worthy of imperial Rome, bold, lofty, airy, and perfectly finished. Instead of having diminished the natural beauty of Tivoli, they have enriched it with an additional waterfall of great elevation, which pours its stream in one sheet into the valley beyond.
The policy of the pope manifested an active spirit of reform. This pervaded every part of his public government, from general administration to minute details. He placed the finances of the State under rigid administration, brought them into such a condition that he was able early to diminish taxation to no inconsiderable degree. Immediately after his coronation he abolished several imposts; in March 1824, and January, 1825, still further reductions were made in taxes which pressed unequally on particular classes. Some of these abolitions, it may be remarked, affected considerably the private revenues of the pontiff. What rendered the reductions more striking was that they were made in the face of considerable expenses immediately expected on occasion of the jubilee. But so far from these having disturbed the equilibrium of the financial system, the pope found himself able, at its close, that is, on January 1, 1826, to reduce the property tax twenty-five per cent throughout his dominions. As it was the heaviest and principal of all the taxes affecting land and whatever exists upon it, this measure was the removal of a universal burden, and a relief to every species of industry and of capital.
It was generally understood that the pope had another most highly beneficial measure in contemplation, and that, by the rigid economy of which his treasurer Cristaldi was the soul, he had nearly put by the whole sum requisite for its completion. This was the repurchase of the immense Ianded property in the Papal States settled, with equity of redemption, by the Congress of Vienna, upon the family of Beauharnais. All the land which had belonged to religious corporations, including many large and noble monastic edifices, in several fertile provinces of the north, had been given a donation to Prince Eugene, with remainder to his family. The inconveniences and evils resulting from this most arbitrary arrangement were numerous and manifest. Not only was a gigantic system of absenteeism established perpetually in the heart of the country, and a very large income carried abroad, which otherwise would have been laid out on the spot, but an undue influence was thereby created over a very susceptible population, through the widely scattered patronage held by the administrators of the property. In every greater town some spacious building contained the offices of the appannaggio, as it was called, with a staff of collectors, clerks, overseers, land-surveyors, and higher officers; and in almost every village was a branch of this little empire, for managing the farms, and even smaller holdings, of former communities. Many of the employed were, moreover, foreigners, whose religion was in declared antipathy to that of the natives, and whose morals neither edified nor improved the population.
To get rid of such an unnatural and anomalous state of things could not but be desirable for all parties. To the papal government and to the inhabitants of those provinces it was a constant eyesore, or rather a thorn in the side. An immense bulk of property, unalienable except in mass, mixed up with the possessions of natives, checked the free course of speculation in land by exchange or purchase, and kept up the competition of overwhelming resources, though far from well applied, in cultivation and management. To the holder of the property its tenure must have been very unsatisfactory. Situated so far from his residence and his other estates, it had to be managed by a cumbrous and complicated administration, scattered over a broad territory; which, no doubt, swallowed up a considerable share of profits.
It was, therefore, one object of Leo's financial economy to redeem this valuable portion of his dominions from the hand of the stranger. Had his reign been prolonged a few years, he would probably have succeeded; but his successor occupied the throne for a period too brief to accomplish much; and the revolution which broke out at the very moment of Gregory's accession soon absorbed the contents of the treasury, and threw into confusion the finance of the country for many years.
Still, at a later period (1845), Gregory was able to accomplish this work. Under the papal sanction, a company was formed at Rome, in which the highest nobility took shares and direction, to repurchase the entire appanage. Sufficient means were soon raised; the predetermined sum was paid; the country was cleared of the stranger power; and the property was easily sold to neighboring or other proprietors on equitable conditions. Gradual liquidation for the land and the stock on it was permitted, and thus many families greatly increased their former possessions.
Besides improving so materially the financial state of his dominions, the pope turned his attention to many other points of government. Soon after his accession he published a new code, or digest of law. This was effected by the motu proprio of October 5, 1824, the first anniversary of his coronation. It is entitled Reformatio Tribunalium, and begins by mentioning that Pius VII had appointed a commission, composed of able advocates, to reform the mode of procedure in 1816; and that, on his own accession, he had ordered a thorough revision to be made of their labors. After great pains taken to correct and perfect it, it had been submitted to a congregation of cardinals, and approved by them. But the pope adds that he had been particularly anxious for the reduction of legal fees and expenses, and that he was ready to make any sacrifice of the public revenues necessary to secure "cheap justice" to his subjects.
Education, in its highest branches, was another object of his solicitude. The Papal States contained several universities, besides other places of education which partook of the nature and possessed the privileges of such institutions. By the bull Quod Divina Sapientia, published August 28, 1824, Leo reorganized the entire university system. The universities of Rome and Bologna composed the first class. Ferrara, Perugia, Camerino, Macerata, and Fermo had universities of an inferior grade. Those of the first class had each thirty-eight, those of the second seventeen chairs.
To take the University of Rome as the example of the first class: it was composed of theological, medical, legal, and philosophical faculties, or colleges, as they are called in Italy, to which was added another with the title of the philological; and these were completely reconstructed. The philosophical college comprehended not only every branch of mathematics, but chemistry and engineering. A youth could offer himself for examination and receive degrees in this faculty. And so in the philological department, degrees could be taken in all the languages of which chairs exist there, that is, in Greek, Hebrew, Syro-Chaldaic, and Arabic. The members of the faculties were not merely professors of the university, but men eminent in the pursuits which they represented, in other institutions of the city, or even in private life.
A special congregation was created for the supervision of studies throughout the Papal States, under the title of "The Congregation of Studies," to which belonged the duty of approving, correcting, or rejecting changes suggested by the different faculties; of filling up vacancies in chairs; and watching over the discipline, morals, and principles of all the universities and other schools.
It is certain that a new impulse was given to study by this vigorous organization. Scholars from every part of Italy and from other countries, not content with obtaining the annual prizes, studied for the attainment of degrees.
But a more important improvement was made by this constitution. With the exception of a few theological professorships, possessed, from a long period, by religious orders, all the chairs were thrown open to public competition. On a vacancy by death or superannuation, notice was to be given, and a day appointed for examination in writing of such competitors as had sent in satisfactory testimonials of character. The only ground of exception and preference was the having published such a work on the matter of the class as might well stand in the place of a mere examination paper, and as was allowed to prove the author's competency for the professorship to which he aspired. And, in addition to this, the pope made the emoluments of the chairs better objects of ambition by considerably increasing them. Indeed, he was most generous in providing means for the higher education of his subjects, lay and clerical. While he restored to the Society of Jesus the schools of the great Roman College, which had been carried on by the secular clergy since the time of Clement XIV, he founded and endowed classes under the superintendence of the latter at the old German College, where education begins almost with its very rudiments, and reaches the highest point of ecclesiastical erudition.
It will not be uninteresting to add that Leo XII ordered the works of Galileo, and others of a similar character, to be removed from the Index, in the edition published during his pontificate.
Speaking of church matters, it would be unjust to the memory of this pope not to mention other improvements which were the fruits of his reforming spirit. He made a new readjustment of the parishes of Rome. There, as elsewhere, great inequalities existed in the labor and in the remuneration of parish priests. The richer quarters of the city, of course, were comparatively more lucrative than where all was misery; and yet the calls of charity were most urgent in the last. Leo made a new division of parishes; of seventy-one existing parish churches he suppressed thirty-seven, some very small or too near one another, and retained thirty-four. To these he added nine, making the total number forty-three. He, moreover, equalized their revenues; so that wherever the income of the parish priest did not reach a definite sum considered necessary for a decent maintenance, this was made up from other sources guaranteed by the government. Every one must approve of this just reform. But it is only fair to add that nothing approaching to riches was thus provided. Ecclesiastical wealth is unknown in Rome, and the maintenance secured to a rector of a Roman parish would be treated, says Cardinal Wiseman, as a sorry provision for a London curate.
Another ecclesiastical change introduced by Leo XII affected religious corporations. Besides the greater houses of different orders, there were several small communities of branches from them which seemed dying out, and in which it was difficult to maintain full monastic observance. These he took measures gradually to suppress, by allowing the actual members to incorporate themselves with similar or cognate establishments, or, by receiving no more novices, gradually to be dissolved. Such a measure had, of course, its disapprovers; but certainly it was undertaken in a sincere spirit of enforcing, to the utmost, religious observance.
It may interest many readers but little to learn the full extent which the reforming spirit of this pontiff contemplated. Yet even those who affect indifference to whatever concerns Rome and its sovereign bishops will not refuse evidence which proves in one of them the sincere and efficacious desire to amend abuses, even in matters apparently trifling.
Some of these reforms, certainly, were not inspired by any desire of popularity. They were decidedly unpopular, both with strangers and with natives.
For instance, he suppressed forever one of the most singular and beautiful scenes connected with the functions of Holy Week. On the evenings of Thursday and Fridays the Church of Saint Peter used to be lighted up by one marvelous cross of light suspended from the dome. This artificial meteor flung a radiance on the altar, where all other lights were extinguished, and even round the tomb of the apostles, where, on one evening, certain rites are performed; it illuminated brightly the balcony under the cupola, from which venerable relics are exhibited; and it sent a flood of light along every open space, tipping every salient point and coign with radiance, and leaving sharp-cut shadows beyond. It was such an effect of chiaroscuro–the most brilliant chiaro and the densest oscuro–as every artist loved to contemplate. But it was over-beautiful: it attracted multitudes who went only to see its grand effects. While pilgrims from the south were on their knees crowded into the center of the church, travellers from the north were promenading in the wondrous light, studying its unrivalled effects, peeping into the darksome nooks, then plunging into them, to emerge again into a sunshine that had no transition of dawn. And, doing all this, they talked and laughed and formed chatting groups, then broke into lounging, sauntering parties, that treated lightly of all intended to be most solemn. It made one sad and irritable to witness such conduct, nay, ashamed of one's home manners, on seeing well-dressed people unable to defer to the sacred feelings of others, bringing what used to be the behavior in old "Paule's" into great Saint Peter's.
Unhappily for generations to come, it was considered impossible to check this disorder, except by removing its cause. The illuminated cross, which was made of highly burnished copper plates studded with lamps, disappeared at the beginning of Leo's reign, by his orders; and, except when once renewed as a profane spectacle by the republican leaders, it has been allowed to lie at rest in the lumber-rooms of the Vatican.
In the two papal chapels, raised seats had been long introduced, for the special accommodation of foreign ladies, who could thence follow the ceremonies performed at the altar. The privilege thus granted had been shamefully abused. Not only levity and disrespectful behavior, not only giggling and loud talking, but eating and drinking, had been indulged in within the holy place. Remonstrance had been vain, and so had other precautions of tickets and surveillance. One fine day, the ladies, on arriving, found the raised platform no more; the seats were low on the ground, sufficient for those who came to pray and join in the services, quite useless for those who came only to stare in willful ignorance, or scoff in perverse malice.
This respect for God's house the pope extended to all other churches. In each he had a Swiss placed, to keep it in order, prevent artistic or curious perambulations at improper times, and assist in repressing any unbecoming conduct. Modesty of dress was also inculcated and enforced in church.
Certain actions of the pope will show how this sternness, in remedying or preventing the vices of the poor, was accompanied by kindness and charity. Soon after his accession, he had one evening finished his audiences, when he asked one of his domestic prelates, who lived out of the palace, and was later a cardinal, if his carriage was below. On his replying in the affirmative, the pope said he would go out in it; put a cloak about him, and descended by a private staircase, and, accompanied by his noble attendant, drove to the school of the deaf and dumb, where an examination was being held Such an event had never been before known; and we may imagine the delight and gratitude of pupils and teachers at this most unexpected surprise. He attended to the examinations, and then, with his own hands, distributed the prizes which he had brought with him.
This first instance was often repeated; but it was carried further, even to the lowest depths of misery. He visited the prisons, not only to overlook great improvements which he introduced into them, but to converse with their unfortunate inmates and relieve their sufferings. In this manner he suddenly appeared at the debtors' prison in the capital, inquired personally into cases of hardship, and discharged several prisoners, whose debts he took upon himself. The hospitals also were unexpectedly visited, and their inmates consoled by the benign presence and soothing words of their holy pontiff.
Anxious, however, to provide for the just and efficient administration of charitable funds, many of which were misspent on worthless objects or wasted in the driblets of separate distributions, he appointed a commission of high ecclesiastics and irreproachable laymen to consolidate all the alms-funds of Rome and see to their equitable distribution. This noble institution, known as the "Congregazione dei Sussidi," was organized by a decree dated February 17, 1826. It is followed by a beautiful instruction to parochial committees acting under this board, headed by a gentleman and a "lady of charity" from among the parishioners. Nothing can be more sensible or more full of tender charity to the poor than this truly episcopal and paternal address.
There was a community of Franciscan nuns, exceedingly edifying by their strict observance, miserably lodged in a steep, narrow street behind the Quirinal, unable to keep inclosure from having no external church. The clergy of the English and Scotch colleges often ministered to their spiritual wants. One day, in the very heat of a summer afternoon, when every one, nuns included, was taking the short repose of the time of day, the rough pavement of the lane quaked and rattled under the unusual dash and crash of horses and carriages. An impatient ring of the bell informed the community, who could not see into the street, that all this hubbub was on their account. "What is the matter? Who wants anything at this hour?" the aroused portress asked. "The Holy Father is come to see you," was the answer. No doubt the pope quietly enjoyed the fright and joy, all in one, the amazement and confusion of the poor sisters, at this most unexpected proof of paternal care. He examined the house himself, and saw its inadequacy; and, after familiarly and kindly conversing with them, departed, leaving them full of consolation.
There was an excellent and ample convent, then unoccupied, near the beautiful fountain familiar to travellers by the name of the Tortoises. It had every requisite for an inclosed community, and was attached to an elegant church dedicated to Saint Ambrose, and supposed to occupy the site of his abode. This Leo had put into thorough repair and order; and when all was prepared, and the day was fixed for taking possession, the good nuns were waited upon by a number of ladies of the Roman nobility, always ready for such good actions, and taken in their carriages to the Vatican, where a sumptuous collation, as it appeared to them, was laid out for them, and they received the pope's benediction, and enjoyed his amiable conversation for a considerable time. They were then driven to their new home, whither their furniture had been removed. It was amusing to hear the nuns describe that day: their bewilderment in going through the streets after years of seclusion; their bedazzlement and awe in the Vatican, and its church, which they visited; their delight at finding themselves in so spacious and convenient a house; their great relief, after a harassing and toilsome day, when their visitors had all left, and they closed their doors forever to the outer world; then, lastly, their dismay at finding themselves without a morsel of food, sick and faint as they were, and unable, as they had been, through their confusion and reverence, to partake of the papal refreshments. This alone had been overlooked; and only one nun, who surely deserved to take her place among the five wise virgins of the parable, had brought a small basket of homely provisions, which, however, she willingly shared with her famishing companions.
In this way did Pope Leo love to do good. He liked to take people by surprise, and see for himself; sometimes, it used to be said, with a very different result from that in the instance quoted.
Having mentioned his attention to the progress of art, as in harmony with the conduct of all his great predecessors, it may not be amiss to specify one or two instances. The Vatican Library is indebted to him for very valuable additions. The principal one, perhaps, is the Cicognara collection of works relative to art. The nobleman whose property it was is well known for a magnificent history of sculpture– a work which unites his name with those of Winckelmann and Agincourt. For the compilation of this book he had naturally collected most valuable and expensive works on every department of art. At his death this collection was for sale. It was purchased by the pope and given to the Vatican Library. Besides this, he added many thousands of volumes to its rich stores, so that new rooms had to be incorporated in its immense range. The classical department was particularly increased.
It was during this pontificate, also, that the germ of the splendid Etruscan museum was formed; for the excavations and study of the cities of tombs which still remain on the borders of Tuscany, belonging to the old Etruscan towns, were peculiarly carried on under this pope.
He showed himself, indeed, quite as great a patron of art as any of his predecessors; but he was most anxious that morality should not be compromised by it. A group of statues in the new gallery erected by his predecessors disappeared after his first visit, as did gradually other pieces of ancient sculpture offensive to Christian modesty.
Among his works must not be forgotten one which is commemorated on one of his annual medals, the beautiful baptistery which he added to the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, adorned with the richest marbles and constructed with exquisite taste.
It is well known that ladies are not admitted into the portion of the palace occupied by the pope. He leaves his apartment for the museum or library when he receives them. During hours of general audience the anterooms present an appearance of considerable state. Each of them has its body of guards, more for becoming appearance than for any effectual services; and chamberlains, clerical and lay, are in attendance in the inner chambers, as other classes of officers are in the outer. But soon after twelve all this formal court disappears; silence and solitude reign through the papal apartments. Below, indeed, there is a guard of Swiss, which might allow any one to pass; but at the foot of the staircase of the palace is a sentinel, and in the great royal hall is a small guard in attendance. This would be difficult to pass; for the next room is at once the first of the pontifical apartments, occupied by a few servants, who, in the warm hours of day, might easily be dozing.
Be all this as it may, certain it is that one afternoon it was announced to the pope that a lady had made her way past the guard, and, before she was discovered, had penetrated far into the penetralia of the palace. She had been of course stopped in her progress, or she might have found herself suddenly in the presence-chamber, or rather in the study usually occupied by the pontiff at that hour. What was to be done with her? was asked in dismay. Such an act of presumption had never before been known; there was a mystery about her getting in; and this was all the more difficult of solution because the intruder could not speak Italian, and it could only be ascertained that she desired to see the pope. Let it be remembered that secret societies were then becoming alarmingly rife, and that domestic assassination of persons in high places had been attempted, occasionally with success. The pope apprehended no such danger, and desired the adventurous lady to be admitted at once. He gave her a long audience, treating her with his usual kindness. She was an American woman, who had been seized with a strong charitable desire to convert the pope from what she considered his errors, and had thus boldly and successfully attempted to obtain a conference with him. That she did not change the pope is certain; but that her opinion of him was changed there can be no doubt. For she must have been charmed with the gentleness and sweetness, as well as nobleness and dignity, of his mien and speech. "It was from Cardinal Pacca," says Cardinal Wiseman, "at the Villa Clementina, that we heard this anecdote; and he mentioned that the pope asked her if she had not believed him to have a cloven (or ox's) foot; but she, halting between her courtesy and her truthfulness, hesitated to answer, especially as she had given furtive glances towards the hem of the papal cassock. On which the pope good-naturedly convinced her that he was clearly shod on human and Christian principles. The cardinal added that, in his travels, some Protestant in conversation with him did not deny his belief in that pious and orthodox tradition; upon which Pacca wittily observed: 'If you believe the pope to be graced with a goat's foot, you must naturally expect us cardinals to be garnished with a kid's. This, you see, is not my case.'"
The great event of the reign of Leo XII was undoubtedly the jubilee of 1825, the first held in the century, and against which many arguments were now adduced.
On Ascension day he issued the bull of preparation, clear, bold, and cheering, as a silver clarion's note. Seldom has a document proceeded even from the Holy See more noble and stately, more tender and paternal. Its language, pure, elegant, and finely rounded, flows with all the greatness of Roman eloquence; yet in tone, in illustration, and in pathos, it is thoroughly Christian and eminently ecclesiastical. It speaks as only a pope could speak, with a consciousness of power that cannot fail, and of authority that cannot stray. Its teaching is that of a master, its instruction that of a sage, its piety that of a saint. The pope first addresses every class of men who recognize his spiritual sovereignty, entreating kings to put no hindrance in the way of faithful pilgrims, but to protect and favor them, and the people readily to accept his fatherly invitation, and hasten in crowds to the banquet of grace spread for them. When, after having warmly exhorted those who, in addition, recognize his temporal dominion, he turns to those who are not of his fold, those even who had persecuted and offended the Holy See, and in words of burning charity and affectionate forgiveness he invites them to approach him and accept him as their father too, his words bring back the noble gesture with which he threw open his arms when he gave his first public benediction, and seemed to make a way to his heart for all mankind, and then press them to it in a tender embrace.
From the moment this decisive document was issued, some preparations were begun, and others were more actively pursued.
The first class of these preliminaries were of a religious character. Missioni, or courses of stirring sermons, calling on sinners to turn from their evil courses, were preached, not merely in churches, but in public squares–for the churches did not suffice–in order to cleanse the city from sin, and make it a holy place for those who should come to seek edification there. In the immense and beautiful square known to every traveller as Piazza Navona, a concourse of fifteen thousand persons was said to be present when the pope, on the 15th of August, went to close these services by his benediction. It required stentorian lungs to address such a crowd and be audible; fortunately these were to be found, in contact with a heart full of goodness and piety, in the breast of the Canonico Muccioli. When this zealous man died, still young, a few years later, hundreds of youths belonging to the middle classes, dressed in decent mourning, followed in ranks their friend to his sepulchre. The same tribute of popular affection was exhibited later still, in 1851, to the amiable and edifying Professor Graziosi.
But to return: the pope took many by surprise, when they saw him opposite, listening to the canon's closing sermon from the apartments of the Russian embassy in the Pamphili palace. Thence he descended, accompanied by his heterodox host and admirer, the Chevalier Italinski, to a throne erected for him in the open air.
In addition to this spiritual preparation, material improvements were not forgotten. A visitation of churches, oratories, and all religious institutions had been begun, in virtue of which all irregularities in their arrangements were corrected, dilapidations were repaired, ornaments restored, and old or decayed objects renewed. Considerable expense was thus incurred by some of the greater and older basilicas.
But more serious still were the preparations necessary to lodge and feed the crowds of pilgrims who were expected. To prevent any alarm on this head, on the part of foreign princes, the pope sent word to the embassies that he did not wish them to make any provision for their poor countrymen, as he took upon himself this duty of hospitality. He observed that he would rather pawn the church plate of Rome than be wanting in its discharge.
The Holy Father was the soul of all the work of the jubilee. To see him and carry back his blessing was of course one of the most highly coveted privileges of a pilgrimage to Rome. Hence he had repeatedly to show himself to the crowds and bless them. They were instructed to hold up whatever they wished to have blessed; and certainly scarcely ever did Rome present a more motley crowd, arrayed in every variety of costume, from the sober and almost clerical dress of German peasants, to the rainbow hues of the Abruzzi or Campania. But the pope manifested his hearty sympathy in his jubilee by a more remarkable proof than these. He daily served in his own palace twelve pilgrims at table, and continued this practice throughout his reign.
It must not be thought that the celebration of the jubilee completely monopolized the attention of the pope. No year of his reign was more actively occupied than this, with important affairs, especially abroad. But one great and beneficial internal improvement may be traced to this "holy year." The pope was determined that the roads should be safe for his poor pilgrims, and took such active measures, in concert with neighboring States, that the system of brigandage was completely extinguished. The last act, however, of its destruction deserves recording. A good old priest, the Abbate Pellegrini, archpriest of Sezze, ventured alone to the mountains which formed the headquarters and stronghold of the banditti, unauthorized and uninvited. Without password besides the expression of his charity, without a pledge to give that his assurances would be confirmed, without any claim, from position, to the fulfillment of his promises, he walked boldly into the midst of the band, and preached to them repentance and change of life. They listened: perhaps they knew that active measures were being planned for their extermination; more probably the very simplicity and daring of the feeble, unarmed peacemaker touched their rude natures, and they wavered. But they were among the most dreaded of their race, nay, the most unpardonable, for some of them had been the assassins of the Terracina students. One of them was their chief, Gasbarone, who owned to the commission of many murders. What hope could they entertain of pardon? The old man took upon himself to give his priestly word that their lives would be spared; they believed that word, and surrendered to him at discretion. The city of Sezze was astonished at beholding this herd of wolves led in by a lamb. All admired the heroic action, the self-devoting charity, of this worthy ecclesiastic, who sought no reward, and who might have received a bullet or a stab for his first welcome from those desperadoes, but had done in a few hours what troops and statesmen, in combined action, had not been able to effect in years.
There is an act of this papal reign which deserves record as characteristic of the pontiff himself, and as illustrating the practical working of the supremacy under complications otherwise insoluble. South America had thrown off the Spanish rule, and enjoyed an independence of some years' duration. On the 21st of May, 1827, the pope addressed the cardinals in consistory assembled on the ecclesiastical position of that continent. Spain had refused to recognize the independence of its many States, although it had ceased effectually even to disturb them. It claimed still all its old rights over them; and, among them, that of episcopal presentation. The exercise of such a power, if it existed, would have been contradictory to its object, and therefore self-defeating. Bishops are intended to feed a flock; and of what use would bishops have been, who would never have been allowed even to look upon their sees or be heard by their people? For it would have been quite unreasonable to expect that the free republics would acknowledge the jurisdiction of the country which declared itself at war with them.
On the other hand, there had been no formal ecclesiastical treaty or concordat between these commonwealths and the Holy See, by which previous claims had been abrogated, and new rights invested in their present rulers. It was just a case for the exercise of the highest prerogative, which both parties acknowledged to be inherent in the supremacy, however galling its application might be to one of them. In the allocution alluded to, the pope announced that, not feeling justified in longer permitting those sees to remain vacant, and those immense populations wandering like sheep with out a shepherd, he had provided them with worthy pastors, without the intervention of either side, but in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority. The court of Madrid was angry, and refused to admit the papal nuncio, Tiberi; and a little episode in the life of Pius IX arose from this passing coolness.
The pope went through his Christmas duties, and even officiated on the 2nd of February, 1829, the feast of the Purification, when a Te Deum is sung in thanksgiving for escape from a dreadful earthquake in 1703. But between the two festivals he had given intimations of a consciousness of his approaching end. He took leave of Monsignor Testa, his secretary of Latin briefs to princes, at the last weekly audience he had, most affectionately, saying: "A few days more, and we shall not meet again." He gave up the ring usually worn by the pope to the custody of the maggiordomo, or high steward of the household, telling him, as he hesitated to receive it, that he was its proper guardian, and that it might easily be lost in the confusion of an event which was shortly to ensue. But the most striking proof of presentiment was the following. Monsignor Gasperini, his secretary of Latin letters, went to his usual audience one evening. After despatching his business, Leo said to him, in his ordinary calm and affable manner: "I have a favor to ask of you, which I shall much value."
"Your Holiness has only to command me," was the natural reply.
"It is this," the pope continued, placing before him a paper. "I have drawn up my epitaph, and I should be obliged to you to correct it and put it into proper style."
"I would rather have received any commission but that," said the sorrowful secretary, who was deeply attached to his master. "Your Holiness, however, is, I trust, in no hurry?"
"Yes, my dear Gasperini, you must bring it with you next time."
At his next week's audience he laid the corrected inscription before Leo, who read it, approved highly of it, thanked him most cordially, folded and placed it under the lion-mounted slab, where it remained till sought and found, a few days later, after his death. He transacted his business with his usual serenity; and, in dismissing him, thanked his secretary with an earnestness that struck him as peculiar. They never saw one another again upon earth.
On the 6th of February, after having descended to the apartments of the secretary of state, Cardinal Bernetti, by a private staircase, and held a long conference with him, he returned to his own closet and resumed his work. He was there seized with his last illness; and it was generally believed that an operation unskillfully performed had aggravated instead of relieved its symptoms. He bore the torturing pain of his disease with perfect patience, asked for the last rites of the Church, and expired, in calm and freedom from suffering, on the 10th.
He was buried temporarily in the sarcophagus which had enshrined for a time the remains of his predecessors, and then in a vault constructed in front of Saint Leo the Great's altar; where, in the center of the pavement corresponding by its lines with the small dome above, was inlaid in brass the following inscription, alluded to as composed by himself. No one can read it and fail to be touched by its elegant simplicity.
ME. SVPPLEX. COMMENDANS
HIC. APVD. SACROS. EIVS.CINERES
LOCVM. SEPVLTVRAE. ELEGI
Among other acts of this reign must be noted his enlargement, in 1825, of the Jews' quarter at Rome.
The emancipation of the Catholics in the British dominions had engaged the attention of Pius VII, although the efforts of Cardinal Consalvi were viewed with suspicion.
A new impulse was given from Ireland, and Catholicism gained signal advantages by the triumph of O'Connell, unattended by any of the sacrifices which the great Consalvi had supposed inevitable.
Cardinal Wiseman thus describes the private life of this pope:
"Leo XII rose very early, perhaps at five, and spent the first part of the day as any other Catholic ecclesiastic does, in those religious duties which have to consecrate its actions–meditation, prayer, and the celebration of the Divine Mysteries, followed always, in the pope's diary, by assisting at a second Mass 'of thanksgiving' said by a chaplain. A cup of coffee, or a basin of broth, with no solid food, was all the sustenance which he took till his hour of dinner. He went through the morning work of audiences, from eight, at latest, till twelve; then retired for private occupation, rested, devoted an hour to prayer (as we learned from others), drove out, and resumed public business till ten, when he took his first and only meal. To say that it was frugal would be little; nor could we wonder at the accredited report that he would not allow his personal expenses to exceed a dollar a day, when we heard from his own lips that the dry Newfoundland stock-fish, the baccala of Italy, was his very ordinary and favorite food.
"This abstemiousness enabled Leo to go through functions which no other pope in modern times has attempted, such as singing Mass at Santa Maria Maggiore on Christmas eve, which involved fasting from the previous midnight, at least three-and-twenty hours; then going to Saint Anastasia's Church, the 'station' for the Mass at dawn; after saying which, he sang the third Mass at Saint Peter's on the day itself."
This biographical data is from "The Lives and Times of the Popes" by The Chevalier Artaud De Montor. Published by The Catholic Publication Society of New York in ten volumes in 1911. The pictures, included in the volumes, were reproduced from " Effigies Pontificum Romanorum Dominici Basae."