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Biography - Pope Urban VII - The Papal Library

by Catherine Frakas 17 Mar 2021

Urban VII1590-1590 Giovanni Battista Castagna born 1521 Pope Urban VII was born at Rome, on the 4th of August, 1521, of a noble Genoese family. He took the degree of doctor in the civil civil and canon law at Bologna. His uncle, Cardinal Verallo, being legate in France, Giovanni Battista became his auditor. Julius III made him referendary of the signature of justice, and then, about 1553, Archbishop of Rossano; as such he attended the Council of Trent. By order of Pius IV, no decree affecting the pontifical authority was to be adopted without the sanction of Castagna. The Fathers, seeing his talent and his aptitude, made him prefect of the congregations. He gave much advice that secured a happy issue to the operations of that assembly. Julius III made him governor of Fano, and Paul IV invested him with similar authority over Perugia and Umbria. By command of Pius IV he accompanied to Spain Cardinal Buoncompagni, subsequently Pope Gregory XIII. Giovanni Battista had been made nuncio, and for seven years resided with that title at Madrid, where he held, at the baptismal font, Isabella, the eldest daughter of Philip II. On his return to Rome he resigned, without a pension, the archbishopric of Rossano; and Gregory XIII sent him as nuncio to Venice, whence Gregory removed him to be for a year governor of Bologna. Thence he passed to Cologne, to aid the Bishop of Liège in bringing about a treaty that would restore peace between the Catholic king and the United Provinces. At length, after this active life, full of important services to the Church, he was created by Gregory XIII cardinal, on the 12th of December, 1583, and sent as legate to Bologna. After the funeral of Sixtus V, on the 7th of September, when Anthony Boccapaduli had delivered a discourse for the election of the successor, fifty-three cardinals entered into conclave. An attempt was first made to place the tiara on the head of Mark Antony Colonna; but they could not agree upon him, and then, by common consent, they elected Cardinal Castagna, on the 15th of September, 1590. He chose the name of Urban VII, that he might not forget, as he said, the urbanity which he wished to show to everyone. It was said that Sixtus V, who greatly loved him, predicted his elevation. It is related that, as they dined together at a country house, Sixtus, helping himself to some pears, found a decayed one, and said: Just now the Romans do not like pears (Peretti); they will soon have chestnuts (Castagna). Desirous of showing the fitness of his name, Urban caused the poor of Rome to be numbered, that he might give them alms; and he at the same time granted liberal aid to cardinals whose income was insufficient. Very early in his reign he ordered the reform of the datary, and determined upon continuing the buildings commenced by Sixtus V, saying that when they were finished inscriptions should be placed upon them in honor of Sixtus, and not the armorial bearings of the new pope. Some of his relations hastened to Rome. He sent them back by the same road, without office, dignity, or any other advantage. He signified to his nephew, Mario Millini, governor of the Castle of Sant' Angelo, that hw was not to accept the title of excellency, which is commonly given by courtesy to near relations of a pope, and forbade any of his kindred to assume a title superior to that previously enjoyed. Nevertheless, he gave a canonship of Saint Peter's to Fabricius Verallo, his nephew, exhorting him to keep within the primitive moderation and religiously to exercise the office of canon. He would not employ any of his relations in the court offices, in order that he might the more severely punish agents guilty of misconduct. The fine qualities of this pope excited hopes of a corresponding administration, when symptoms of illness, which appeared on the day after his election, excited fears for his life. From that moment until his death he daily confessed and communicated, and the whole city of Rome incessantly put up prayers to God in his behalf. Public processions were made, the Holy Sacrament was exposed, and no pious exercise was omitted to obtain from God the restoration of so good a pope. Then he thought of removing to Monte Cavallo, where the air is purer, and many of the cardinals prepared to accompany him. But the etiquette which is so austerely observed by the masters of the ceremonies at Rome would not allow the pope to be seen in Rome before he was crowned; and instead of his being removed by night, when no one would have seen him, the projected removal was abandoned altogether. The pope continued to grow weaker. He confirmed his will, by which he left to the Brotherhood of the Annunciation his whole patrimony, amounting to thirty thousand crowns, to furnish marriage portions for poor girls. He then returned thanks to God for recalling him so soon, so that he would have no account to give of his papacy. Yet surely he would not have blasted the favorable hopes entertained of him. But, at the end of a reign of only thirteen days, he died, not quite seventy years of age, on the 27th of September, 1590, without having been crowned. However, the medal for his coronation had already been struck, and it served for his successor, with only the alteration of the name and head. Urban was deposited at the Vatican until a tomb was raised for him in the Church of the Minerva. 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.

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