Friday, April 24, 2015
U IS FOR POPE URBAN VII
Born Giovanni Batista Castagna, Pope Urban VII (1521 - 1590) was a man ahead of his time; he enacted the world's first public smoking ban, threatening to excommunicate anyone who "took tobacco in the porchway of or inside a church, whether it be by chewing it, smoking it through a pipe or sniffing it in powdered form through the nose." Unfortunately, the other major thing for which Urban VII is known is having had the shortest papacy in history: 12 days (September 15th to 27th, 1590), ending with his death from malaria. Kind of makes one wonder what the living conditions were like for popes in those days, doesn't it?
Remember back, back, through the mists of time, to when I first announced my topic for the A to Z Challenge? Of course you do. And as you recall, one of my self-imposed rules was going to be "no religious leaders," although I said there would be one exception. Well, I thought being Pope for less than two weeks deserved an exception, not to mention that there didn't seem to be many notable 16th-century people whose surnames began with the letter U. If you know of another one, please give me a shout-out! But Urban VII (the only Pope Urban during that century - yes, of course I checked the list) is my choice.
Despite his exceedingly short reign at the peak of his career path, Urban VII led quite an eventful (and very privileged) life up to then. Born into the nobility in Rome, he finished his studies at the University of Bologna with doctorates in both civil law and canon law. After what seems to have been a short stint as a constitutional lawyer, he entered the Roman curia (the administrative arm of the Holy See) and became sort of an ecclesiastic civil servant, embarking on a series of assignments, both civil and clerical.
1553: Archbishop of Rossano
1555-59: governor of Fano
1559-1560: governor of Perugia and Umbria
1562-63: participated in Council of Trent
1565-72: apostolic nuncio (ambassador) to Spain
1573-77: apostolic nuncio to Venice
1576-77: governor of Bologna (I'm not sure how he could be in Venice and Bologna at the same time, but then, he wouldn't have been the last absentee governor, would he?)
1578-80: papal legate to Flanders and Cologne
1583: became a Cardinal; served in San Marcello
1586: inquisitor general (yes, that Inquisition)
Urban was not a fan of the tradition of nepotism; he would not employ any of his relatives in the court offices, and forbade them from assuming new titles based on their connection to him. Urban ordered the poor of Rome to be numbered so that he could distribute alms to them. In his will, he left all of his considerable fortune to the Fraternity of the Annunciation to be used as dowries for impoverished girls. Sounds like he would have been a good Pope. That is all.