Pope Urban VII: remembering you on this day after 420 years, may you rest in peace on this day of your death!
Pope Urban VII (4 August 1521 – 27 September 1590), born Giovanni Battista Castagna, was Pope for thirteen days in September 1590. He was of Genoese origin, although born in Rome. He was created Cardinal-Priest of S. Marcello in 1584. He was chosen successor of Pope Sixtus V (1585–90) on 15 September 1590, but died of malaria (27 September 1590) before coronation, making his the shortest papal reign in history.
He had previously served as governor of Bologna and as archbishop of Rossano, and was for many years nuncio to Spain; his election to the papacy was largely backed by the Spanish faction.
Urban VII's short passage in office gave rise to the world's first known public smoking ban, as he threatened to excommunicate anyone who "took tobacco in the porchway of or inside a church, whether it be by chewing it, smoking it with a pipe or sniffing it in powdered form through the nose."
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.
Pope Sixtus V having died 27 August, 1590, the cardinals, 54 in number, entered the conclave at the Vatican on 7 September, and elected Cardinal Castagna as pope on 15 September. The news of his election was a cause of universal joy. The new pontiff was not only highly esteemed for his piety and learning, he had also, in the many important and difficult positions which he filled as archbishop and cardinal, manifested extraordinary prudence and administrative ability. He chose the name Urban in order that this name, which in Latin signifies "kind", might be a continuous reminder to him to show kindness towards all his subjects. One of his first acts was to have a list made of all the poor in Rome that he might alleviate their needs. He also gave liberal alms to those cardinals whose income was insufficient, paid the debts of all the monts-de-piété in the Ecclesiastical State, and ordered the bakers of Rome to make larger loaves of bread and sell them cheaper, indemnifying their losses out of his own purse. Desirous of checking the luxury of the rich, he forbade his chamberlains to wear silk garments. In order to give occupation to the poor, he ordered the completion of the public works that had been commenced by his predecessor.
He appointed a committee of cardinals, consisting of Paleotti, Fachinetti, Lancelotti, and Aldobrandini, for the reform of the Apostolic Datary. Strongly opposed to nepotism, he expressed his purpose never to appoint any of his relatives to an office in the Curia and forbade them to make use of the title "Excellence", which it was customary to give the nearest relatives of the pope. A few days after his election he became seriously ill. The faithful united in prayers for his recovery; public processions, expositions of the Blessed Sacrament, and other pious exercises were conducted.
The pope confessed and communicated every day of his illness. He once expressed a desire to remove to the Quirinal, where the air was purer and more wholesome, but, when told that it was not customary for the pope to be seen in the city before his coronation, he remained in the Vatican. He died before the papal coronation could take place and was buried in the Vatican Basilica. On 22 September, 1606, his remains were transferred to the Church of S. Maria sopra Minerva, where a magnificent monument was erected in his honour. His temporal possessions, consisting of 30,000 scudi, he bequeathed to the Archconfraternity of the Annunciation to be used as dowries for poor girls.