Pope Pius VII, born Barnabas Niccolò Maria Luigi Chiaramonti, was the 251th bishop of Rome and pope of the Catholic Church (1800-1823); belonged to the Benedictine order.
He was born in Cesena, the penultimate son of Count Scipione Chiaramonti and Giovanna Coronata Ghini of the Marquis Ghini, noble family of Romagna, Conti, Patrizi of Cesena and San Marino, Cavalieri di San Giovanni and Frieri of the Hospital of Santo Spirito. The mother, a woman of profound religiousness, will later enter the Carmelite nuns in Fano. Furthermore, through his mother's family, Barnabas was related to Angelo Braschi, his predecessor with the name of Pius VI.
Unlike his brothers, he did not complete his studies in the College of the nobles of Ravenna but, at the age of 14, he entered the Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria del Monte in his hometown, taking the name of Gregory. His superiors, having realized the abilities of the young, sent him first to Padua and then to Rome to the college of Sant'Anselmo, in the abbey of San Paolo fuori le mura, to perfect himself in the study of theology.
Having become a professor of theology, he began teaching in the colleges of order in Parma and Rome. In February 1775, with the election of fellow citizen Angelo Braschi as pope, he was appointed prior of the Benedictine Abbey of San Paolo in Rome. On December 16, 1782, Pius VI appointed him bishop of Tivoli. On 14 February 1785, for the excellent conduct held in this office, he received the purple cardinal and the episcopal chair of Imola.
Here he was remembered above all for his personal charisma and his love for culture. Chiaramonti made no secret of owning even the d'Alembert Encyclopedia in his library. After all, his openings to modern ideas were known: in 1797 a homily was heard, pronounced in the cathedral of Imola, where he supported the reconciliation of the Gospel with democracy: "Be Christians all in one piece and you will also be good democrats. ".
At the death of Pius VI, the Sacred College, convened by the dean cardinal Giuseppe Albani, met in conclave in Venice under Austrian hospitality, since at that time Rome was occupied by the French troops. Even before the conclave began, the political situation in Rome had changed. On 19 September 1799 the French had left the Urbe; on September 30th the city had been occupied by the Neapolitans, who had put an end to the Roman Republic.
The cardinals, just 35, almost all Italians, met on November 30, 1799 in the monastery of San Giorgio. Soon the votes focused on two candidates: card. Alessandro Mattei, archbishop of Ferrara, anti-French, and card. Carlo Bellisomi, bishop of Cesena, whose position was more conciliatory. Three whole months went by without a solution being resolved. To escape the impasse, Monsignor Ercole Consalvi, the secretary of the conclave, proposed a third candidate: the bishop of Imola, Barnaba Chiaramonti. In a short time the votes were channeled on him. The French cardinal and archbishop Jean-Siffrein Maury also played a decisive role in his election.
On March 14, 1800 Chiaramonti was unanimously elected pope. The choice of the pontifical name Pius VII was therefore taken for granted in the honor of his predecessor Pius VI, his fellow citizen and a great friend to whom he owed his nomination as bishop of Imola and the purple cardinal. The emperor of Austria asked the new pontiff for the transfer of the Legations of Bologna, Ferrara, Imola and Ravenna. Pius VII replied negatively to imperial claims; he also decided to retain the title of bishop of Imola. Francis II, displeased, forbade the coronation of the Pope in the Basilica of San Marco. Pius VII was crowned in the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore.
The new pontiff stayed in the Veneto for a few months, during which he visited almost all the churches and received the homage of all the religious congregations; during this period he made a visit to Padua, where he had been a young man in Santa Giustina. Despite the opposition of the emperor of Austria, he imposed himself on these in his desire for independence and to go to Rome.
Broken off from Venice to Pesaro on the Austrian "Bellona" frigate, it reached the Eternal City following the path of the Via Flaminia. In Fano he paid homage to his mother's remains in Carmel. In July, the Pope finally made his entrance in Rome, welcomed by the Roman nobility and by the people in jubilation. He found the coffers of the state empty: the little that the French had left was squandered by the Neapolitans. In August he appointed Consalvi, to whom the tiara, cardinal deacon and secretary of state was largely responsible, and then began to take up the task of administrative reforms, which had become immeasurable. In the choice of the new secretary, Pius VII was not influenced by foreign powers, especially by the Austrian Empire, who wanted a prelate to his liking to be appointed.
His attention was immediately focused on the state of anarchy in which the French Church, which, in addition to being troubled by the vast schism caused by the civil constitution of the clergy, had neglected the discipline that most of the churches had been closed, some dioceses were without a bishop, while others had even more than one, while Jansenism and the practice of marriage of clergymen were spreading and among the faithful meandered indifference or even hostility. Encouraged by Bonaparte's desire to re-establish the prestige of the Catholic Church in France, Pius VII negotiated the famous Concordat of 1801, signed in Paris on 15 July and subsequently ratified on 14 August of the same year. The importance of this agreement, however, was considerably diluted by the so-called organic articles added by the French government on April 8, 1803. France rediscovered the freedom of worship that the revolution had suppressed.
In 1804 Napoleon began to negotiate with the Pope his formal and direct investiture as emperor. After some hesitations, Pius VII allowed himself to be convinced to celebrate the ceremony in the cathedral of Notre-Dame and to prolong his visit to Paris for another four months, but, contrary to his expectations, he received only very few concessions, and of secondary importance. Nevertheless, the enthusiastic acclamations of the French people towards the Pope, wherever he passed, were so many and not only that Napoleon was very annoyed, but Pius VII understood that faith, in France, was really being reborn. When he returned to Rome on May 16, 1805, he gave the cardinal college, summoned for this purpose, an optimistic version of his visit.
Despite this, skepticism soon took the upper hand when Napoleon began not to respect the concordat of 1801, coming to the point of pronouncing himself the cancellation of the marriage of his brother Girolamo with his wife, an American from Baltimore. The friction between France and the pope mounted so quickly that on 2 February 1808 Rome was occupied by General Miollis and, a month later, the provinces of Ancona, Macerata, Pesaro and Urbino were annexed to the Kingdom of Italy. The diplomatic relations between Napoleon and Rome, with a decree issued in Schönbrunn on 11 May 1809, the emperor definitively annexed all the territories of the Papal State.
In retaliation, Pius VII, without naming the emperor, issued a bull of excommunication against the invaders; in the fear of a popular uprising, General Miollis, on his own initiative (as Napoleon later claimed) or, more probably, on the orders of General Radet, took the Pope himself into custody. On the night of July 5, the Quirinale Palace was opened by force and, following the obstinate refusal to cancel the excommunication bubble and to renounce temporal power, the Pope was arrested and first translated to Grenoble and later, passing through the colle di Tenda, Cuneo and Mondovì, in Savona. Here he firmly refused to validate the investiture of the bishops nominated by Napoleon and, when the French discovered that the Pope had secret exchanges of letters, he was even forbidden to read and write. Together with the Pope, many high priests were expelled from Rome, such as the Master General of the Dominicans Pius Giuseppe Gaddi.
After more than two uninterrupted years of imprisonment, the verbal promise to recognize the investiture of the French bishops was extorted from the pontiff. In May 1812 Napoleon, under the pretext that the English could free the Pope if he remained in Savona, forced the old and infirm (due to the fever that he was not leaving) to transfer to Fontainebleau, near Paris; the voyage proved it to such an extent that, at the pass of the Mont Cenis, he was given the extreme unction. Once the danger had passed and he arrived safely at Fontainebleau, he was lodged with all respects in the castle to await the return of the emperor from Moscow. As soon as he returned, Napoleon immediately began a close negotiation with the Pope who, on January 25, 1813, accepted a concordat on such humiliating conditions that he could not bring himself to rest. But, having been allowed to consult with the cardinals, including Bartolomeo Pacca and Ercole Consalvi, he rejected him three days later. He communicated his decision first in writing to the Emperor (who kept it secret), then publicly on March 24 of the same year. Finally, in May, he dared to openly challenge the emperor's power by declaring all official acts carried out by the French bishops null and void.
On October 19, 1813 Napoleon was defeated in Leipzig. Faced with the penetration of the armies of the Sixth Coalition in French territory, Napoleon decided to bring his prisoner back to Savona. Pius VII left Fontainebleu on 23 January 1814 (Sunday) in private form, dressed as a bishop. He was led to Nice through a winding path to get around the Rhone valley, where the anti-Napoleonic ferment was at its height. The prisoner's long journey was transformed into a triumph: exultant crowds huddled at the passage of the elderly pontiff across the south of France. On 16 February, Pius VII arrived in Savona. It was here, perhaps, that he was given the news that Rome had been freed from French rule.
The precipitate of events and the abdication of March 17 led Napoleon to free him definitively. The general ordered that the Pope be led to Bologna. His imprisonment lasted almost five years. Pius VII made his entrance in Bologna on March 31st. He celebrated Easter (10 April) in Imola, his ancient episcopal city, then stopped in Cesena, his hometown, from 20 April to 7 May. On May 15 he went to the sanctuary of Loreto to give thanks for the successful liberation. On May 24th he made his entrance in Rome welcomed by the exultant crowd.
On August 7, 1814, with the bull Sollicitudo omnium Ecclesiarum the Pope reconstituted the Society of Jesus, while the Secretary of State Consalvi, at the Congress of Vienna, ensured the return of almost all the territories taken from the State of the Church. Later the legislation introduced by France was abolished in the Papal States and the institutions of the Index and the Inquisition were reintroduced. But the most important battle won by Pius VII was to have obtained the abolition of slavery from the Congress of Vienna.
In 1815, Gioacchino Murat attacked the Papal States during the one hundred days of Napoleon. Between March 22nd and early June, Pius VII took refuge outside the city. First he moved to Genoa, then he stopped in Turin (19 May), guest of Vittorio Emanuele I, and then reached Piacenza and, from here, he followed the Via Emilia to enter its territories. On June 7 he returned to Rome. One of his first acts was the reaffirmation of the card. Become a secretary of state (5 July). In the following months he welcomed some relatives of Napoleon as political refugees.
Pius VII commissioned the Consalvi to carry out the reforms contained in the Motu Proprio When for admirable disposition, issued on 6 July 1816. The provision initiated the reform of the administration of the Papal State. The most relevant news concerned the cadastral system and the new territorial division of the State, divided into thirteen delegations and four legations (Bologna, Ferrara, Forlì, Ravenna), as well as the District of Rome renamed Comarca. In spite of this, the coffers of the state were in disastrous conditions, while the discontent aggregated mainly around the "Secret Society", of liberal inspiration, of the Carbonari, forbidden by the Pope in 1821.
Consalvi's diplomatic masterpiece was a series of agreements stipulated on particularly advantageous terms with all the states of Catholic religion, with the exception of the Austrian Empire. In the last years of the pontificate of Pius VII, the city of Rome was very hospitable to all the ruling families, whose representatives often went there; the pontiff was particularly benign towards the sovereigns in exile, demonstrating a remarkable and singular magnanimity also towards Napoleon's family.