Pope Pius VI, born Giovanni Angelico or Giannangelo Braschi; he was the 250th bishop of Rome (249th successor of Peter) and pope of the Catholic Church from 15 February 1775 to his death.
Angelo Onofrio Melchiorre Natale Giovanni Antonio Braschi was born in Cesena, near Forlì, on December 25, 1717, the eldest son of Count Marcus Aurelius Tommaso Braschi and Countess Anna Teresa Bandi. His brothers and sisters were Felice Silvestro, Giulia Francesca, Cornelio Francesco, Maria Olimpia (later a nun), Anna Maria Costanza, Giuseppe Luigi and Maria Lucia Margherita. He was baptized on the very day of his birth by Father Tommaso Mustioli, deputy parish priest of the cathedral of Cesena, and his godparents were Count Fabio Locatelli and Countess Bianchini Fantaguzzi.
Initiated as an ecclesiastical career, from 1727 he entered the college of Jesuits in Cesena and, after obtaining his doctorate in utroque iure at the University of Cesena on 20 April 1735, he joined the College of twenty lawyers of the city. He then moved to the University of Ferrara where he completed his legal studies under the guidance of his uncle, Cardinal Giovanni Carlo Bandi.
It was during this period that he became a personal secretary of Cardinal Ruffo, becoming a conclave in 1740 and being called to represent him as an auditor in his bishoprics of Ostia and Velletri until 1753, taking up residence in the latter city. For his organization of defense of the city of Velletri during the battle that took place on 11 August 1744 between Austrian and Neapolitan forces in the context of the Austrian succession war, King Charles VII of Naples (fifteen years later became king of Spain with the name of Charles III of Spain), he maintained good relations with him that will serve the young Braschi once elected to the papal throne. In 1746 Pope Benedict XIV sent him to Naples to resolve the jurisdictional conflicts between Rome and the southern kingdom for the bishop's tribunals: the mission succeeded and he succeeded in obtaining the resignation of the archbishop of Naples, Cardinal Giuseppe Spinelli, being appointed as a reward to the rank of monsignor with the title of private chaplain of His Holiness, thus becoming part of the Roman prelature. After the death of Cardinal Ruffo on 16 February 1753 Pope Benedict XIV, esteeming him very much, appointed him his secretary and canon of St. Peter from 17 January 1755.
It was only in 1758 that Braschi was ordained a priest and in that same year Pope Clement XIII appointed him as a domestic prelate of his holiness and as a referendum of the Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura from September 14th. In September 1759 he was appointed civil auditor and secretary of the cardinal camerlengo Carlo Rezzonico, nephew of Pope Clement XIII, being introduced as a consultor of the Sacred College of the Index from 1762. Auditor general and dean of the sacred college of cardinals for the diocese of Velletri from 1765, on 22 September 1766 he was appointed treasurer of the Apostolic Chamber, obtaining in October of the following year the title of Abbot commendatory of Santa Maria di Valdiponte near Perugia. Having the Braschi acquired a considerable fortune and many important contacts, many felt damaged by the wise economies he had created, so as to induce Clemente XIV to promote him as cardinal of the title of Sant'Onofrio on April 26, 1773, succeeding in rendering it temporarily harmless. This appointment was also strongly desired by the Bourbons of Naples who held the prelate in high esteem.
In the conclave of four months that followed the death of Clement XIV, Spain, France and Portugal took their veto one after another to the election of Cardinal Braschi, who, despite being a friend of the Jesuits, had distanced himself from all political-religious controversies.
The vacant seat was finally occupied on February 15, 1775 by the new pontiff, who took the name of Pius VI.
Pius VI was elected pontiff when he had not yet been appointed bishop and therefore it was necessary, before his definitive taking of possession of the Holy See, his consecration as bishop. On 22 February 1775 Pius VI, still under the name of Giannangelo Braschi, was consecrated cardinal bishop of Porto and Santa Rufina, as well as vice-dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals, in the presence of cardinal Enrico Benedetto Stuart, duke of York and bishop of Frascati , and of Carlo Rezzonico, bishop of Sabina.
Cardinal Braschi renounced the titles just obtained the same day as mere formality and then February 22, 1775 was crowned pontiff by the Cardinal protodiacone, Alessandro Albani. The following Sunday he officially opened the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica, beginning the jubilee year 1775. The ceremony of "possession" (ie the ceremony in which the pope was officially enthroned) took place on November 30, 1775 and was the the last time this took place, between pomp and solemnity.
The Church on the threshold of the revolution was the victim of a hostile isolation promoted by European sovereigns in order to limit its prerogatives. In truth, Febronius, the leading German exponent of the old Gallican theses, was forced, not without causing scandal, to withdraw, but his positions were taken over by the Austrian Empire. In this country the social and religious reforms undertaken by Joseph II and the minister Kaunitz questioned the supremacy of Rome. Pius VI's answer was diplomatic: the Pope took the extraordinary decision to personally visit Vienna. He left Rome on 27 February 1782 but, although he was received with all the honors by the emperor, in the end his mission ended in nothingness. Nevertheless, a few years later, at the Ems congress he managed to stem the desire for autonomy expressed by some German archbishops.
In the Kingdom of Naples the Minister of Foreign Affairs Bernardo Tanucci raised objections to feudal rights and in 1776 attempted to abolish the homage of the chinea, which was then achieved by Prime Minister Domenico Caracciolo in 1788. Moreover, at that time Naples was the diffuser center of masonry in Italy. The Pope, fearing the worst, concluded a defensive treaty with King Ferdinand IV.
In the Grand Duchy of Tuscany problems arose with the Grand Duke Pietro Lepoldo and with Scipione de 'Ricci, bishop of Pistoia and Prato, filofrancese, on the question of the reform in Tuscany. Pius VI in both cases showed prudence. Finally, Pius VI waited for it to pass 8 years before condemning the resolutions passed by the Synod of Pistoia in 1786.
At the outbreak of the French Revolution, Pius VI saw the suppression of the ancient Gallican rite and the confiscation of all the ecclesiastical possessions in France, and he had to suffer the shame of seeing his own portrait given to the flames by the crowd in the Royal Palace. Pius VI tried to take the issue head on: on March 10, 1791, he condemned the Civil Constitution of the clergy, approved by the French National Assembly in July 1790, by the short Quod aliquantum. The revolutionaries invaded Avignon, where, in in the context of the struggle between those who supported the annexation to France and the subjects loyal to the pontiff, about sixty of them were condemned summarily to death and barbarously killed in one of the towers of the Papal palace. This tragic event is remembered as the "massacres of the glacier" (Massacres de la Glacière).
Pius VI also condemned the Declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen, provoking a rift in France [without source]. The clergy also divided among constitutionalist priests (led by the famous abbé Grégoire) and faithful to the Pope (the so-called "refractory priests"). The assassination of the French Republican representative Hugh of Basseville, which took place in the streets of Rome in January 1793, further worsened the situation: the papal court was accused of complicity by the National Convention.
In 1796 Napoleon invaded Italy and aimed the weapons against the Papal State, forcing the Pope to armistice in Bologna: Pius VI had to cede Bologna, Ferrara and Ancona, pay 21 million shields and deliver numerous works of art. The papal army was defeated (10 February 1797) and on 18 February the French sacked the Sanctuary of Loreto. The Pontiff was therefore obliged to sign the Treaty of Tolentino (February 1797), which cost the Papal State another 25 million scudi and numerous objects of art.
The situation, already serious in itself, was further worsened on December 28 of the same year, when, in the course of an uprising caused by some Italian and French revolutionaries, General Léonard Duphot was killed, and this provided a pretext for the occupation of Rome. General Berthier marched on the city, occupying it without resistance [without source] and then giving in to the looting of the Vatican's art treasures, including the requisition of almost the entire Profane Museum, dedicated to ancient precious stones. On February 15, 1798, deposed the Pope as a temporal prince, he proclaimed the republic.
Pius VI was immediately taken prisoner and, on 20 February, was escorted by armed men from the Vatican to Siena, where he remained three months, and then to the Certosa of Florence (the Grand Duchy was a neutral state), where he was segregated in the convent. In March 1799 it was decided to transfer it again, following the declaration of war by France against Tuscany. It was decided to take it to Bologna, believing it to be an anti-clerical city. But, when the French exposed him to the people, Pius VI, instead of being insulted, was acclaimed . His imprisonment in France was then decreed. The Pope, almost eighty-two, was interned first in Grenoble, then on July 19 he was locked up in the fortress of Valence, the capital of the Drôme. Worn out of physical and moral suffering, Pius VI died in prison on 29 August of the same year, pronouncing these last words: "Lord, forgive them", the only exiled Pope and died in captivity in the modern age. The pontificate of Pius VI was the longest and most tormented of the eighteenth century.
His body remained unburied until January 29, 1800 when he was buried in the local cemetery of Valence, deposed in a simple box, those reserved for the poor, on which it was written: "Citizen Gianangelo Braschi - in art Pope". From the town of Valence, the pontiff's death was notified to the Directory, to which was added the secular prophecy that had buried the last pope in history. The corpse was later reported to Rome on December 24, 1801 where he obtained the official funeral on February 10, 1802, a ceremony presided over by his successor, Pope Pius VII. By decree of Pope Pius XII, in 1949, the remains of Pius VI were moved from the Chapel of Our Lady of Saint Peter in the Pontifical Caves, placed in an ancient Roman marble sarcophagus found during the excavations.