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On this day in 1590 – Pope Sixtus V died

Pope Sixtus V was born 13th December 1521 as Felice Peretti di Montalto at Grottammare. His parents were Pier Gentile and Marianna da Frontillo, they were a poor family. At an early age Felice entered a Franciscan friary at Montalto where he demonstrated the ability as a preacher and dialectician, a fable surrounds Felice as a young friar – it was said that Nostradamus approached Felice and he knelt in front of him and kissed the friar’s robes exclaiming that he was kissing the robe of a future pope!

In 1552 Felice was noticed by Cardinal Rodolfo Pio da Carpi, the protector of the Franciscan order, Cardinal Ghislieri, the future Pope Pius V and Cardinal Caraffa, the future Pope Paul IV. With those three Cardinal’s backing him Felice began to advance. He was sent to Venice as inquisitor general but he was recalled in 1560 as his conduct was too severe and arguments broke out regarding his behaviour.

After spending a short time as procurator of his order Felice in 1560 was attached to the Spanish legation that was being led by Cardinal Boncampagni, the future Pope Gregory XIII, they were sent to investigate claims of heresy against the Archbishop of Toledo, Bartolomé Carranza. Felice disliked Boncampagni and soon returned to Rome when Cardinal Ghislieri ascended to Pope Pius V. During the reign of Pope Pius V Felice was made an apostolic vicar of his order and then in 1570 a Cardinal. He took the name Cardinal Montalto.

Upon the death of Pope Pius V and the reign of Pope Gregory XIII whom Montalto disliked, Montalto lived in enforced retirement at his home the Villa Montalto that was originally built by Domenico Fontana and overlooked the Baths of Diocletian.

Pope Gregory’s reign ended in 1585 when conclave began to seek a new Pope, it is believed that Montalto was selected due to his physical vigour as the other Cardinal’s believed that it would lead to a long pontificate. Pope Gregory had left the ecclesiastical states in a bad way and Montalto who had chosen to become Pope Sixtus V became to correct the mess that had been left to him. He began by bringing thousands of brigands (highway robbers and plunderers) to justice bringing peace to his country. Sixtus also ordered the executions of anyone who had broken their vow of chastity.

Sixtus also set about restoring the finances of the church by selling offices and levying new taxes, he quickly built a surplus which he banked for emergencies such as a crusade or the defence of the Holy See. Sixtus also spent a large amount of money improving the country which included bringing water to the Acqua Felice hills, laying out new arteries in Rome which would connect the basilicas, he even made plans to replan the Colosseum as a silk spinning factory, plans that did not come to fruitation.

Pope Sixtus V completed the dome of St. Peter’s, restoration of the aqueduct of Septimius Severus and the placing of four obelisks including one in Saint Peter’s Square amongst many other projects. Sixtus also restricted the Catholic Church by limited the College of Cardinals to just 70 but he did double the number of congregations.

Pope Sixtus renewed the excommunication of Queen Elizabeth I but at the same time mistrusted King Philip II of Spain. By renewing Elizabeth’s excommunication he granted Spain a large subsidy that would go towards the Armada, but only when they landed on English soil, saving the Papacy a fortune. In the events that the Spanish did land in England Sixtus had Cardinal Allen prepare ‘An Admonition to the Nobility and Laity of England’ that would be published and distributed across England.

Pope Sixtus V died on 27th August 1590

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