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Pope Gregory XIII (7 January, 1502 – 10 April, 1585), born Ugo Boncompagni, was Pope from 1572 to 1585.

Early biography


He was born in the city of Bolognamarker, where he studied law and graduated in 1530. Afterwards, he taught jurisprudence for some years; his students included notable figures such as Alexander Cardinal Farnese, Reginald Cardinal Pole and Carlo Cardinal Borromeo.

Career before Papacy

At the age of thirty-six he was summoned to Rome by Pope Paul III (1534–1549), under whom he held successive appointments as first judge of the capital, abbreviator, and vice-chancellor of the Campagnamarker; by Pope Paul IV (1555–1559) he was attached as datarius to the suite of Carlo Cardinal Carafa; and by Pope Pius IV (1559–1565) he was created Cardinal-Priest of San Sisto and sent to the council of Trent.

He also served as a legate to Philip II of Spain (1556–1598), being sent by the Pope to investigate the Cardinal of Toledomarker. It was here that he formed a lasting and close relationship with the Spanish King, which was to become a very important during his foreign policy as Pope.

Election as Pope

Upon the death of Pope Pius V (1566–1572), the conclave chose Cardinal Boncompagni, who assumed the name of Gregory XIII, in homage to the great reforming Pope, Gregory I (590–604), surnamed the Great. It was a very brief conclave, lasting less than 24 hours, presumed by many historians to have been due to the influence and backing of the Spanish King. His character seemed to be perfect for the needs of the church at the time. Unlike some of his predecessors, Gregory XIII was to lead a faultless personal life, becoming a model for his simplicity of life. Additionally, his legal brilliance and management abilities meant that he was able to respond and deal with the major problems quickly and decisively, although not always successfully.


Reform of the Church

Once in the chair of Saint Peter, Gregory XIII's rather worldly concerns became secondary and he dedicated himself to reform of the Catholic Church. He committed himself to putting into practice the recommendations of the Council of Trent. He allowed no exceptions for cardinals to the rule that bishops must take up residence in their see, and designated a committee to update the Index of Forbidden Books. A new and greatly improved edition of the Corpus juris canonici was also due to his concerned patronage. In a time of considerable centralisation of power, Gregory XIII abolished the Cardinals Consistories, replacing them with Colleges, and appointing specific tasks for these colleges to work on. He was renowned for having a fierce independence; with the few confidants noting there were interventions that were not always welcomed nor advice sought for. The power of the papacy increased under him, whereas the influence and power of the cardinals substantially decreased.

Formation of clergy and promotion of the arts and sciences

A central part of the strategy of Gregory XIII's reform was to apply the recommendations of Trent. He was a liberal patron of the recently formed Society of Jesus throughout Europe, for which he founded many new colleges. The Roman College, of the Jesuits, grew substantially under his patronage, and became the most important centre of learning in Europe for a time, a University of the Nations. It is now named the Pontifical Gregorian Universitymarker. Pope Gregory XIII also founded numerous seminaries for training priests, beginning with the German Collegemarker at Romemarker, and put them in the charge of the Jesuits.

In 1575 he gave official status to the Congregation of the Oratory, a community of priests without vows, dedicated to prayer and preaching (founded by Saint Filippo Neri).

In 1580 he commissioned artists, including Ignazio Danti, to complete works to decorate the Vaticanmarker and commissioned The Gallery of Maps.

The Gregorian Calendar

Gregorian Calendar starting from 15 October 1582

Gregory XIII is best known for his reformation of the calendar, producing the Gregorian calendar with the aid of Jesuit priest/astronomer Christopher Clavius. The reason for the reform is that the average length of the year in the Julian Calendar was too long, and the date of the actual Vernal Equinox had slowly slipped to 10 March, whereas the computus (calculation) of the Easter date of Easter still followed the traditional date of 21 March.

This was rectified by following the observations of Clavius, and the calendar was changed when Gregory decreed that the day after Thursday, 4 October, 1582 would be not Friday, 5 October, but Friday, 15 October, 1582. He issued the papal bull Inter gravissimas to promulgate the new calendar on 24 February, 1582. On 15 October, 1582, this calendar replaced the Julian calendar, in use since 45 BC, and has become universally used today. Because of his decree, the reform of the Julian calendar came to be known as the Gregorian calendar.

The switchover was bitterly opposed by much of the populace, who feared it was an attempt by landlords to cheat them out of a week and a half's rent. However, the Catholic countries of Spain, Portugal, Poland, and Italy complied. France, some states of the Dutch Republic and various Catholic states in Germany and Switzerland (both countries were religiously split) followed suit within a year or two, and Hungary followed in 1587. People who still celebrated the new year on the original date were made victims of various pranks on 1 April. This may or may not have been the origin of April Fools' Day.

However, more than a century would pass before Protestant Europe would accept the new calendar. Denmark, the remaining states of the Dutch Republic, and the Protestant states of the Holy Roman Empire and Switzerlandmarker adopted the Gregorian reform in 1700-1701. By this time, the calendar trailed the seasons by 11 days. Great Britain and its American colonies reformed in 1752, where Wednesday, 2 September, 1752 was immediately followed by Thursday, 14 September, 1752; they were joined by the last Protestant holdout, Sweden, on 1 March, 1753.

The Gregorian Calendar was not accepted in eastern Christendom for several hundred years, and then only as the civil calendar. The Gregorian Calendar was instituted in Russiamarker by the Bolsheviks in 1917, and the last Eastern Orthodox country to accept the calendar was Greecemarker in 1923.

While some Eastern Orthodox national churches have accepted the Gregorian Calendar dates for feast days that occur on the same date every year, the dates of all movable feasts (such as Easter) are still calculated in the Eastern Orthodox churches by reference to the Julian calendar.

Foreign policy

Though he expressed the conventional fears of the danger from the Turks, Gregory XIII's attentions were more consistently directed to the dangers from the Protestants.

He encouraged the plans of Phillip II to dethrone Elizabeth I of England (1558–1603) thus succeeded in developing an atmosphere of subversion and imminent danger among English Protestants, who looked on any Roman Catholic as a potential traitor.

In 1578, to further the plans of exiled English and Irish Catholics such as Nicholas Sanders, William Cardinal Allen and James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald, Gregory outfitted adventurer Thomas Stukeley with a ship and an army of 800 men to land in Irelandmarker to aid in the hope for overthrow of Elizabeth's rule through the Catholic leader and former leader of the first Desmond rebellion, Fitzmaurice. To his dismay Stukeley joined his forces with those of King Sebastian of Portugal against Emperor Abdul Malik of Morocco instead. Another papal expedition sailed to Ireland in 1579 with a mere 50 soldiers under the command of Fitzmaurice, accompanied by Sanders as papal legate. The resulting Second Desmond Rebellion was equally unsuccessful. Gregory's greatest success came in his patronage of colleges and seminaries which he founded on the Continent for the Irish and English, among others. Pope Gregory XIII had no connection with the plot of Henry, Duke of Guise, and his brother, Charles, Duke of Mayenne, to assassinate Elizabeth I in 1582, and most probably knew nothing about it beforehand.

An embarrassing moment for the Papacy was the Massacre of Huguenots in France, although it is commonly held that the Pope was ignorant of the nature of the plot at the time, having been told the Huguenots had tried to take over the government but failed. He celebrated the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacres in 1572 with a Te Deum, three frescoes depicting the events in the Sala Regia of the Vatican Palace commended to painter Giorgio Vasari and a commemorative medal, with his portrait and on the obverse a chastising angel, sword in hand and the legend UGONOTTORUM STRAGES ("Slaughter of the Huguenots").

Cultural patronage

In Rome Gregory XIII built the magnificent Gregorian chapel in the Basilica of St. Petermarker, and extended the Quirinal Palacemarker in 1580. He also turned the Baths of Diocletian into a granary in 1575.

He appointed his illegitimate son Giacomo, born to his mistress at Bolognamarker before his papacy, castellan of St. Angelo and gonfalonier of the Church; Venice, anxious to please, enrolled him among its nobles. Philip II of Spain appointed him general in his army. Gregory also helped his son to become a powerful feudatary through the acquisition of the Duchy of Sora, on the border between the Papal Statesmarker and te Kingdom of Naples.

In order to raise funds for these and similar objects, he confiscated a large proportion of the houses and properties throughout the states of the Church. This measure enriched his treasury for a time, but alienated a great body of the nobility and gentry, revived old factions, created new ones, and ultimately plunged his temporal dominions into a state bordering upon anarchy. Such was the position of matters at the time of Gregory XIII's death, which took place on 10 April, 1585.

Gregory XIII was succeeded by Pope Sixtus V (1585–1590).

The oldest Papal tiara still in existence dates from the reign of Gregory XIII.

See also

Notes and references

  1. Ugo Boncompagni had Giacomo legitimated on 5 July, 1548 by the bishop of Feltre.

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