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Pope Urban VIII (baptised 5 April 1568 – 29 July, 1644), born Maffeo Barberini, was pope from 1623 to 1644. He was the last pope to expand the papal territory by force of arms, and was a prominent patron of the arts and reformer of Church missions. However, the massive debts incurred during his papacy greatly weakened his successors, who were unable to maintain the papacy's longstanding political and military influence in Europe. He was also involved in a controversy with Galileo and his theory on heliocentrism during his reign.

Early life

Maffeo Barberini was born in 1568 to an important Florentinemarker family. He was educated by the Jesuit and received a doctorate of law from the University of Pisa in 1589.

In 1601, Maffeo, through the influence of an uncle who had become apostolic protonotary, was able to secure from Clement VIII, the appointment as papal legate to the court of King Henry IV of France. In 1604 Clement VIII appointed him archbishop of Nazarethmarker, although this was an honorary position as the Holy Land was under Turkish rule.On the death of his uncle, he inherited his riches, with which he bought a palace in Rome which he made a luxurious Renaissance residence.

Under Clement VIII he himself was made protonotary and nuncio to the French court; Paul V also employed him in a similar capacity, afterwards raising him to Cardinal-Priest of S.marker Pietro in Montoriomarker and appointing him the papal legate to Bolognamarker. On 6 August 1623, after the papal conclave following the death of Pope Gregory XV, he was chosen as Gregory's successor and took the name Urban VIII.


Urban's papacy covered twenty-one years of the Thirty Years' War and was an eventful one even by the standards of the day. He canonised Elizabeth of Portugal and Andrew Corsini and issued the Papal bull's of canonisation for Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier who had been canonized by his predecessor, Gregory XV.

Despite an early friendship and encouragement for his teachings, Urban was responsible for summoning Galileo to Rome in 1633 to recant his work.

He practiced nepotism on a grand scale: various members of his family were enormously enriched by him, so that it seemed to contemporaries as if were establishing a Barberini dynasty. Among the cardinals he created were his brother Antonio Marcello Barberini and his nephews Francesco and Antonio Barberini.

Urban was a skilled writer of Latin verse, and a collection of Scriptural paraphrases as well as original hymns of his composition has been frequently reprinted.

A 1638 papal bull protected the existence of Jesuit missions in South America by forbidding the enslavement of natives who joined a mission community. At the same time, Urban repealed the Jesuit monopoly on missionary work in China and Japan, opening these countries to missionaries of all orders.

Urban VIII issued a 1624 papal bull that made smoking tobacco punishable by excommunication, because he believed it led to sneezing which too closely resembled sexual ecstasy. Pope Benedict XIII would later repeal the ban.


Urban's military involvement was aimed less at the restoration of Catholicism in Europe than at adjusting the balance of power to favour his own independence in Italymarker. In 1626 the duchy of Urbino was incorporated into the papal dominions, and, in 1627, when the direct male line of the Gonzaga in Mantuamarker became extinct, he controversially favoured the succession of the Protestant Duke of Neversmarker against the claims of the Catholic Habsburgs. He also launched the Wars of Castro (1641) against a fiefdom of Odoardo Farnese,Duke of Parma and Piacenza, whom he excommunicated; Castro was destroyed and its duchy incorporated into the Papal States.

He was the last pope to extend the papal territory, and fortified Castelfranco Emiliamarker on the Mantuan frontier and the Castel Sant'Angelomarker in Rome. Urban also established an arsenal in the Vatican, an arms factory at Tivolimarker and fortified the harbour of Civitavecchiamarker.

For the purposes of making cannon and the baldacchino in St Peters, massive bronze girders were pillaged from the portico of the Pantheonmarker leading to the well known lampoon: quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini, "what the barbarians did not do, the Barberini did."

Patron of the Arts

Urban and his family patronized art on a grand scale. He expended vast funds to bring polymaths like Athanasius Kircher to Rome and on a variety of works by the sculptor Bernini who was particularly favored during Urban's reign. Artistic and architectural commissions included the family palace in Rome, the Palazzo Barberinimarker, the college of the Propaganda Fide, the Fontana del Tritonemarker in Piazza Barberini, the cathedra in St Peters and other prominent structures in the city. He also rebuilt Santa Bibianamarker and the church of San Sebastiano al Palatinomarker on the Palatine Hillmarker. The Barberini patronised painters such as Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain. One of the most eulogistic of these artistic works in its celebration of his reign, is the 'Glorification of the Reign of Urban VIII' painted by Pietro da Cortona in the large vault of salone of the the Palazzo Barberini.

Later life and Legacy

A consequence of these military and artistic endeavours was a massive increase in papal debt. Urban VIII inherited a debt of 16 million scudi, and by 1635 had increased it to 28 million. By 1640 the debt had reached 35 million scudi, consuming more than 80 percent of annual papal income in interest repayments.

Urban's death (29 July 1644) is said to have been hastened by chagrin at the result of the Wars of Castro. Because of the costs incurred by the city of Rome to finance this war, Urban VIII became immensely unpopular. On his death, the bust of Urban that lay beside the Conservator’s Palace on the Capitoline Hillmarker was rapidly destroyed by an enraged crowd, and only a quick-thinking priest saved the sculpture of Urban belonging to the Jesuits from a similar fate.

His unpopularity swayed the papal conlave not to elect Cardinal Giulio Sacchetti who was closely associated with the Barberini and instead elect Cardinal Giovanni Battista Pamphili as his successor, who took the name of Innocent X.

Private revelation

Numerous books that allege private revelations, house a disclaimer in the beginning that quotes an alleged saying of Pope Urban VIII. The disclaimer usually goes:

Whether or not Urban VIII said this is debated.

Pope Urban VIII did make a public statement about private revelations and their dissemination in the Catholic Church in his Constitution, Sanctissimus Dominus Noster of 13 March, 1625.


  1. Cutler, Abigail. "The Ashtray of History", The Atlantic Monthly, January/February 2007.
  2. Ernesta Chinazzi, Sede Vacante per la morte del Papa Urbano VIII Barberini e conclave di Innocenzo X Pamfili, Rome, 1904, 13.
  4. Fr. Peter Stravinskas, The Catholic Answer Book 4 (pgs. 96-7).

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