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The Papacy - A Historical Perspective

1831-1903 A.D.

Gregory XVI : 1831-1846 A.D.

254. Born in Belluno. Elected February 6, 1831 - died June 1st 1846.

He counted on the powers of the Holy Alliance (Austria, Prussia and Russia) to govern the Pontifical States.

He modified the full age from 25 to 21 years.

He founded the Egyptian and Etruscan Museum.

He was a good church governor and he was open-minded enough to abolish the public lists of citizens who had not respected the Easter duty and give more living space to the Jews living in the Ghetto.

He ordered the rectification of the Aniene, the straightening of the mouth of the Tiber and the restructuring of the port of Civitavecchia.

He completed and consecrated (1834) the Roman cemetery of Verano, which contains many monuments.

He is buried in the Basilica of St. Peter. His pontificate lasted about 15 years and 4 months.


Pius IX
: 1846-1878 A.D.

255. Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, born in Senigallia. Elected June 21, 1846 - died February 2, 1878.

He celebrated the 21st Jubilee Year (1875) without opening the Holy doors and he established the infallibility of the Pope when speaking ex cattedra.

On September 20th 1870, Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy.

The feast of the Immaculate Conception (on December 8th) has its origins in the Byzantine rite celebrated in the VIII century. Sixtus VI approved it definitively with the Bull "Prae excelsa" on March 1st 1476; Pius IX proclaimed it an obligatory Holy Day.

He called an Ecumenical Council, the 1st Vatican Council.

The Pope never forgot his pastoral role.

On January 9th 1878, when he was informed about the fact that Vittorio Emanuele was on the point of death, he lifted the interdict and gave him his blessing; when the king died, he simply commented: "poor man, not only did he want to take my states here on earth, but he also wants to take my place in heaven!".

Soon afterwards, Pius IX died on February 7th 1878. He died at the age of 86 after 31 years of pontificate, the longest recorded so far.

He is buried in San Lorenzo al Verano. Pius IX was the last Pope-king: the temporal power of the Catholic Church had lasted for 1115 years, since the election of Pope Stephen III.


Leo XIII : 1878-1903 A.D.

256. Gioacchino Pecci, born in Carpineto. Elected March 3, 1878 - died July 20, 1903.

He published the encyclical "Rerum Novarum" concerning labour and social policy.

He was the first Pope to be filmed. He celebrated the 22nd Jubilee Year and St. Peter's was lit for the first time using electricity.

He allowed the scholars to have access to the Vatican Archives.

He enriched the Vatican library with the Visconti library and the Borghese codes.

Leo XIII introduced telephones and radiators in the Vatican but never accepted the use of a car.

Leo XIII regulated the use of the "zucchetto"; a smaIl circular skull-cap to be worn by Popes, cardinals, bishops and prelates.

It is made of silk cloth, only the Pope's is made of velvet; it is violet for bishops; red for cardinals, white for the Pope and black for all other prelates.

The zucchetto is also called "Soli Deo" since it must be taken off only during the bow to the Holy Sacrament.

He died at the age of 93. His body was transferred to San Giovanni in Laterano. His pontificate lasted 25 years and 5 months.

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