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Pope Leo XII

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Pope Leo XII

Papacy began 28 September 1823
Papacy ended 10 February 1829
Predecessor Pius VII
Successor Pius VIII
Ordination 4 June 1783
Consecration 24 February 1794
by Henry Benedict Mary Clement Stuart of York
Created Cardinal 8 March 1816
by Pius VII
Personal details
Birth name Annibale Francesco Clemente Melchiorre Girolamo Nicola Sermattei della Genga
Born (1760-08-22)22 August 1760
Genga, Papal States
Died 10 February 1829(1829-02-10) (aged 68)
Rome, Papal States
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Other popes named Leo

Pope Leo XII (22 August 1760 – 10 February 1829), born Annibale Francesco Clemente Melchiore Girolamo Nicola Sermattei della Genga, reigned from 28 September 1823 to his death in 1829.

As pope, Leo XII's reign of the Papal States was unpopular among most people who would revolt in uprisings to some of the policies that he implemented.


Early life

Della Genga was born of a noble family from La Genga,[1] a small town in what is now the province of Ancona, then part of the Papal States. He was born to Flavio della Genga and Maria Luisa Periberti di Fabriano. He was the brother of Filippo della Genga. He was born at the Castello della Genga in the territory of Spoleto. [2] He was educated at the Accademia dei Nobili Ecclesiastici at Rome, where he was ordained priest in 1783. In 1790 the attractive and articulate della Genga attracted favourable attention by a tactful oration commemorative of the late Emperor Joseph II.

He was the uncle of Gabriele della Genga Sermattei who in the 19th century was the only nephew of a pope to be elevated to cardinal.

Papal nuncio

In 1792 Pope Pius VI made him a canon of the Vatican church,[2] and in 1793 created him titular archbishop of Tyre and despatched him to Lucerne as nuncio. In 1794 he was transferred to the nunciature at Cologne, but owing to the war had to make his residence in Augsburg.

During the dozen or more years he spent in Germany he was entrusted with several honourable and difficult missions, which brought him into contact with the courts of Dresden, Vienna, Munich and Württemberg, as well as with Napoleon I of France. It is, however, charged at one time during this period that his finances were disordered, and his private life was not above suspicion. After the Napoleonic abolition of the States of the Church (1798), he lived for some years at the abbey of Monticelli, solacing himself with music and with bird-shooting, pastimes which he continued even after his election as Pope.


In 1814 della Genga was chosen to carry the pope's congratulations to Louis XVIII of France, upon his restoration; in 1816 he was created Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria in Trastevere. Later he was appointed Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, and appointed to the episcopal see of Sinigaglia, which he resigned in 1818 due to health reasons.[2]

In May 1820 Pope Pius VII gave him the distinguished post of Vicar-General of His Holiness for the Diocese of Rome.[3]

Election as pope

Papal styles of
Pope Leo XII
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style None

Pope Pius VII died in 1823 after yet another long pontificate. In the conclave of 1823, della Genga was the candidate of the zelanti and in spite of the active opposition of France, he was elected as the new pope by the cardinals on 28 September 1823, taking the name of Leo XII. His election had been facilitated because he was thought to be at death's door, but he unexpectedly rallied. He had even remarked about his own health to the cardinals, saying that they would be electing "a dead man".[3]

Foreign policy

Pius VII's Secretary of State, Ercole Consalvi, who had been Della Genga's rival in the conclave, was immediately dismissed, and Pius' policies rejected.[4] Leo XII's foreign policy, entrusted at first to the octogenarian Giulio Maria della Somaglia and then to the more able Tommaso Bernetti, negotiated certain concordats very advantageous to the papacy. Personally most frugal, Leo XII reduced taxes, made justice less costly, and was able to find money for certain public improvements, yet he left the Church's finances more confused than he had found them, and even the elaborate jubilee of 1825 did not really mend financial matters.

Papal Rome in the time of Leo XII, by Silvestr Feodosievich Shchedrin

Domestic policy

Leo XII's domestic policy was one of extreme conservatism: "He was determined to change the condition of society, bringing it back to the utmost of his power to the old usages and ordinances, which he deemed to be admirable; and he pursued that object with never flagging zeal."[5] He condemned the Bible societies, and under Quod divina sapientia and requiring that all secondary instruction be carried out in Latin, as he required of all court proceedings, also now entirely in ecclesiastical hands. All charitable institutions in the Papal States were put under direct supervision.

Laws such as that forbidding Jews to own property and allowing them only the shortest possible time in which to sell what they owned, and that requiring all Roman residents to listen to Catholic catechism commentary, led many of Rome's Jews to emigrate, to Trieste, Lombardy and Tuscany.[6][7]

"The results of his method of governing his states soon showed themselves in insurrections, conspiracies, assassinations and rebellion, especially in Umbria, the Marches and Romagna; the violent repression of which, by a system of espionage, secret denunciation, and wholesale application of the gibbet and the galleys, left behind it to those who were to come afterwards a very terrible, rankling and long-enduring debt of party hatreds, of political and social demoralisation, and— worst of all— a contempt for and enmity to the law, as such."[8] In a regime that saw the division of the population into Carbonari and Sanfedisti, he hunted down the Carbonari and the Freemasons with their liberal sympathisers.

"Leo XII made himself intensely unpopular with his subjects by constraining them to observe endless rules and regulations concerning private as well as public matters. For instance, he decreed that any dressmaker who sold low or transparent dresses would be ipso facto excommunicated. To ensure against any possible disregard of this spiritual chastisement, the penalties for wearing the offending garments were made tangible and immediate, so it is unlikely that the seamstresses' pious allegiance was often put to the test.

According to some contemporary authors such as G.S Godkin, Leo XII was also said to have prohibited vaccination.[9] More recent scholarship has been unable to find any ban or any suggestion of a ban by Leo XII and his administration. Donald J. Keefe in his paper "Tracking the footnote"[10] traced a quote by Leo XII which strongly condemned vaccination to "an unverified citation" by Dr. Pierre Simon in Le Contredes Naissances. The response of the Papacy to the arrival of vaccination in Italy has been documented in Pratique de la vaccination antivariolique dans les provinces de l’État pontifical au 19ème siècle, an article written by Yves-Marie Bercé and Jean-Claude Otteni for Revue d’Histoire Ecclésiastique.[11] According to Bercé and Otteni, the biographers and contemporaries of Leo XII do not mention any interdict. The authors credit the origin of the mythical vaccination ban of Leo XII to the personality of Cardinal Della Genga when he became pope in 1823. His intransigence and piety alienated liberal opinion very quickly. His austere spirituality made him the target of criticisms and mocking remarks. English travelers visiting the peninsula and many of the diplomats established in Rome remarked on the severity of the pontiff. The obscurantism of the Church, the inertia of the pontifical government, the ridiculous superstitions of Italian piety, the idleness and the dirtiness of the Southerners were commonplaces stereotypes from the accounts of travelers to Italy.

Death and legacy

The monument to Leo XII.

On 5 February 1829, after a private audience with the new Cardinal Secretary of State, Tommaso Bernetti, he was suddenly taken ill and he seemed to know that his end was near. On 8 February, he asked for and received the Viaticum and was anointed. On 9 February, he lapsed into unconsciousness and on the next morning, he died. He was buried in a monument of him in Saint Peter's Basilica.

Leo XII was a man of noble character, a passion for order and efficiency, but he lacked insight into the temporal developments of his time. His rule was unpopular in Rome and in the Papal States, and by various measures of his reign he diminished greatly for his successors their chances of solving the new problems that confronted them.[12]

See also


  1. ^ The town is now simply Genga.
  2. ^ a b c Toke, Leslie. "Pope Leo XII." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 28 Aug. 2014
  3. ^ a b The Cardinals of the Holy Roman ChurchMiranda, Salvador. "Della Genga, Annibale",
  4. ^ Francis A. Burkle-Young, Papal Elections in the Age of Transition, 1878–1922, 2000:22ff.
  5. ^ Luigi Carlo Farini, Lo stato Romano, dell'anno 1815 a 1850, (Turin, 1850) vol. I, p. 17, quoted by Thomas Adolphus Trollope, The Story of the Life of Pius the Ninth vol. I (1877:39f)
  6. ^ Farini, 'eo. loc.
  7. ^ "Valérie Pirie, ''The Triple Crown: An Account of the Papal Conclaves''". Retrieved 2013-06-23. 
  8. ^ Trollope, p. 41.
  9. ^ Godkin, G. S. (1880). Life of Victor Emmanuel II. Macmillan
  10. ^ Donald J. Keefe, "Tracking the footnote", Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Newsletter, Volume 9, Number 4, September 1986 p. 6-7.
  11. ^ Pratique de la vaccination antivariolique dans les provinces de l’État pontifical au 19ème siècle Yves-Marie Bercé Jean-Claude Otteni
  12. ^ "Pope Leo XII". Retrieved 24 January 2014. 


External links

  • Catholic-Hierarchy entry
Catholic Church titles
Last known title holder:
Vincenzo Ranuzzi
Titular Archbishop of Tyre
21 February 1794 – 8 March 1816
Succeeded by
Giacomo Giustiniani
Preceded by
Giulio Gabrielli
Archbishop of Senigallia
8 March 1816 – 18 September 1816
Succeeded by
Fabrizio Sceberras Testaferrata
Preceded by
Pius VII
28 September 1823 – 10 February 1829
Succeeded by
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