Pope Gregory XIII

Orfeas Katsoulis | Mar 29, 2023

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Gregory XIII, Latin: Gregorius XIII, born Ugo Boncompagni (Bologna, 1501 or 1502 - Rome, April 10, 1585), was the 226th pope of the Catholic Church (225th successor of Peter) from May 13, 1572 until his death. For later historiography, he is regarded as one of the most important pontiffs of the modern age, especially with regard to the implementation of the Catholic Reformation and the reform made to the calendar named after him.

Ugo Boncompagni was born in Bologna, ne 1501 or 1502 to Cristoforo Boncompagni (1470-1547), a wealthy merchant, and Angela Marescalchi (b. 1480), the fourth of ten children (seven boys and three girls).

He studied law at the University of Bologna, graduating in 1530 with a degree in utroque iure. In the same year he attended the Coronation of Charles V as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, a detailed account of which is preserved. He later began a career as a lecturer in law, again at the University of Bologna. Among his most distinguished pupils he had Alessandro Farnese, Otto of Waldburg, Reginald Pole, Stanislaus Osio, Paolo Burali of Arezzo, and St. Charles Borromeo.

In 1539 he renounced his professorship and, at the invitation of Cardinal Pietro Paolo Parisio, went to Rome where he was appointed a jurisper. He received the tonsure (a rite preceding the conferring of holy orders) on June 1, 1539, and was ordained a priest in 1542. Pope Paul III appreciated his preparation: he gave him the post of first judge of the capital, then in 1546 included him in the college of abbreviators at the Council of Trent as an expert in canon law.

In 1547 his father died; Hugh inherited a large part of the family property since his older brother had died without heirs: among them, half the family palace. To guarantee himself an heir, he decided to have a son with an unmarried woman, running the risk of causing a scandal and jeopardizing his own career. The son was born on May 8, 1548, in Bologna and was named Giacomo. He was legitimized on July 5, 1548.

Pope Paul IV (1555-1559), in addition to aggregating him as datarius to the residence of his cardinal nephew Carlo Carafa, recognizing his qualities as a jurist, used him to carry out several diplomatic missions. Towards the end of 1561, Boncompagni was again sent to the Council of Trent. Thanks to his proven competence as a canonist and his exceptional commitment to his work, he rendered valuable services in solving some problems at the last council session (1562-63).

At the end of the Council he returned to Rome, where in 1565 and Pius IV created him cardinal, with the title of Cardinal Presbyter of St. Sixtus. He was then sent to Spain as papal legate. Through this new mandate he made himself known to and well liked by the Spanish ruler, Philip II, so much so that he won his trust. It was also to his credit that the trial for heresy, initiated against the Archbishop of Toledo Bartolomé Carranza, ended without disagreement with the king.

Ugo Boncompagni participated in two conclaves: that of 1565-66 and that of 1572, which ended with his election.

Assignment history

Ugo Boncompagni was elected Roman pontiff by the Sacred College on May 13, 1572 in the Vatican Chapel. He was crowned on May 25 in the Vatican Palace; the newly elected chose the pontifical name Gregory in honor of Pope Gregory I. The conclave of 1572 was one of the shortest in history, having lasted less than two days. In the 16th century only one other conclave was of equal length: the one that led to the election of Pope Julius II (Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 1503).

Implementation of the decrees of the Council

While before Gregory the Catholic Reformation was essentially conducted only in Italy and Spain, thanks to his pontificate it developed rapidly and organically in all Catholic countries.

In 1573 the pope established the Congregation of Greeks, that is, Catholics of the Byzantine rite. For the training of clergy he erected the Greek College (1577). He also founded an English College and a Maronite College (see below). In these institutes, in addition to learning philosophy and theology, future candidates for the priesthood were to be trained in strong Roman observance, so that when they returned to their motherlands, especially in those where there was a strong presence of Protestants, they could bear witness to obedience and fidelity to the Church of Rome and irreproachable conduct before the people.

In 1582 Gregory XIII promulgated the Corpus Iuris Canonici.

Relations with church institutions

Gregory's predecessors Pius IV and Pius V had already approved measures that centralized papal control over church congregations. The pontiff continued that course of action. A year before his election Pius V had created the Congregation of the Index. Gregory XIII confirmed, with the apostolic constitution Ut pestiferarum opinionum (Sept. 13, 1572), what Pius V had created, giving a more defined form to the newly established congregation. The pontiff restored the "German Congregation" (April 1573), a body established by Pius V in 1558 for Catholic restoration in Germany and Switzerland. He chose a day of the week on which to receive anyone who had a problem to submit to him.

With the bull Ubi Gratiae (June 13, 1575) he revoked all permits for entry into monasteries previously granted to ladies of the nobility as well as to other women of any rank and condition; he also forbade abbots and abbesses to grant permits for entry into monasteries on their own initiative.

In 1575 he approved the Congregation of the Oratory, founded a few years earlier by Philip Neri (bull Copiosus in misericordia, July 15).

With the apostolic brief Exposcit debitum (Jan. 1, 1583) Gregory XIII abolished on the entire Italian territory (including the islands) the office of abbess for life, replacing it with a time-limited office (three years).

On May 25, 1584, he made public his most important decision on congregations: the pontiff declared that the profession of the simple vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, and the approval of the Holy See, are sufficient to constitute oneself as a religious state.

Reconfirmed the privileges granted to the Order (1579).

Recognized the Discalced Carmelites (male and female branches) as a province of the Order (brief Pia consideratione, June 22, 1580), complying with the wishes of Teresa of Avila.

Restored all privileges abolished by predecessor Pius V. He re-funded the seminary held by the Jesuits in the Urbe, the Collegio Germanico, and assigned it a new location. In 1579 he founded a new Jesuit college: the Collegio Ungarico. The following year he merged the two institutes into the Germanic-Hungarian College.

Gregory held the Order in high regard, which he regarded as the most competent in the formation of priests. In 1576 he recalled to Rome the Jesuit Robert Bellarmine, a professor at Louvain, and gave him the chair of Apologetics at the Roman College, a scholastic institution governed by the order. In 1578 he had the tower of the winds erected and invited Jesuit astronomers and mathematicians there to prepare for calendar reform.

In 1579 he entrusted the English College, founded a few years earlier to care for the priestly training of the faithful from England and Wales, to the Jesuits.

Pope Gregory gave the Roman College major grants and added new and spacious buildings. In so acting he became its second founder, after Ignatius of Loyola. The new institution, inaugurated on Oct. 28, 1584, took the name "Archiginnasio Gregoriano e Università Gregoriana" in honor of the pontiff and is known today as the Pontifical Gregorian University.

The missionary work, though already largely implemented by Pius V, found in Pope Gregory a renewed impetus such that it extended into the lands of both America and the Far East. He cared greatly for evangelization in Asia. Through the Jesuit missionary Rodolfo Acquaviva he came into contact with the ruler of the Mughal Empire Akbar (1542-1605). In 1582 the pontiff addressed a letter to the monarch urging him to convert to Christianity.

In 1585 he reserved the evangelization of China and Japan for members of the Society of Jesus. On March 23 of that year, a few weeks before his death, he had the satisfaction of receiving a Japanese delegation consisting of young Christians, princes and aristocrats from the kingdoms of southern Japan, probably the first ever to come to Europe, led by missionary Alessandro Valignano (Tenshō Embassy).

In 1581 the pontiff established the Opera Pia del Riscatto and entrusted its management to the Roman Archconfraternity of the Gonfalone. This involved the redemption of people captured by Barbary corsairs in the Italian peninsula who, in order to return them to their families, demanded the payment of a ransom. Until then the effort had been carried out by the order of "Trinitarians" and the "Fathers of Mercede."

Decisions on doctrinal matters

Gregory XIII also finalized to his own missionary intentions events proper to the Catholic tradition such as the Jubilee, whose cadence fell in 1575. In addition to celebrating the traditional Roman Jubilee, which was proclaimed in 1574, with a great concourse of people and personalities, he granted an all-Milanese one, for the following year, to his creation, Cardinal Carlo Borromeo.

In 1582 the pontiff published the Corpus Iuris Canonici, a collection of laws and decrees governing the life of the Church.

In 1586 Gregory XIII published the first Martyrologium Romanum, creating a unified list of the dates on which the memories of the saints and blesseds of the Catholic Church are celebrated. The work was published under this title: Martyrologium Romanum ad novam kalendarii rationem, et ecclesiasticae historiae veritatem restitutum. Gregorii XIII pontificis maximi iussu editum. Accesserunt notationes atque tractatio de Martyrologio Romano. Auctore Caesare Baronio Sorano, ex typographia Dominici Basae, Romae 1586. Similar editions had already come out in print in 1583. A second edition came out in Venice in 1587 apud Petrum Dusinellum.

Measures toward the Jews

In 1577 the pontiff founded the College of the Neophytes, an institute for the Christian education of Jews who wanted to abandon their religion. With Jews who did not want to convert he was inflexible: with the bull Antiqua iudaeorum improbitas (June 10, 1581) he fixed the cases in which Jews could fall under the jurisdiction of the inquisitorial courts; he also ordered the Inquisition to act with harshness and determination.

On Feb. 28, 1581, he ordered a ban on Jewish physicians treating Christian patients.

With the bull Sancta Mater Ecclesia (Sept. 1, 1584), he ordered that all Jews who had reached the age of 12 should attend so-called "forced sermons," the purpose of which was to convince Jews to convert to Christianity.

He subjected works written by Jews to censorship, a task he entrusted to the Hebraist Marco Marini.

He allowed the Jews to return to Venice and allowed them to cross Italian territory in order to reach their destination.

Relations with European monarchs

Ugo Boncompagni's election was welcomed by Catholic European rulers, who assured their support for the new Church leader.

During his stay in Spain as papal legate (1565) the future pontiff had managed to earn the esteem of Philip II, king of Europe's most powerful state. The Spanish ruler encouraged Gregory XIII to operate in the Netherlands and Ireland, allowing Catholic armed forces to pass through his states, and helped the pontiff in his attempt to recover England to Catholicism. In 1578, in fact, Philip II welcomed and supplied the troops of Thomas Stukeley, an English Catholic who set out to lead an army to invade England.

In 1578, young King Sebastian I of Portugal died in Morocco at the Battle of Alcazarquivir without leaving an heir. Cardinal Henry I the Chaste, Sebastian's uncle, succeeded him as king. Henry applied to Gregory XIII to renounce the ecclesiastical office in order to have an offspring and perpetuate the Aviz dynasty, however, the pontiff, advised by the Habsburgs, did not agree. The king-cardinal died two years later without descendants, leaving a power vacuum in the Portuguese throne, which resulted in a succession crisis.

Gregory XIII did not grant a dispensation for the celebration of the marriage between the heir to the throne, Prince Henry of Navarre, and Margaret of Valois. The dispensation was necessary because Henry was not a Catholic but of the Huguenot confession. The wedding was celebrated anyway on August 18, 1572. No ambassadors from Catholic nations attended the wedding.

Relations with non-European monarchs

In 1584 the pontiff approved Cardinal Ferdinando de' Medici's initiative to send a legation to Persia. Entrusted to the Florentine Giovanni Battista Vecchietti, the legation aimed to establish good diplomatic relations in an anti-Ottoman function. While the political results were transient, the legation was remembered for important cultural outcomes: Vecchietti brought back with him to Rome some manuscripts of the Bible in Hebrew that had never before been seen in Europe.

Relations with Baltic states and Russia

The Kingdom of Poland and Russia had long been fighting for hegemony over the small Baltic states. Lithuania was under Polish influence, while Livonia and Estonia were under Russian influence. The pontiff had the disputants sign the Peace of Jam Zapol'skij (Jan. 15, 1582, actually a ten-year truce), which sanctioned Polish (a Catholic country) dominance over the three (predominantly Lutheran) Baltic states. Protagonist of the mediation was Jesuit diplomat Antonio Possevino. Later Gregory XIII entrusted Possevino with a mission to Moscow, appointing him the first nuncio to Russia. The aims of the mission were: to found a Christian League in an anti-Turkish function; to introduce Catholicism to Russia and, from there, to Asia. Possevin personally went to Moscow and conferred with King Ivan IV, known as "the Terrible."

In the 16th century, Catholicity had not yet spread to Russia, a vast and historically rich territory with great potential. The Russians were Orthodox; their Church was linked to the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople. Possevino proposed a conciliation between the Chair of Peter and the Moscow Church, which was rejected by the Russian ruler. However, the Jesuit obtained that Catholics could publicly profess their beliefs.

Relations with Eastern Rite Churches

In 1579 a new monastery was opened in Rome at the church of Santa Maria Egiziaca; the church had been donated to the Armenians eight years earlier by Pius V. From that date until the 19th century, the church-monastery complex represented the center of the Armenian community in Italy.

Gregory XIII reestablished ties with the Maronite Church. Formally, they had never been broken, but the Maronites for long centuries had had no relations with Rome. Communion was sealed in 1584, with the founding of the Maronite College (bull Humana sic ferunt, June 27, 1584), which received clerics sent to Rome by the Maronite patriarch for priestly training.

In the same year the pontiff supported the founding of the "Stamperia orientale medicea" (or Typographia Medicea linguarum externarum), which took place at the instigation of Cardinal Ferdinando de' Medici. The main activity carried out by the Stamperia was the publication of books in the different Oriental languages to foster the spread of Catholic missions in the East. Its first director was Giambattista Raimondi.

Countering Protestantism

Gregory XIII took vigorous action to bring the Christian peoples of Europe back to religious unity.

In particular, the pontiff worked for the British Isles. In the 16th century, the English had begun to systematically practice a kind of colonialism in Ireland, consisting of granting English immigrants territories "liberated" from Irish owners. In this way the settlers spread Anglicanism in the island. Some Irish nobles did not accept this state of affairs and organized a revolt (prominent among them was Earl James FitzMaurice, to whom the Holy See provided aid and troops. For nearly two years (1578-1579) the rebels engaged English forces. The attempt failed and FitzMaurice met his death on August 18, 1579.

The pontiff morally supported conspiracies to dethrone Elizabeth I of England. However, all he achieved was to create an atmosphere of subversion and imminent danger among English Protestants, who began to look upon every Catholic as a potential traitor.

To bring Sweden back to Catholicity Gregory XIII initiated contacts with King John III, who had married the Catholic Catherine Jagellona. The pontiff sent some Jesuits, including Lauritz Nilsson (Laurentius Norvegus), to his court. They obtained from the king a rapprochement with Catholicity that was summarized in two documents: New Church Order (1575) and Liturgy of the Swedish Church (1576), the so-called "Red Book." John III himself secretly converted to Catholicism (he also raised the heir to the throne Sigismund by providing him with a Catholic education.

The greatest successes in bringing the peoples of central and northern Europe back into Catholic communion were achieved in Poland, which became fully Catholic again; in Germany, where, through the intervention also of the dukes of Bavaria and distinguished German ecclesiastical princes, the expansion of Protestantism was halted; and in the Spanish Netherlands. One of the pillars of Gregory's action were the nunciatures, or permanent diplomatic representations in capital cities. At the time of his accession to the throne, there were only nine ordinary nunciatures, four of which were in Italy. Of the other five, three were "Latin" (located in France, Spain and Portugal), one German (at the emperor) and one Slavic (in Poland). New diplomatic representations were added to them: in Lucerne (for Switzerland, 1579), in Graz (for inner Austria, 1580) and in Cologne (for northern Germany, 1584). By the end of his pontificate, as many as 13 nuncios to European countries answered to the pontiff.

Gregory XIII's goal was to foster an alliance between Spain and France, the two largest Catholic states, capable of conducting an offensive on all fronts. The new nuncios in Madrid, Nicolò Ormaneto, and of Paris, Anton Maria Salviati, were charged with smoothing out the existing contrasts between the two monarchs. In France, Gregory XIII supported Henry of Guise, a Catholic nobleman and a pillar of intransigent Catholicism. When thousands of Huguenots were exterminated on St. Bartholomew's night (1572), Pope Gregory XIII ordered a general jubilee, absolving Catholic France of any wrongdoing. In 1576 Henry of Guise became head of a league aimed at eradicating Protestantism from France. Gregory welcomed the conclusion of a treaty between the House of Guise and the King of Spain (Treaty of Joinville, 1584). In that year the Protestant Henry of Navarre (see supra), a Huguenot, was designated as successor to the throne of France, reigning Henry III (1574-1589) who had no heir and had lost his younger brother. Against Henry of Navarre was opposed the candidacy of Cardinal Charles of Bourbon-Vendôme, but King Henry III had him arrested. In 1589 Henry III had Henry of Guise killed; the League proclaimed Cardinal Bourbon-Vendôme (still in prison) the new king under the name Charles X, but he then voluntarily renounced the title. Henry of Navarre became the new king of France.

As we have seen, the Holy See's plan to create an alliance between Spain and France did not come to fruition: the two countries continued their national policies and religion was not considered a discriminating factor in choosing countries with which to have friendly relations. As evidence of this, in 1572 it became public knowledge that France had forged relations with the Sultan of Istanbul, an enemy of the Christian faith: barely a year had passed since the Battle of Lepanto. The Republic of Venice also came to terms with the Ottoman Empire: a peace agreement was signed in 1573, ending the Holy League.

Government of the Papal State

Gregory XIII decided to take personal care of all important affairs. He entrusted the revision of the fiscal rights of the Holy See to Rodolfo Bonfiglioli, treasurer of the Apostolic Chamber, who, being upright, "acquired a hatred of the great Princes, so cruel that every one held it, that it should precipitate." The result was the forfeiture of several fiefs and noble estates. He also increased taxes at the port of Ancona, the main port of call of the Papal State on the Adriatic Sea, as well as taxes on goods from the Republic of Venice.

The pontiff, in 1572, appointed Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio, one of his most trusted advisers, as secretary of state.

Patron of arts and sciences

Gregory XIII directly supported many scholars in their work. He concerned himself with a new corrected drafting of the Decretum Gratiani and the Martyrologium romanum. He established a committee to update the Index of Forbidden Books. He recognized the discovery and importance of the Roman catacombs.

Among the enduring scientific merits of this pope is the reform of the calendar that bears his name and was proposed by the Calabrian physician Louis Lilius, the Gregorian Calendar, still universally in use today. Over the centuries the Julian calendar had created a discrepancy between the civil and astronomical calendars. This had led to a number of complaints and was even discussed by the council fathers at Trent. Gregory XIII established a commission under Cardinal Sirleto to which the German mathematician and Jesuit Cristoforo Clavius, a professor at the Roman College, and the Sicilian mathematician and astronomer Giuseppe Scala also contributed. After a careful study, the pope, with the bull Inter gravissimas of February 24, 1582, in agreement with the majority of Catholic princes and universities, ruled that October 4, 1582 would be followed by October 15, 1582, and that intercalary days (i.e., in practice, the 29th of February) of years divisible by 100 but not divisible by 400 should be abolished in the future, for a total of three fewer intercalary days every 400 years.

Works carried out in Rome

In 1572 Gregory commissioned Giorgio Vasari to paint a series of frescoes depicting the massacre of Huguenots known as St. Bartholomew's Night, which are still in the Sala Regia in the Vatican Palaces. The pontiff also had a medal struck with his own effigy to commemorate the event.

Notable monuments sprang up in Rome at his behest, such as, for example, the Quirinal Palace in 1580, the Gregorian Chapel in St. Peter's Basilica in 1583 (the papal court moved there in 1605 under Pope Paul V), and in 1584, with his support, the Gesù Church, mother church of the Jesuits, was completed. He also transformed some ancient buildings into works for common use; some classrooms in the Baths of Diocletian, for example, were repurposed as granaries in 1575.

In 1575, on the occasion of the Jubilee year, he had the "Sala Bologna," a vast banquet hall, built in the Vatican. It was richly frescoed by the workshop of the Bolognese painter Lorenzo Sabatini.

After a brief illness Pope Gregory XIII died on April 10, 1585, in the midst of his activities carried on to the end with energy.

Four days later his mortal remains were laid to rest in St. Peter's Basilica, in a tomb that was not adorned with sculptures by Camillo Rusconi until 1723.

To the reign of Gregory XIII dates the oldest surviving papal tiara (the others have not survived looting and theft).

The episcopal genealogy is:

Apostolic succession is:

His son Giacomo (1548-1612) was prefect of Castel Sant'Angelo, then obtained several noble titles. In 1576 he married Costanza Sforza di Santa Fiora, by whom he had 14 children.

The pontiff did not fail to favor his own close relatives:

Territorial prelatures

Pope Gregory XIII during his pontificate created 34 cardinals during 8 separate consistories.

Pope Gregory XIII proclaimed three saints:

He also brought three blesseds to the altars:


  1. Pope Gregory XIII
  2. Papa Gregorio XIII
  3. ^ Famiglia, patrimonio e finanze nobiliari: i Boncompagni (secoli XVI-XVIII), 2003, Luigi Alonzi
  4. ^ Roberto Righi (a cura di), Carlo V a Bologna. Cronache e documenti dell'incoronazione (1530), Bologna, Costa Editore, 2000, pp. 106-116
  5. ^ Gaetano Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica … 1842, pag. 22 (versione digitalizzata).
  6. Archivált másolat. [2018. január 28-i dátummal az eredetiből archiválva]. (Hozzáférés: 2015. március 24.)
  7. Lásd: 1588. évi XXVIII. törvénycikk az ónaptár eltörléséről
  8. a b c d e f g h i j k l «Papa Gregorio XIII - Enciclopedia Católica». ec.aciprensa.com. Consultado el 24 de septiembre de 2021.
  9. Otilio Rodriguez, OCD, Appendix I: The Third Order of the Teresian Carmel; Its Origin and History, page 129, in Michael D. Griffin, OCD, Commentary on the Rule of Life (superseded) (The Growth in Carmel Series; Hubertus, Wisconsin: Teresian Charism Press, 1981), pages 127-36; and Peter-Thomas Rohrbach, OCDJourney to Carith: The Sources and Story of the Discalced Carmelites, Chapter 6: The Struggle for Existence, page 200 (Washington: ICS Publications)
  10. «Who Invented the Calendar We Have Today?». Who Invented It. 1 de setembro de 2018
  11. Henry, Jonathan. "Chapter 3." Earth Science. Clearwater, Fl: Clearwater Christian College, 2010. Print.

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