Urban VIII

Maffeo Barberini, born at Florence in April, 1568; elected pope, 6 August, 1623; died at Rome, 29 July, 1644.

His father Antonio Barberini, a Florentine nobleman, who died when Maffeo was only three years old, his mother, Camilla Barbadoro, brought him to Rome at an early age. He lived with his uncle, Francesco Barberini, who was then prothonotary Apostolic, and was educated at the Collegio Romano under the direction of the Jesuits. In 1589 he graduated from Pisa as Doctor of Laws, and returning to Rome he became abbreviator Apostolic and referendary of the Segnatura di Giustizia. In 1592 Clement VIII made him Governor of Fano, then prothonotary Apostolic, and in 1601 papal legate to France to present his felicitations to King Henry IV on the birth of the dauphin, the future King Louis XIII. In 1604 he was appointed Archbishop of Nazareth and sent as nuncio to Paris, where he became very influential with Henry IV. In recognition of his services in France, Paul V created him cardinal-priest, 11 September, 1606, with the titular Church of S. Pietro in Montorio, which he exchanged for that of S. Onofrio, 5 September, 1610. On 17 October, 1608, he was transferred to the See of Spoleto, where he convened a synod, completed the seminary, and built two other diocesan seminaries, at Spello and Visso. In 1617 Paul V made him legate of Bologna and prefect of the Segnatura di Giustizia.

On 19 July, 1623, fifty-five cardinals entered conclave to elect a successor to Gregory XV; on 6 August Cardinal Maffeo Barberini received fifty votes. The new pope took the name of Urban VIII. Being attacked by the fever which was raging in Rome, he was obliged to postpone his coronation until 29 September. It is related that, before allowing himself to be vested in the pontifical robes, he prostrated himself before the altar, praying that God might let him die if his pontificate would not be for the good of the Church.

He began his reign by issuing on the very day of his election the Bulls of canonization of Philip Neri, Ignatius Loyola, and Francis Xavier, who had been canonized by Gregory XV.

Urban was a great patron of Catholic foreign missions. He erected various dioceses and vicariates in pagan countries and encouraged the missionaries by word and financial assistance. He extended the sphere of activity for the Congregation of Propaganda (q. v.), and in 1627 founded the Collegium Urbanum, whose object was the training of missionaries for foreign countries.

Urban's greatest fault was his excessive nepotism. Three days after his coronation he created Francesco Barberini, his nephew, cardinal; in 1627 he made him librarian of the Vatican; and in 1632 vice-chancellor. Francesco did not abuse his power. He built the large Barberini Palace and founded the famous Barberini Library which was acquired and made part of the Vatican Library by Leo XIII in 1902. Urban's nephew, Antonio Barberini, the Younger, was created cardinal in 1627, became camerlengo in 1638, then commander-in-chief of the papal troops. He was legate at Avignon and Urbino in 1633; at Bologna, Ferrara, and Romagna in 1641. Urban's brother Antonio, who was a Capuchin, received the Diocese of Senigaglia in 1625, was created cardinal in 1628, and later appointed grand penitentiary and librarian of the Vatican. A third nephew of Urban, Taddeo Barberini, was made Prince of Palestrina and Prefect of Rome.

In the government of the Papal territory Urban, as a rule, followed his own judgment; even his nephews had little influence during the first ten years of his pontificate. He honoured the cardinals by ordering them to give precedence only to crowned heads, and in a Decree of 10 June, 1630, bestowed upon them the title of "Eminence," their former title having been "Illustrious and Most Reverend." In 1626 he extended the Papal territory by inducing the aged Duke Francesco Maria della Rovere to cede his Duchy of Urbino to the Church. Towards the end of his pontificate his nephews involved him in a useless war with Odoardo Farnese, the Duke of Parma, with whom they had quarrelled on questions of etiquette during his visit to Rome in 1639. In revenge they induced Urban to prohibit the exportation of grain from Castro to the Roman territory, thus depriving Farnese of an income without which he could not pay the interest on his monti, or bonds. The duke's creditors complained to the pope, who took forcible possession of Castro, 13 October, 1641, in order to assure the payment. This proved ineffective, and on 13 January, 1642, Urban excommunicated Farnese and deprived him of all his fiefs. Backed by Tuscany, Modena, and Venice, the duke set out towards Rome at the head of about 3000 horsemen, putting to flight the papal troops. Peace negotiations were concluded near Orvieto, but not accepted by the pope. In 1643 hostilities were renewed and continued without decisive success until the pope finally concluded a disgraceful peace on 31 March, 1644. He was obliged to free the duke from the ban and restore all the places taken by the papal troops.

Urban spent heavy sums on armaments, fortifications, and structures of every kind. At Castelfranco he erected the costly but unfavourably situated Fort Urbano, established an extensive manufactory of arms at Tivoli, and transformed Civitavecchia into a military port. He strongly fortified the Castel of Sant' Angelo, Monte Cavallo, and built various fortifications on the right side of the Tiber in Rome. He erected the beautifully situated papal villa at Castle Gandolfo, founded the Vatican Seminary, built various churches and monasteries, beautified streets, piazzas, and fountains. The three bees in his escutcheon attract the attention of every observant visitor in Rome. In the Basilica of St. Peter he erected the baldachin over the high altar, the tomb of Countess Matilda, translating her remains from Mantua, and his own tomb, opposite that of Paul III. For some of these structures he used bronze from the roof of the Pantheon, thus causing the well-known but unwarranted pasquinade: "Quod non fecerunt Barbari, fecerunt Barberini."

The pontificate of Urban extended over one of the most critical periods in the history of the Catholic Church, the Thirty Years War. Urban's actions in this war are attributed by historians to his intention to humiliate the two Houses of Habsburg (Austria and Spain), whose too great power was a constant menace to Italy and Rome; hence, he favoured France and did not subsidize Emperor Ferdinand II in his war against Gustavus Adolphus and the Protestants.


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