Pope Pius VI

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Pius VI
Pompeo Batoni - Ritratto di Papa Pio VI (National Gallery of Ireland).jpg
Pompeo Batoni's portrait of Pius VI - 1775
Papacy began 15 February 1775
Papacy ended 29 August 1799
Predecessor Clement XIV
Successor Pius VII
Ordination 1755
Consecration 22 February 1775
by Giovanni Francesco Albani
Created Cardinal 26 April 1773
by Pope Clement XIV
Personal details
Birth name Giovanni Angelo Braschi
Born (1717-12-25)25 December 1717
Cesena, Emilia-Romagna, Papal States
Died 29 August 1799(1799-08-29) (aged 81)
Valence, French Republic
Previous post
Motto Floret in Domo Domini (it blossoms in the house of God)[1]
Coat of arms {{{coat_of_arms_alt}}}
Other popes named Pius

Pope Pius VI (25 December[2] 1717 – 29 August 1799), born Count Giovanni Angelo Braschi, reigned from 15 February 1775 to his death in 1799.[3]

Pius VI condemned the French Revolution and the suppression of the Gallican Church; he was later expelled from the Papal States by French troops from 1798 until his death one year later in Valence. His reign is the fourth-longest in papal history, being over two decades.


The name of Pius VI is associated with the troubles of the French Revolution and restoration of the splendor of Rome under Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) in the promotion of art and public works; the words "Munificentia Pii VI. P. M." graven in all parts of the city, giving rise amongst his impoverished subjects to such satire as the insertion of a minute loaf in the hands of Pasquin with that inscription beneath it.[citation needed]

He is best remembered in connection with the establishment of the Museum of the Vatican which begun at his suggestion of his predecessor Clement XIV and with an impractical and expensive attempt[citation needed] to drain the Pontine Marshes, something later successfully achieved in the 1930s by Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. The portrait in the box is one of numerous studio copies of the official portrait by Pompeo Batoni.

Pius VI's pontificate was a tumultuous and rough one with the onset of the French Revolution, but much was accomplished through his work. In the beginning of his Pontificate, Pius succeeded in silencing a group of followers of Jansenism with his bull "Auctorem Fidei", which reaffirmed the Church's stance at the topics at hand. Pius VI also saw the growth of Catholicism in the United States of America, therefore erecting the first American archepiscopal see, the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Cardinal Braschi c. 1773.

The pope also set the Pontifical States finances on much steadier ground after Benedict XIV did so earlier in the 18th century after constructing extravagant edifices and holding public ceremonies full of splendor and pomp. Pius VI also attempted the daring job of draining the Pontine Marshes, which he did with little success, but did successfully drain the marshes near Citta della Pieve, Perugia, and Spoleto.

Pius VI also deepened and expanded the harbors of Terracina and Porto d'Anizo, a major center of Pontifical trade. Pius was a great patron of the arts and humanities, for he completed the Pio-Clementine Museum and added a new sacristy to St. Peter's Basilica. Pius VI also restored the famous Roman Appian Way.[4]


Early years[edit]

Giovanni Angelo Braschi was born in Cesena on Christmas in 1717 as the eldest of eight children to Count Marco Aurelio Tommaso Braschi and Ana Teresa. His siblings were Felice Silvestro, Giulia Francesca, Cornelio Francesco, Maria Olimpia, Anna Maria Costanza, Giuseppe Luigi and Maria Lucia Margherita. He was baptized in Cesena on the following 27 December and was given the baptismal name of Angelo Onofrio Melchiorre Natale Giovanni Antonio.[5]

Education and church career[edit]

After he completed his studies in the Jesuit college of Cesena and receiving his doctorate of both canon and civil law in 1734, Braschi continued his studies at the University of Ferrara. It was there that he became the private secretary of Cardinal Tommaso Ruffo, papal legate, in whose bishopric of Ostia and Velletri he held the post of auditor until 1753.

Cardinal Ruffo took him as his conclavist at the 1740 papal conclave and when the latter became the Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals in 1740, Braschi was appointed as his auditor.

His skill in the conduct of a mission to the court of Naples won him the esteem of Pope Benedict XIV who appointed him as one of his secretaries[6] in 1753 following the death of Cardinal Ruffo. The pope also appointed him as a canon of St Peter's Basilica in 1755.

In 1758, putting an end to an engagement to be married he was ordained to the priesthood. Braschi was also appointed as the Referendary of the Apostolic Signatura in 1758 and held that position until 1759. He also became the auditor and secretary of Cardinal Carlo Rezzonico, the nephew of Pope Clement XIII. In 1766 he was appointed as the treasurer of the camera apostolica by Pope Clement XIII.[7]


Those who suffered under his conscientious economics had managed to convince Pope Clement XIV to elevate him into the cardinalate. Braschi was elevated on 26 April 1773 in Rome as the Cardinal-Priest of Sant'Onofrio.[8] This was a promotion which rendered him innocuous for a brief period of time.


Papal styles of
Pope Pius VI
C o a Pio VI.svg
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style None

Papal election[edit]

Pope Clement XIV died in 1774 and this triggered a conclave to choose a successor. Spain, France and Portugal dropped all objections to the election of Braschi who was one of the more moderate opponents of the anti-Jesuit stance of the late pope.

Braschi received support from those who disliked the Jesuits and were of the belief he would continue the actions of Clement XIV and hold true to his brief "Dominus ac Redemptor" (1773) which saw the dissolution of the order. But the zelanti faction - pro-Jesuit - believed that he was in secret sympathetic towards the Jesuits and expected reparation for the wrongs suffered in the previous reign. As a result, Braschi - as pope - was led into situations where he gave little satisfaction to either side: it is perhaps due to him the Jesuit managed to escape dissolution in White Russia and Silesia.

Cardinal Braschi was elected to the pontificate on 15 February 1775 and took the pontifical name of "Pius VI". He was consecrated into the episcopate on 22 February 1775 by Cardinal Gian Francesco Albani and was crowned that same day by the Cardinal Protodeacon Alessandro Albani.


Pius VI first opened a jubilee his predecessor convoked and it initiated the 1775 Jubilee Year.[9]

First actions[edit]

Pius VI elevated Romualdo Braschi-Onesti as the penultimate cardinal-nephew.

The earlier acts of Pius VI gave fair promise of liberal rule and reform in the corrupt administration of the Papal States. Though he was usually benevolent, Pius VI sometimes showed discrimination. He appointed his uncle Giovanni Carlo Bandi as Bishop of Imola in 1752, and then as a member of the Roman Curia, cardinal in the consistory on 29 May 1775, but did not proffer any other members of his family.

He reprimanded prince Potenziani, the governor of Rome, for failing to adequately deal with corruption in the city, appointed a council of cardinals to remedy the state of the finances and relieve the pressure of imposts, called to account Nicolò Bischi for the spending of funds intended for the purchase of grain, reduced the annual disbursements by denying pensions to many prominent people, and adopted a reward system to encourage agriculture.

Gallican and Febronian protests[edit]

Pius VI

Besides facing dissatisfaction with this temporising policy, Pius VI met with practical protests tending to the limitation of papal authority. Johann Nikolaus von Hontheim, writing under the pseudonym of "Febronius", the chief German literary exponent of Gallican ideas of national Catholic Churches, was himself induced (not without scandal) publicly to retract his positions; but they were adopted in Austria nevertheless. There the social and ecclesiastical reforms in the spirit of the Enlightenment which had been undertaken by Emperor Joseph II and his minister Kaunitz touched the supremacy of Rome so nearly that in the hope of staying them Pius VI adopted the exceptional course of visiting Vienna in person.

He left Rome on 27 February 1782 and, though magnificently received by the Emperor, his mission proved a fiasco; he was, however, able a few years later to curb those German archbishops who, in 1786 at the Congress of Ems, had shown a tendency towards independence.

Kingdom of Naples[edit]

In the Kingdom of Naples difficulties necessitating certain concessions in respect of feudal homage were raised by the liberal minister Tanucci, and more serious disagreements arose with Leopold II, later emperor, and Scipione de' Ricci, bishop of Pistoia and Prato, upon the questions of reform in Tuscany.

Pius VI did not think fit to condemn the decrees of the synod of Pistoia (1786) until nearly eight years had elapsed.

Society of Jesus[edit]

At one stage the pope considered the universal re-establishment of the Society of Jesus in 1792 as a bulwark against the ideas of the French Revolution, but this did not happen.[10]

Other activities[edit]

Pius VI elevated 73 cardinals in 23 consistories. He canonized no saints but he beatified a total of 39 individuals that included Lawrence of Brindisi and Amato Ronconi.

French Revolution[edit]

Main article: French Revolution
The death of Pope Pius VI.

At the outbreak of the French Revolution Pius VI witnessed the suppression of the old Gallican Church as well as the confiscation of pontifical and ecclesiastical possessions in France. It also saw an effigy of himself burnt by the Parisians at the Palais Royal.

The French Revolution broke out in 1789 and he saw the events as a sign of opposition against the social order ordained by God and also viewed it as a conspiracy against the church. The pope condemned both the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and supported a league against the revolution. He issued two briefs - "Quod aliquantum" (1791) and "Caritas" (1791) - to condemn the ecclesiastical reforms that were proposed.

1791 marked the end of diplomatic relations with France and the papal nuncio, Antonio Dugnani, was recalled to Rome as a result.[11]

King Louis XVI was executed via guillotine on 21 January 1793, and his daughter Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte petitioned Rome for the canonization of her father. Pius VI hailed the late king as a martyr on 17 June 1793 in a meeting with cardinals, giving hope to a potential possibility of sainthood. In 1820 after the death of Pius VI, the Congregation of Rites put an end to the possible sainthood since it was impossible to prove the king died for religious reasons rather than political ones. Pius VI argued that the main thrust of the revolution was against the Catholic religion and Louis XVI himself.[12]

Deposition and death under Napoleon[edit]

In 1796 French Republican troops under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Italy and defeated the papal troops. The French occupied Ancona and Loreto. Pius VI sued for peace which was granted at Tolentino on 19 February 1797; but on 28 December 1797, in a riot blamed by papal forces on some Italian and French revolutionists, the popular brigadier-general Mathurin-Léonard Duphot, who had gone to Rome with Joseph Bonaparte as part of the French embassy, was killed and a new pretext was furnished for invasion.

General Berthier marched to Rome, entered it unopposed on 10 February 1798, and, proclaiming a Roman Republic, demanded of the pope the renunciation of his temporal authority.

Upon his refusal he was taken prisoner, and on 20 February was escorted from the Vatican to Siena, and thence to the Certosa near Florence. The French declaration of war against Tuscany led to his removal (he was escorted by the Spaniard Pedro Gómez Labrador, Marquis of Labrador) by way of Parma, Piacenza, Turin and Grenoble to the citadel of Valence, the chief town of Drôme where he died six weeks after his arrival, on 29 August 1799, having then reigned longer than any pope.

Pius VI's body was embalmed, but was not buried until 30 January 1800 after Napoleon saw political advantage to burying the deceased Pope in efforts to bring the Catholic Church back into France. His entourage insisted for some time that his last wishes were to be buried in Rome, then behind the Austrian lines.

They also prevented a Constitutional bishop from presiding at the burial, as the laws of France then required, so no burial service was held. This return of the investiture conflict was settled by the Concordat of 1801.

Pius VI's body was removed from Valence on 24 December 1801 and buried at Rome 19 February 1802, when Pius VI was given a Catholic funeral, attended by Pope Pius VII, his successor.

Tomb of Pope Pius VI.


By decree of Pope Pius XII in 1949, the remains of Pius VI were moved to the Chapel of the Madonna below St. Peter's in the Vatican grottos. His remains were placed in an ancient marble sarcophagus. The inscription on the wall above the container reads:

"The mortal remains of Pius VI, consumed in unjust exile, by order of Pius XII are placed in this dignified and decorous location, illustrious for art and history, in 1949".[13]

Media representations[edit]

A long audience with Pius VI is one of the most extensive scenes in the Marquis de Sade's narrative Juliette, published in 1798. Juliette shows off her learning to the Pope (whom she most often addresses as "Braschi") with a verbal catalogue of alleged immoralities committed by his predecessors.[citation needed]

As a means of humiliation, Sylvain Maréchal's play Le Jugement dernier des rois forces the character of the pope to marry after a global revolution has dethroned him and other monarchs.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Wind was too Strong". Rome Art Lover. Retrieved 12 February 2014. 
  2. ^ Many sources indicate that he was born on 27 December 1717 but this is actually the date of his baptism, cf. Pastor, XXXIX, p. 22
  3. ^ Eamon Duffy, Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes, (Yale University Press, 2001), 254.
  4. ^ "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Pope Pius VI". New Advent. Retrieved 2014-02-01. 
  5. ^ "BRASCHI, Giovanni Angelo (1717-1799)". Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. Retrieved 14 April 2015. 
  6. ^ Eamon Duffy, Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes, 251.
  7. ^ Eamon Duffy, Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes, 251.
  8. ^ McBrien, Richard P. (1997). Lives of the Popes: The Pontiffs from St. Peter to Benedict XVI. San Francisco: HarperCollins. p. 328. ISBN 0060653035. 
  9. ^ "BRASCHI, Giovanni Angelo (1717-1799)". Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. Retrieved 14 April 2015. 
  10. ^ "BRASCHI, Giovanni Angelo (1717-1799)". Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. Retrieved 14 April 2015. 
  11. ^ "BRASCHI, Giovanni Angelo (1717-1799)". Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. Retrieved 14 April 2015. 
  12. ^ "Pius VI: Quare Lacrymae". 29 January 2015. Retrieved 20 April 2015. 
  13. ^ "Tomb of Pope Pius VI". 


Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Clement XIV
15 February 1775 – 29 August 1799
Succeeded by
Pius VII