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Eugenio Pacelli being ordained on August 2, 1899

Pope Pius XII reigned as the 260th pope, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, and sovereign of Vatican City State from March 2, 1939 until his death on October 9, 1958. His leadership of the Catholic Church during World War II and the Holocaust remains the subject of continued historical controversy. Before his election as pope, Pacelli served as a priest, monsignor, papal nuncio, cardinal, cardinal Secretary of State, and camerlengo in which roles he worked to conclude treaties with other nations, most notably the Reichskonkordat with Germany. After World War II, he was a vocal supporter of amnesty for war criminals and a staunch opponent of communism. Pius is one of few popes in recent history to exercise his papal infallibility by issuing an apostolic constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, which defines ex cathedra the dogma of the Assumption of Mary. He also promulgated forty-six encyclicals, including Humani Generis, which retains continued relevance to the Church's position of evolution. He also decisively eliminated the Italian majority in the College of Cardinals with the Great Consistory. (More...)

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Pietro Ottoboni, the last Cardinal Nephew

A cardinal-nephew is a cardinal elevated by a pope who is his uncle, or more generally, his relative. The practice of creating cardinal-nephews originated in the Middle Ages, and reached its apex during the 16th and 17th centuries, and is central to the etymology of the word nepotism, which appeared in the English language circa 1670. From the middle of the Avignon Papacy (1309–1377) until Pope Innocent XII's anti-nepotism bull, Romanum decet pontificem (1692), a pope without a cardinal-nephew was the exception to the rule. Every Renaissance pope who created cardinals appointed a relative to the College of Cardinals, and the nephew was the most common choice. The institution of the cardinal-nephew evolved over seven centuries, tracking developments in the history of the Papacy and the styles of individual popes. From 1566 until 1692, a cardinal-nephew held the curial office of the "Superintendent of the Ecclesiastical State". The curial office as well as the institution of the cardinal-nephew declined as the power of the Cardinal Secretary of State increased and the temporal power of popes decreased in the 17th and 18th centuries. Notable cardinal-nephews include fourteen popes—John XIX, Benedict IX, Anastasius IV, Gregory IX, Alexander IV, Adrian V, Gregory XI, Boniface IX, Eugene IV, Paul II, Alexander VI, Pius III, Julius II, and Clement VII—and two saintsCharles Borromeo and Anselm of Lucca. (more...)

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Tomb of Antipope John XXIII

The Tomb of Antipope John XXIII is the marble tomb monument for Antipope John XXIII, Baldassare Coscia, created by Donatello and Michelozzo, and located in the Florence Baptistry adjacent to the Duomo. It was commissioned by the executors of Coscia's will after his death on December 22, 1419 and completed during the 1420s, establishing it as one of the early landmarks of Renaissance Florence. According to Ferdinand Gregorovius, the tomb is "at once the sepulchre of the Great Schism in the church and the last Papal tomb which is outside Rome itself". The tomb monument's design included three Virtues, Coscia's family arms, a gilded bronze effigy supported above an inscription-bearing sarcophagus, a Madonna and Child in a half-lunette, and a canopy. At the time of its completion, the monument was the tallest sculpture in Florence, and one of very few tombs within the Baptistry or the neighboring Duomo. The tomb monument was the first of several collaborations between Donatello and Michelozzo, and the attribution of its various elements to each of them has been debated by art historians, as have the interpretations of its design and iconography. (more...)

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Funerary Monument to Sir John Hawkwood

The Funerary Monument to Sir John Hawkwood is a fresco by Paolo Uccello, commemorating English condottiero John Hawkwood, commissioned in 1436 for the Florence Cathedral. The fresco is an important example of art commemorating a soldier-for-hire in the Italian peninsula and is a seminal work in the development of perspective. The politics of the commissioning and recommissioning of the fresco have been analyzed and debated by historians. The fresco is often cited as a form of "Florentine propaganda" for its appropriation of a foreign soldier of fortune as a Florentine hero and for its implied promise to other condottieri of the potential rewards of serving Florence. The fresco has also been interpreted as a product of internal political competition between the Albizzi and Medici factions in Renaissance Florence, due to the latter's modification of the work's symbolism and iconography during its recommissioning. The fresco is the oldest extant and authenticated work of Uccello, and from a relatively well-known aspect of his career compared to the periods before and after its creation. The fresco has been restored (once by Lorenzo di Credi, who added the frame) and is now detached from the wall; it has been repositioned twice in modern times. (more...)

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Assata Shakur (born 1947) is an African-American activist who was a member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army. From 1971 to 1973, Shakur was accused of several crimes, of which she would never be convicted, and made the subject of a multi-state manhunt. In May 1973, Shakur was involved in a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike, during which she and Trooper James Harper were wounded; New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster and BLA member Zayd Malik Shakur suffered fatal injuries. In 1977, she was convicted of the first-degree murder of Foerster and of seven other felonies related to the shootout. Between 1973 and 1977, Shakur was indicted in relation to six other alleged criminal incidents—charged with murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, bank robbery, and kidnapping—resulting in three acquittals and three dismissals. Shakur was then incarcerated in several facilities, where her treatment drew criticism from some human rights groups. She escaped from prison in 1979 and has been living in Cuba with political asylum since 1984. Since May 2, 2005, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has classified her as a "domestic terrorist" and offered a $1 million reward for assistance in her capture. Attempts to extradite her have resulted in letters to the pope and a Congressional resolution. Shakur was the aunt of hip hop artist Tupac Shakur (the sister of his stepfather, Mutulu Shakur), and her life has been portrayed in literature, film, and song. (more...)

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The Apostolic Palace
The Apostolic Palace

There have been 110 papal elections that have produced popes currently recognized by the Catholic Church as legitimate. There was no fixed process for papal succession before 1059 and popes were often selected with substantial secular involvement, if not outright appointment. Since the promulgation of In nomine Domini, however, suffrage has been limited to the College of Cardinals. Papal elections since 1276 have taken the form of papal conclaves, which are elections that follow a set of rules and procedures developed in Ubi periculum and later papal bulls; observance of the conclave varied until 1294, but all papal elections since have followed relatively similar conclave procedures. Although the cardinals have historically gathered at a handful of other locations within Rome and beyond, only five elections since 1455 have been held outside the Apostolic Palace (pictured). Three elections moved between locations while in progress: the elections of 1268–71, 1292–94, and 1314–16. (Full list...)

Fuga d'Attila
Fuga d'Attila

Approximately 100 papal tombs are at least partially extant, representing less than half of the 264 deceased popes. In the first few centuries in particular, little is known of the popes and their tombs, and available information is often contradictory. As with other religious relics, multiple sites claim to house the same tomb. Furthermore, many papal tombs that recycled sarcophagi and other materials from earlier tombs were later recycled for their valuable materials or combined with other monuments. For example, the tomb of Pope Leo I was combined with Leos II, III, and IV circa 855, and then removed in the seventeenth century and placed under his own altar, below Alessandro Algardi's relief, Fuga d'Attila (pictured). The style of papal tombs has evolved considerably throughout history, tracking trends in the development of church monuments. Notable papal tombs have been commissioned from sculptors such as Michelangelo and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Most extant papal tombs are located in St. Peter's Basilica, other major churches of Rome, or other churches of Italy, France, and Germany. (Full list...)

The tombs of antipopes, unlike papal tombs, have generally not been preserved, with a few notable exceptions. Several tombs of antipopes were desecrated and destroyed, often by their rival claimants, shortly after their creation. For example, Pope Innocent II razed Santa Maria in Trastevere to the ground and was eventually buried over the spot once occupied by the tomb of his rival, Pope Anacletus II. Others are obscure because of the damnatio memoriae surrounding the lives of antipopes, or because they were refused burial due to excommunication. Some of those can be presumed to have been buried unceremoniously in the monasteries to which the antipopes were confined after submitting or losing power. Various antipopes received prominent burials, including one among the papal tombs in Old St. Peter's Basilica. In particular, the conciliar claimants of the Western Schism were entombed in elaborate tombs in important churches by famous sculptors. (Full list...)