Pope Callixtus III

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Callixtus III
Bishop of Rome
Alfonso de Borja, obispo de Valencia y papa Calixto III (cropped).jpg
Papacy began8 April 1455
Papacy ended6 August 1458
Predecessor Nicholas V
Successor Pius II
Consecration31 August 1429
by  Pierre de Foix
Created cardinal2 May 1444
by Eugene IV
Personal details
Birth nameAlfons de Borja
Born(1378-12-31)31 December 1378
Died6 August 1458(1458-08-06) (aged 79)
Rome, Papal States
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Coat of arms C o a Callistus III.svg
Other popes named Callixtus

Pope Callixtus III (31 December 1378 – 6 August 1458), also known as Alfonso de Borgia (Spanish : Alfons de Borja), was head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 8 April 1455 to his death in 1458. He is the most recent pope to have taken the pontifical name of "Callixtus" upon his election. A member of the powerful Borgia family, Callixtus III was the uncle of Pope Alexander VI, whom he appointed to the College of Cardinals.


Borgia spent his early career as a professor of law at the University of Lleida; he later served as a diplomat for the Kings of Aragon. He became a tutor for King Alfonso V's illegitimate son Ferrante. After arranging a reconciliation between Alfonso and Pope Martin, Borgia was made Bishop of Valencia. In 1444, Pope Eugene IV named him a cardinal, and Borgia became a member of the Roman Curia. [1]

Borgia was elected pope in 1455. During the Siege of Belgrade (1456), Callixtus initiated the custom that bells be rung at midday to remind the faithful to pray for the crusaders. The tradition of the noon bell still exists in some congregations. He was also responsible for the retrial of Joan of Arc that saw her vindicated.


Early life

Alfonso de Borgia was born in La Torreta in 1378. La Torreta was at the time in the Señorío de Torre de Canals (but is now a neighborhood of Canals in Valencia). [2] At the time he was born in the Kingdom of Valencia under the Crown of Aragon. He was the eldest child of Juan Domingo de Borja y Doncel and Francina Llançol. His sister Isabel married Jofré Llançol i Escrivà (son of Rodrigo Gil de Borja y Fennolet), and become the mother of Pedro Luis de Borja and Pope Alexander VI. His other sister Catalina became of the mother of Luis de Milà y de Borja.

Alfonso was baptized at Saint Mary's Basilica in Xativa, where he is honored with a statue in his memory. [3] [4]

Church career

Borgia studied grammar, logic and the arts in Valencia and went in 1392 to the University of Lleida where he obtained a doctorate in both canon law and civil law. His early career was spent as a professor of law at the University of Lleida. Around 1411, he attended a sermon by Vincent Ferrer. Afterward, the Dominican said to the future pope: "My son, you one day will be called to be the ornament of your house and of your country. You will be invested with the highest dignity that can fall to the lot of man. After my death, I shall be the object of your special honour. Endeavor to persevere in a life of virtue." [5] Later, as pope, Borgia canonized Ferrer on 3 June 1455. [6]

Borgia was chosen as a delegate of the Diocese of Lerida to the Council of Constance in 1416, but did not partake in the proceedings as King Alfonso V of Aragon was opposed to the council. Because of this he went to Barcelona as a representative of his diocese in a synod. Borgia cared strongly for the reestablishment of the unity of the church and his influence with the Aragonese monarch was the factor that allowed for the conclusion of the accord between the king and the new pope.

Cardinal Borgia BORJA ALFONSO.jpg
Cardinal Borgia

In 1418 he was named as the rector of San Nicolas of Valencia. He was also the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lerida from 1420 to 1423. In 1424 he resigned his position and dedicated his service to the Aragonese king. In 1424 he was named as the apostolic administrator of the see of Mallorca. It was at that time that the king desired that he be made a Cardinal; Pope Martin V refused the request. During the Great Western Schism he supported Antipope Benedict XIII and was also the driving force behind Antipope Clement VIII's submission to Pope Martin V in 1429. [7] He then served as a diplomat to the Kings of Aragon, especially during the Council of Basel (1431–1439).

Episcopate and cardinalate

Borgia was appointed Bishop of Valencia by Pope Martin V on 20 August 1429 and was consecrated on 31 August 1429. He authorized Pedro Llorens to take possession of the see in his name. [8] Borgia also tutored Alfonso V's illegitimate son Ferrante.

Pope Eugene IV elevated him to the cardinalate on 2 May 1444 after he managed to reconcile the pope and King Alfonso V of Aragon. He was elevated as the Cardinal-Priest of Santi Quattro Coronati. He took up his official residence in Rome and was a member of the Roman Curia. He participated in the papal conclave of 1447 that saw the election of Pope Nicholas V. He was known for an austere and charitable life.

Borgia's coat of arms after he was consecrated featured a grazing ox. As pope it remained the same.


Papal styles of
Pope Callixtus III
C o a Callistus III.svg
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken styleYour Holiness
Religious styleHoly Father
Posthumous styleNone

Borgia was raised to the papal chair on 8 April 1455 at an advanced age as a "compromise candidate" in the papal conclave of 1455. He took the pontifical name of "Callixtus III". [8] He was crowned as pope on 20 April 1455 by the Cardinal Protodeacon Prospero Colonna.

He is viewed by historians as being an extremely pious person and a firm believer in the authority of the Holy See.

Calls for a crusade

Pope Callixtus III Calixtus III.jpg
Pope Callixtus III

Not quite two years after the Fall of Constantinople, he was chiefly concerned with the organization of Christian Europe against an invasion by the Turks. An extensive building program under way in Rome was cancelled and the money funneled toward a crusade. Papal Nuncios were dispatched to all the countries of Europe to beseech the princes to join once more in an effort to check the danger of a Turkish invasion. Missionaries were sent to England, France, Germany, Hungary, Portugal, and Aragon to preach the Crusade, and to engage the prayers of the faithful for the success of the enterprise. It was by order of Callixtus III that the bells were rung at midday to remind the faithful that they should pray for the welfare of the crusaders. [8]

The princes of Europe were slow in responding to the call of the pope, largely due to national rivalries. England and France's Hundred Years' War had just ended in 1453. Forces led by John Hunyadi (Hungarian : Hunyadi János), Captain-General of Hungary, met the Turks and defeated them at Belgrade (22 July 1456). Shortly after his victory, Hunyadi himself died of a fever. [8] On 29 June 1456, Callixtus III ordered the church bells to be rung at noon (see noon bell) as a call to prayer for the welfare of those defending Belgrade. To commemorate this victory, Callixtus III ordered the Feast of the Transfiguration to be held annually on 6 August.

Foreign policies

In 1456 the pope issued the papal bull Inter Caetera (not to be confused with Inter Caetera of 1493), reaffirming the earlier bulls Dum Diversas and Romanus Pontifex which recognized Portugal's trade rights in territories it had discovered along the West African coast.

This confirmation of Romanus Pontifex also gave the Portuguese the military Order of Christ under Prince Henry the Navigator. [9] Inter Caetera of 1456 was in direct contradiction to the stance taken by Pope Eugene IV in the 1435 bull Sicut Dudum , which prohibited capturing slaves in the Canary Islands.

Callixtus III ordered a new trial for St. Joan of Arc (c. 1412–1431), at which she was posthumously vindicated. [10]

Other activities

Callixtus III elevated nine new cardinals into the cardinalate in two consistories on 20 February 1456 and 17 December 1456, [11] two of whom were his nephews. The first of them was Rodrigo de Borgia who later became Pope Alexander VI (1492–1503), infamous for his alleged corruption and immorality. [12] The second was Luis Julian de Milà.

The pope approved of the establishment of the University of Greifswald that took place in 1456.

Callixtus III canonized the following four saints during his pontificate:

Halley's Comet - May 29, 1910 Halley's Comet - May 29 1910.jpg
Halley's Comet – May 29, 1910

The "bull against the comet"

According to one story that first appeared in a 1475 posthumous biography and was subsequently embellished and popularized by Pierre-Simon Laplace, Callixtus III excommunicated the 1456 appearance of Halley's Comet, believing it to be an ill omen for the Christian defenders of Belgrade from the besieging armies of the Ottoman Empire. [13] No known primary source supports the authenticity of this account. The 29 June 1456 papal bull of Callixtus III calling for a public prayer for the success of the crusade makes no mention of the comet. By 6 August, when the Turkish siege was broken, the comet had not been visible in either Europe or Turkey for several weeks. [14]


Tomb of Callixtus III and Alexander VI in Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli. S M in Monserrato - tomba dei papi Borgia P1000272.JPG
Tomb of Callixtus III and Alexander VI in Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli.

Callixtus III died on 6 August 1458. His remains were transferred in 1586 and again in 1610 with the remains of Pope Alexander VI to Santa Maria in Monserrato. His remains were transferred once more on 21 August 1889 in the chapel of San Diego. In his will he left 5000 ducati to establish a hospital.


Catholic historian Ludwig von Pastor opined:

"Except for his nepotism, Calixtus III deserves high praise, more especially for the energy, constancy and purpose which he displayed in dealing with the burning question of the day – the protection of Western civilization from the Turkish power. In this matter he gave a grand example to Christendom, and it is to be observed that in the midst of the military and political interest which claimed so large a share of his time and attention, he did not neglect the internal affairs of the Church, and vigorously opposed heresies." [15]

See also


  1. Encyclopedia Britannica: Pope Calixtus III
  2. "Anna y Canals. Valencia". palomatorrijos (in Spanish). 12 June 2013. Retrieved 25 February 2014. ... En el siglo XIV se construyó junto a la torre, y aprovechando parte de sus murallas, un pequeño Palacio Gótico que era la sede de la baronía de La Torre, independiente de Canals, cuyos titulares eran los Borgia. En este lugar nació en 1378 Alfonso Borgia, el que fuera futuro papa Calixto III. ...'
  3. Rolfe, p. 12
  4. Statue of Pope Calixtus III,St. Mary's Basilica,La Seu Cathedral,Xàtiva,Valencia,Spain, Archived 20 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  5. Rolfe, p. 12-13
  6. Reinhart, Albert. "St. Vincent Ferrer." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 24 Jul. 2014
  7. McBrien, Richard P. (2000). Lives of the Popes: The pontiffs from St Peter to John Paul II . San Francisco: HarperCollins. p.  260. ISBN   978-0060653040.
  8. 1 2 3 4 MacCaffrey, James. "Pope Callistus III." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 24 Jul. 2014
  9. European treaties bearing on the history of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648, ed. Frances Gardiner Davenport, (Carnegie Institute of Washington, 1917), 27.
  10. Helen Castor, Joan of Arc, (HarperCollins, 2015), 231,241.
  11. Miranda, Salvador. Consistories for the creation of Cardinals: 15th Century (1394-1503) The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. Retrieved 29 January 2016.
  12. The Lives and Times of the Popes, Vol.4, Ed. Artaud de Montor, (Catholic Publication Society of America, 1911), 190.
  13. John Stein (1913). "Bartolomeo Platina". In Charles George Herbermann (ed.). The Catholic Encyclopedia. 12. Robert Appleton Co. pp. 158–159. OCLC   1017058.
  14. Rigge, William F. "An Historical Examination of the Connection of Calixtus III with Halley's Comet", Popular Astronomy, p.214, 1910
  15. Ludwig von Pastor, History of the Popes, Vol. 2, p. 479-480

Further reading

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Nicholas V
8 April 1455 – 6 August 1458
Succeeded by
Pius II
Preceded by
Hug de Llupià
Bishop of Valencia
20 August 1429 – 8 April 1455
Succeeded by
Rodrigo de Borja (later Alexander VI)
Preceded by
Louis de Luxembourg
Cardinal-Priest of Santi Quattro Coronati
12 July 1444 – 8 April 1458
Succeeded by
Luis Juan del Milà y Borja

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