Pope Leo XII

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Bishop of Rome
Pope Leo XII.PNG
Papacy began28 September 1823
Papacy ended10 February 1829
Predecessor Pius VII
Successor Pius VIII
Ordination4 June 1783
by  Marcantonio Colonna
Consecration24 February 1794
by  Henry Benedict Mary Clement Stuart of York
Created cardinal8 March 1816
by Pius VII
Personal details
Birth nameAnnibale Francesco Clemente Melchiorre Girolamo Nicola Sermattei della Genga
Born(1760-08-22)22 August 1760
Genga, Papal States
Died10 February 1829(1829-02-10) (aged 68)
Rome, Papal States
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Coat of arms C o a Leone XII.svg
Other popes named Leo

Pope Leo XII (22 August 1760 – 10 February 1829), born Annibale Francesco Clemente Melchiorre Girolamo Nicola Sermattei della Genga, [lower-alpha 1] Loudspeaker.svg pronunciation   was head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 28 September 1823 to his death in 1829.

Catholic Church Christian church led by the Bishop of Rome

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2017. As the world's "oldest continuously functioning international institution", it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilisation. The church is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the pope. Its central administration, the Holy See, is in the Vatican City, an enclave within the city of Rome in Italy.

Papal States territories in the Appenine Peninsula under the sovereign direct rule of the pope between 752–1870

The Papal States, officially the State of the Church, were a series of territories in the Italian Peninsula under the direct sovereign rule of the Pope, from the 8th century until 1870. They were among the major states of Italy from roughly the 8th century until the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia unified the Italian Peninsula by conquest in a campaign virtually concluded in 1861 and definitively in 1870. At their zenith, the Papal States covered most of the modern Italian regions of Lazio, Marche, Umbria and Romagna, and portions of Emilia. These holdings were considered to be a manifestation of the temporal power of the pope, as opposed to his ecclesiastical primacy.


Leo XII was in ill health from the time of his election to the papacy to his death less than 6 years later, although he was noted for enduring pain well. He was a deeply conservative ruler, who enforced many controversial laws, including one forbidding Jews to own property. Papal finances were also poor, even though he reduced taxes. As a result, Leo XII's reign was unpopular and provoked widespread discontent within the Papal States.



Della Genga was born in 1760, at the Castello della Genga in the territory of Spoleto, [1] to a noble family from La Genga, [2] a small town in what is now the province of Ancona, then part of the Papal States as the sixth of ten children to Flavio della Genga and Maria Luisa Periberti di Fabriano. His brother was Filippo della Genga.

Spoleto Comune in Umbria, Italy

Spoleto is an ancient city in the Italian province of Perugia in east-central Umbria on a foothill of the Apennines. It is 20 km (12 mi) S. of Trevi, 29 km (18 mi) N. of Terni, 63 km (39 mi) SE of Perugia; 212 km (132 mi) SE of Florence; and 126 km (78 mi) N of Rome.

Province of Ancona Province of Italy

The province of Ancona is a province in the Marche region of central Italy. Its capital is the city of Ancona, and the province borders the Adriatic Sea. The city of Ancona is also the capital of Marche.

He was the uncle of Gabriele della Genga Sermattei who in the 19th century was the only nephew of a pope to be elevated to cardinal.

Gabriele della Genga Sermattei cardinal

Gabriele della Genga Sermattei was a Catholic Cardinal and Camerlengo of the Sacred College of Cardinals.

Cardinal-nephew Nephew or relative of a pope appointed as a cardinal by him

A cardinal-nephew was a cardinal elevated by a pope who was that cardinal's relative. The practice of creating cardinal-nephews originated in the Middle Ages, and reached its apex during the 16th and 17th centuries. The last cardinal-nephew was named in 1689 and the practice was extinguished in 1692. The word nepotism originally referred specifically to this practice, when it appeared in the English language about 1669. 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, although one of Alexander VI's creations was his own son.

Education and ordination

Della Genga studied theology at the Collegio Campana in Osimo from 1773 to 1778 and later at the Collegio Piceno in Rome until 1783 when he commenced studies at the Pontifical Academy of Ecclesiastical Nobles. He later received the subdiaconate in 1782 and then the diaconate and was ordained to the priesthood on 14 June 1783; he received the latter two from Cardinal Marcantonio Colonna.

Osimo Comune in Marche, Italy

Osimo is a town and comune of the Marche region of Italy, in the province of Ancona. The municipality covers a hilly area located approximately 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) south of the port city of Ancona and the Adriatic Sea. As of 2015, Osimo had a total population of 35,037.

Marcantonio Colonna was an Italian Catholic cardinal. Born in Rome on 16 August 1724, Colonna was made Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria by in Aquiro Pope Clement XIII on 19 November 1759. He was then ordained a deacon on 9 March 1760 and a priest on 1 February 1761. He was appointed Titular Archbishop of Corinthus and Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria della Pace by Pope Clement XIII on 19 April 1762. Soon thereafter, on 25 April, Colonna was ordained a bishop. Pope Clement XIII acted as his consecrator and Pope Clement XI and Cardinal Henry Benedict Stuart acted as co-consecrators.

Papal nuncio and episcopate

He served as an ambassador to Switzerland. In 1790 the attractive and articulate della Genga attracted favourable attention by a tactful oration commemorative of the late Emperor Joseph II. In 1794 Pope Pius VI made him a canon of Saint Peter's Basilica, [1] and in 1793 created him Titular Archbishop of Tyre. He was consecrated in Rome in 1794 after the appointment and was despatched to Lucerne as the Apostolic Nuncio. In 1794 he was transferred to the nunciature at Cologne, but owing to the war had to make his residence in Augsburg. At this time, he believed it would be his last post and organized the construction of tombs for his mother and for himself.

Switzerland federal republic in Central Europe

Switzerland, officially the Swiss Confederation, is a country situated in western, central, and southern Europe. It consists of 26 cantons, and the city of Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The sovereign state is a federal republic bordered by Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east. Switzerland is a landlocked country geographically divided between the Alps, the Swiss Plateau and the Jura, spanning a total area of 41,285 km2 (15,940 sq mi). While the Alps occupy the greater part of the territory, the Swiss population of approximately 8.5 million people is concentrated mostly on the plateau, where the largest cities are to be found: among them are the two global cities and economic centres Zürich and Geneva.

Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor Holy Roman Emperor

Joseph II was Holy Roman Emperor from August 1765 and sole ruler of the Habsburg lands from November 1780 until his death. He was the eldest son of Empress Maria Theresa and her husband, Emperor Francis I, and the brother of Marie Antoinette. He was thus the first ruler in the Austrian dominions of the House of Lorraine, styled Habsburg-Lorraine. Joseph was a proponent of enlightened absolutism; however, his commitment to modernizing reforms subsequently engendered significant opposition, which resulted in failure to fully implement his programmes. He has been ranked, with Catherine the Great of Russia and Frederick the Great of Prussia, as one of the three great Enlightenment monarchs. His policies are now known as Josephinism. He died with no sons and was succeeded by his younger brother, Leopold II.

Pope Pius VI pope and sovereign of the Papal States

Pope Pius VI, born Count Giovanni Angelo Braschi, was head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 15 February 1775 to his death in 1799.

During the dozen or more years he spent in Germany he was entrusted with several honourable and difficult missions, which brought him into contact with the courts of Dresden, Vienna, Munich and Württemberg, as well as with Napoleon I of France. It is charged, however, that during this period his finances were disordered, and his private life was not above suspicion. For example, he was suspected of having had a liaison with the wife of a soldier of the Swiss Guard, and he allegedly fathered three illegitimate children. [3]

Dresden Place in Saxony, Germany

Dresden is the capital city and, after Leipzig, the second-largest city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the border with the Czech Republic.

Munich Capital and most populous city of Bavaria, Germany

Munich is the capital and most populous city of Bavaria, the second most populous German federal state. With a population of around 1.5 million, it is the third-largest city in Germany, after Berlin and Hamburg, as well as the 12th-largest city in the European Union. The city's metropolitan region is home to 6 million people. Straddling the banks of the River Isar north of the Bavarian Alps, it is the seat of the Bavarian administrative region of Upper Bavaria, while being the most densely populated municipality in Germany. Munich is the second-largest city in the Bavarian dialect area, after the Austrian capital of Vienna.

Württemberg Describes Württemburg in different forms from 1092 until 1945 - not to be confused with articles on parts of this period.

Württemberg is a historical German territory roughly corresponding to the cultural and linguistic region of Swabia. Together with Baden and Hohenzollern, two other historical territories, it now forms the Federal State of Baden-Württemberg. Württemberg was formerly also spelled Würtemberg and Wirtemberg.

After the Napoleonic abolition of the States of the Church (1798), he lived for some years at the abbey of Monticelli, solacing himself with music and with bird-shooting, pastimes which he continued even after his election as Pope.


"The Grand Gala Berlin" is luxury carriage constructed in Rome during the first half of the nineteenth century, is the work of two pontiffs: Leo XII, who called for it to be produced in the years 1824-1826, and Gregory XVI, who requested some important modifications. Grand Gala Berlin.jpg
"The Grand Gala Berlin" is luxury carriage constructed in Rome during the first half of the nineteenth century, is the work of two pontiffs: Leo XII, who called for it to be produced in the years 1824–1826, and Gregory XVI, who requested some important modifications.

In 1814 della Genga was chosen to carry Pope Pius VII's congratulations to Louis XVIII of France upon his restoration.

On 8 March 1816 he was created Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria in Trastevere and he received his red zucchetto on 11 March and his titular church on 29 April 1816. Later he was appointed as the Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, and appointed to the episcopal see of Sinigaglia, which he resigned in 1818 due to health reasons. He resigned without ever having entered his archdiocese. [1]

On 9 May 1820, Pope Pius VII gave him the distinguished post of Vicar-General of His Holiness for the Diocese of Rome. [4]


Papal styles of
Pope Leo XII
C o a Leone XII.svg
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken styleYour Holiness
Religious styleHoly Father
Posthumous styleNone

Papal election

Pope Pius VII died in 1823 after yet another long pontificate that spanned over two decades. In the conclave of 1823, della Genga was the candidate of the zelanti faction and in spite of the active opposition of France, he was elected as the new pope by the cardinals on 28 September 1823, taking the name of Leo XII.

His election had been facilitated because he was thought to be close to death, but he unexpectedly rallied. He had even remarked about his own health to the cardinals, saying that they would be electing "a dead man". [4] It was said in the conclave that he lifted his robes to show the cardinals a pair of swollen and ulcerated legs to deter them, but that made them even more eager to elect him. [5]

Leo XII was 63 at the time of his election and frequently fell victim to infirmities. He was tall and thin with an ascetic look and a melancholic countenance. He fell ill after his coronation but after his recovery, he showed surprising endurance in carrying out his work. Leo XII devoted himself to his work and was simple in his mode of life. He had a passion for shooting birds and was rumored to have killed a peasant with whom he argued about sporting rights. [5]

The cardinal protodeacon Fabrizio Ruffo crowned him as pontiff on 5 October 1823.

Foreign policy

Pius VII's Secretary of State, Ercole Consalvi, who had been Della Genga's rival in the conclave, was immediately dismissed, and Pius' policies rejected. [6] Leo XII's foreign policy, entrusted at first to the octogenarian Giulio Maria della Somaglia and then to the more able Tommaso Bernetti, negotiated certain concordats very advantageous to the papacy. Personally most frugal, Leo XII reduced taxes, made justice less costly, and was able to find money for certain public improvements, yet he left the Church's finances more confused than he had found them, and even the elaborate jubilee of 1825 did not really mend financial matters.

Papal Rome in the time of Leo XII, by Silvestr Feodosievich Shchedrin Schedrin NewRome.jpg
Papal Rome in the time of Leo XII, by Silvestr Feodosievich Shchedrin

Domestic policy

Leo XII's domestic policy was one of extreme conservatism: "He was determined to change the condition of society, bringing it back to the utmost of his power to the old usages and ordinances, which he deemed to be admirable; and he pursued that object with never flagging zeal." [7] He condemned the Bible societies, and under Jesuit influence reorganised the educational system, placing it entirely under priestly control through his bull Quod divina sapientia and requiring that all secondary instruction be carried out in Latin, as he required of all court proceedings, also now entirely in ecclesiastical hands. All charitable institutions in the Papal States were put under direct supervision.

Laws such as that forbidding Jews to own property and allowing them only the shortest possible time in which to sell what they owned, and that requiring all Roman residents to listen to Catholic catechism commentary, led many of Rome's Jews to emigrate, to Trieste, Lombardy and Tuscany. [8] [9]

"The results of his method of governing his states soon showed themselves in insurrections, conspiracies, assassinations and rebellion, especially in Umbria, the Marches and Romagna; the violent repression of which, by a system of espionage, secret denunciation, and wholesale application of the gibbet and the galleys, left behind it to those who were to come afterwards a very terrible, rankling and long-enduring debt of party hatreds, of political and social demoralisation, and— worst of all— a contempt for and enmity to the law, as such." [10] In a regime that saw the division of the population into Carbonari and Sanfedisti, he hunted down the Carbonari and the Freemasons with their liberal sympathisers.

Vaccination controversy

According to some contemporary authors such as G.S Godkin, Leo XII was also said to have prohibited vaccination. [11] More recent scholarship has been unable to find any ban or any suggestion of a ban by Leo XII and his administration. Donald J. Keefe in his paper "Tracking the footnote" [12] traced a quote by Leo XII which strongly condemned vaccination to "an unverified citation" by Dr. Pierre Simon in Le Contredes Naissances. The response of the Papacy to the arrival of vaccination in Italy has been documented in Pratique de la vaccination antivariolique dans les provinces de l’État pontifical au 19ème siècle, an article written by Yves-Marie Bercé and Jean-Claude Otteni for Revue d’Histoire Ecclésiastique. [13] According to Bercé and Otteni, the biographers and contemporaries of Leo XII do not mention any interdict. The authors credit the origin of the mythical vaccination ban of Leo XII to the personality of Cardinal Della Genga when he became pope in 1823. His intransigence and piety alienated liberal opinion very quickly. His austere spirituality made him the target of criticisms and mocking remarks. English travelers visiting the peninsula and many of the diplomats established in Rome remarked on the severity of the pontiff.

The absence of a prohibition is evidenced by the fact that in 1828 the Medical-Surgical Society of Bologna was able to implement a vaccination campaign. [14]


Leo XII beatified a number of individuals in his pontificate which totaled at 15. He beatified: Angelina di Marsciano and Bernardo Scammacca (8 March 1825), Hippolytus Galantini (29 June 1825), Angelus of Gualdo Tadino (3 August 1825) and Angelus of Acri (18 December 1825). He also beatified in 1825: Julian of Saint Augustine [15] , Alonso Rodriguez and James Grissinger. He beatified Imelda Lambertini (20 December 1826) and also confirmed the cultus of Jordan of Saxony in 1826. He also beatified Helen of Poland and Maddalena Panattieri on 26 September 1827 as well as Giovanna Soderini (1827) and Helen Duglioli and Juana de Aza (the mother of Saint Dominic) in 1828. Leo XII also created Peter Damian a Doctor of the Church in 1828 in addition to the formal canonization he presided over.

He collaborated with Vincent Strambi – future saint – who served as his advisor. When he was on the brink of death in 1825, Strambi offered himself to God for the survival of the pope. The pope rallied from his ailment, but Strambi died.

The pope also approved the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate on 17 February 1826 when he gave it official recognition.

He held 8 consistories in which he elevated 25 new cardinals into the cardinalate. This included Cardinal Bartolomeo Alberto Cappellari – the future Pope Gregory XVI – on 13 March 1826.

Leo XII made himself unpopular with the people due to the fact that he constrained them to endless rules that concerned private life and public affairs. He decreed that a dressmaker who sold low or transparent dresses would incur ipso facto excommunication. The pope also denied the Jews the right to possess material possessions and allowed them the shortest time to sell their belongings. He revived the regulations of the Middle Ages in regards to segregation and marks for identification. [5]

Death and legacy

Monument to Leo XII in St. Peter's Basilica Leo XII statue de Fabris 1836 Saint Peter's Basilica Vatican City.jpg
Monument to Leo XII in St. Peter's Basilica

On 5 February 1829, after a private audience with the new Cardinal Secretary of State, Tommaso Bernetti, he was suddenly taken ill and he seemed to know that his end was near. On 8 February, he asked for and received the Viaticum and was anointed. On 9 February, he lapsed into unconsciousness and on the next morning, he died. He was buried in a monument of him in Saint Peter's Basilica on 15 February 1829. His remains were transferred and buried before the altar of Pope Leo I on 5 December 1830.

Leo XII is considered to have been a man of noble character, with a passion for order and efficiency, but one who lacked insight into the temporal developments of his time. His rule was unpopular in Rome and in the Papal States, and by various measures of his reign he diminished greatly for his successors their chances of solving the new problems that confronted them. [16]

Rumors of a liaison

It was alleged that Leo XII had a liaison as a prelate with the wife of a Swiss Guard (known as Pfiffer) and later fathered three illegitimate children while acting as the nuncio in the German kingdom. The first allegation was brought to the attention of Pope Pius VI who met with the prelate to discern the truth of the matter. He refuted all claims to the pope and the matter was dropped then and there save for the fact that Della Genga affirmed he was close to Pfiffer. [17]

See also

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  1. English: Hannibal Francis Clement Melchior Jerome Nicholas Sermattei della Genga
  1. 1 2 3 Toke, Leslie. "Pope Leo XII." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 28 Aug. 2014
  2. The town is now simply Genga.
  3. Letters from Rome in: The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, Tom 11, pp. 468–471.
  4. 1 2 Miranda, Salvador. "Della Genga, Annibale", The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church
  5. 1 2 3 "Pope Leo XII: Proceedings of the Conclave that led to his election". Pickle Publishing. Retrieved 9 February 2015.
  6. Francis A. Burkle-Young, Papal Elections in the Age of Transition, 1878–1922, 2000:22ff.
  7. Luigi Carlo Farini, Lo stato Romano, dell'anno 1815 a 1850, (Turin, 1850) vol. I, p. 17, quoted by Thomas Adolphus Trollope, The Story of the Life of Pius the Ninth vol. I (1877:39f)
  8. Farini, 'eo. loc.
  9. "Valérie Pirie, The Triple Crown: An Account of the Papal Conclaves". Pickle-publishing.com. Retrieved 23 June 2013.
  10. Trollope, p. 41.
  11. Godkin, G. S. (1880). Life of Victor Emmanuel II. Macmillan
  12. Donald J. Keefe, "Tracking the footnote", Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Newsletter, Volume 9, Number 4, September 1986 p. 6-7.
  13. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 February 2015. Retrieved 3 February 2015.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  14. Argelati, Giacomo (1829). Risultamenti ottenuti dalla Società medico-chirurgica di Bologna per la inoculazione del vaccino praticata nell'anno 1828 [Results obtained by the Medical-Surgical Society of Bologna on the inoculation of the vaccine](PDF). Bologna.
  15. Faithful and True Translation of a Brief Memoir of the Life and Miracles of the Saintly Brother Julian of Alcala , 1610. World Digital Library.
  16. "Pope Leo XII" . Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  17. "The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal". 1824.
Catholic Church titles
Last known title holder:
Vincenzo Ranuzzi
Titular Archbishop of Tyre
21 February 1794 – 8 March 1816
Succeeded by
Giacomo Giustiniani
Preceded by
Giulio Gabrielli
Archbishop of Senigallia
8 March 1816 – 18 September 1816
Succeeded by
Fabrizio Sceberras Testaferrata
Preceded by
Giovanni Gallarati Scotti
Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
10 February 1818 – 28 September 1829
Succeeded by
Benedetto Naro
Preceded by
Pius VII
28 September 1823 – 10 February 1829
Succeeded by