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Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Pope Pius VII and Napoleon - Savona. 1809-1812

(Continued from previous post)

The journey that had begun in Rome an hour after dawn, continued until midnight, in the stifling heat of July, with the carriage windows closed to avoid recognition, and only one short stop for a meal. The Pope was 66 years old and of slight physique, and suffered extreme discomfort from the long and tiring journey, made worse by an attack of dysentry.   The first night was spent in a small hostelry in the Tuscan hills, and General Radet planned for his charge to reach Florence by the following evening. This was not to be, for Pius developed a high fever and was confined to his bed for much of the next day; also he refused to continue the journey until the arrival of his private chaplain, his doctor, his cook and servant, plus necessary clothing and accoutrements. These arrived later that day, and the Pope's journey  re-commenced early the following morning.

 During the journey a wheel came off the carriage in which  the Holy Father and Cardinal Pacca were travelling, causing it to topple over. Fortunately neither the Pope nor the cardinal were hurt,  those most shaken being Radet, who had been thrown into a ditch, and the accompanying guards. After necessary repairs the journey continued, and Florence was reached by nightfall.  The Pope was completely exhausted, refusing the meal prepared by the monks of Charterhouse where he was staying, and retiring immediately to bed. He had little rest, for during the night the Grand Duchess sent a message that he was to leave Tuscany immediately, and was to be taken to Grenoble, the fortified headquarters of a  French army division.

After only a few days in Grenoble, and following clarification of Bonaparte's original orders which had initially been misunderstood, the Pope found himself returning  alone to Savona , without his  friend and companion Cardinal Pacca, who had been moved to the Fenestrelle fortress  in the mountains of Savoy. The Pope’s journey  included Romans, Valence - where Pope Pius VI had died in captivity ten years earlier, Avignon, Marseilles and  Nice, where the people turned out in huge numbers to show their support for the Holy Father, and finally Savona, arriving there on August 17th.

                                SAVONA  CATHEDRAL

 The Pope was lodged in the Episcopal palace, and provided with two or three personal servants, books and writing facilities, but he had no companions of like mind with whom he could discuss Church affairs, nor a confessor of his choice. Because of this, he declined to negotiate with Napoleon’s envoys on Church matters, insisting that to do this, he must be free and  enabled  to perform his functions as Pope, with proper consultative and administrative powers.

This situation was to prevail for the next five years, the Pope virtually adopting  the life-style of a simple Benedictine monk. Initially he managed to write a few letters which were smuggled out of the palace, but after eighteen months one of these letters fell into the hands of the secret police, and Napoleon ordered that his paper, pen and ink were to be taken away. In Savona as everywhere else, it was strictly forbidden to publish anything about the Pope in newspapers, books or pamphlet

       NAPOLEON BONAPARTE  -  (De La Roche 1845 - Posthumous portrait)

It was not long before Napoleon realised  that  the administration of the Church  was being  seriously hampered by the Pope’s refusal to ratify bishops to vacant sees, and this was creating additional problems for him. He thus persuaded certain  Cardinals to write to the Pope to encourage him, ‘in the interests of the Church’, to ratify those new Bishops chosen by the Emperor. The Pope was unimpressed, remaining firm in his refusal to negotiate.  As time went on, more and more people visited Savona - virtually as pilgrims, to catch a glimpse of the Pope, either in his chapel where he celebrated daily Mass, or on  the balcony of the episcopal Palace,  from where he regularly addressed the crowds. There were reports of miraculous cures and favours granted, these reports spreading far beyond the boundaries of Savona.


In view of the Pope’s increasing popularity, Napoleon decided on a change of plan whereby he would show that the Pope’s stay in Savona was as a 'guest'  rather than a prisoner;  that it was merely a temporary protective measure, and that he as the Emperor, was foremost in showing him due respect and honour.  He then arranged for a delegation to visit the Pope to ensure that he was appropriately accommodated and to persuade him to agree to setting up a Consistory of Cardinals and a Chancellery, with members chosen by Napoleon.  The papal apartments were  luxuriously  refurbished – in spite of, and contrary to the Pope’s express wishes, and arrangements were made for a papal ‘Gala Mass’ with great pomp and splendour, to be celebrated  in the Cathedral, attended by religious, civil, and military dignitaries.  The Pope refused to cooperate, explaining that if a Consistory were called, it would have to be with cardinals of his own choosing, and that it should be held in Rome.  With regard to the refurbishing of his quarters, he considered it inappropriate that he should be living in luxury whilst the Church  everywhere was suffering so much.

The Pope was repeatedly urged by Chabrol, the Prefect of Montenotte (which included Savona),  to comply with Napoleon’s wishes, and specifically  to agree the incorporation of Rome and the Papal States into the French Empire, with the Pope as chaplain to the Emperor, and residing in France. Pope Pius was not interested.

                                    ST.PETER (C. Tura 1474)

In January 1810,  a frustrated and angry Napoleon, determined to settle the affairs of Rome and to ensure that there was no restoration of the Temporal Power of the Papacy, adopted more aggressive tactics, with his men entering the offices of the ecclesiastical tribunals and seizing the archives, also invading the papal Treasury and removing priceless vestments, altar vessels and works of sacred art, all of which were to be sent to Paris. Even the papal seals and the ‘Fisherman’s Ring’- with which Papal Bulls were authenticated, were taken. All the cardinals, bar one - elderly and infirm, were sent to France, together with the heads of Religious Orders and Chief Officers of the Congregations and Departments of State. Napoleon  intended  to transfer the papacy to France, preferably to Paris or possibly Avignon. He  then issued the Imperial decree (Feb 1810)  confirming that Rome and the Papal States had been incorporated into the French Empire, with ‘Rome now the second city of the Empire’. The Pope only learned of this from the newspaper ‘Moniteur’.

 At about this time,  Napoleon’s marriage to Josephine was annulled, and he ‘married’ Marie Louise, Archduchess of Austria, daughter of the Emperor Francis. Due to questionable canonical process,  the annulment was not recognised by the Pope nor by many senior clerics and many of the clergy, who subsequently refused to attend  the ‘wedding’.  As a result  thirteen Cardinals plus Consalvi,  were arrested and later banished.


The Austrian diplomat Lebzeltern, who visited the Pope about this time, found him “considerably aged, but in good health, tranquil and serene. There is not the least harshness in his manner of speaking, even when touching on questions most displeasing to him. He is very firm regarding questions upon which he could never give way-------. Not a single word comes from him concerning those who have usurped his sovereignty. What weighs most on him is Pacca’s imprisonment, the dispersion of his ministers and cardinals, and the banishment of some of these,  together with bishops abiding by his instructions.” Lebzeltern further reported that the Pope felt no resentment concerning his treatment by Napoleon, but only love and pity for him. “None, more than we, desire the Emperor’s happiness. He is a prince of many fine qualities. Would to Heaven he could see where his true interests lie …”

                               ST.PETER'S,  ROME

Napoleon now sought in earnest to justify his liquidation of the Pope’s temporal power, cultivating French sympathies by accusing previous Popes particularly Gregory VII, Boniface VIII, Julius II, and Innocent XI, of hostility to the French nation. In Rome he set up a ‘Consulta’ group of prominent citizens who would be encouraged to vent their grievances. When large numbers of the clergy, encouraged by the Pope in secret letters,  refused to swear allegiance to the new regime, Napoleon retaliated by depriving them of their living and banishing them, with the Sees of uncooperative bishops being abolished.

 Napoleon had increasing problems with the ever-growing number of vacant sees, for the Pope maintained his passive resistance by refusing to institute to their Sees those bishops nominated by him. The Emperor then considered setting up a National Council, or failing this, a General Council, to devise a solution to the problem. He also arranged, with the unlikely aid of his ‘new father-in-law’, Emperor Francis of Austria, for the diplomat Lebzeltern to make a further visit to the Pope, to seek a solution to the problem ‘in the interest of the Church’,


The Pope received Lebzeltern cordially, believing that the purpose of his visit was to achieve peace in Europe. Having listened to his proposals, Pius insisted that:-
 1) the Emperor Francis must guarantee any settlement,
 2) that he himself be returned to Rome (but not necessarily as temporal ruler)
3) that he should have his counsellors restored to him
4) that Napoleon should give clear evidence of a change of heart.

He intimated that if these conditions were accepted, the excommunication previously imposed, might be lifted.   Lebzeltern was satisfied with this, but Napoleon was not.

Napoleon now decided that he would have his Episcopal nominees elected by the Cathedral Chapters as ‘Administrators Capitular’, thus enabling them to carry out their duties even if they could not take their titles. The Pope heard of this plan and sent a secret letter to the Vicar Capitular of Paris, roundly condemning the plan. Unfortunately the letter was intercepted by Napoleon’s agents, resulting in imprisonment for the Vicar Capitular and a mass round-up of all sympathetic clergy, Without their leaders the remaining clergy weakened, agreeing in principle to  Napoleon's plan, although this on its own, would still not satisfactorily solve the problem.

 Hence in 1811, yet another Ecclesiastical Committee recommended that the investiture problem should be the responsibility of a National Council, who would propose that 'failing investiture by the Pope, after 6 months the bishops nominated by the Emperor, should be instituted to their Sees by the Metropolitan of the Province'.  Napoleon then arranged for three acceptable bishops  to visit the Pope in Savona, taking with them letters signed by ten cardinals, two archbishops, and seven bishops- Italian and Spanish as well as French, which pleaded with him ‘to make all possible sacrifices’ for the sake of the peace of the Church. It seemed that this would succeed, for the Pope agreed ‘in principle’ to the six months proposal, which was then embodied in a draft and carried off very promptly by the small delegation before the Pope could change his mind, but also before he had signed it.

After they  left,  the Pope  gave further thought to what had transpired, and  realised his mistake in allowing himself  to discuss such matters without the guidance and advice of his own counsellors. He also realised that he had  provisionally agreed, albeit only verbally, to yield an important part of the traditional authority of the papacy, namely the investiture of the bishops of the Church. Immediately he sent word by messenger to the returning delegation to warn them that he had promised nothing, and that he repented, as a folly, having even considered as a basis for discussion, the document they had drawn up.  Napoleon ignored this disclaimer, and at the National Council which opened in June, 1811, he blandly stated that he had the Pope’s agreement on the vital issue which they were called to discuss.

                               ST.PETER (P.Brandl 1724)

There were no less than six cardinals and eighty-nine bishops present - forty-two of them from Italy. The Emperor was attempting to settle a major matter of authority in the Western Church without the active assistance of the Pope. In effect he was falling back on the Gallican theory that a Council was superior to the Pope. He was in for a rude shock, for what many of the French clergy had accepted at the time of the Civil Constitution, hardly any would accept now. After an opening address by Napoleon’s minister, Bigot, in which he attacked the ‘iniquities’ of Pius VII and flattered those clergy present,  a sermon from the Bishop of Troyes,  based on Bossuet’s famous ‘Discourse on the Unity of the Church’ of 1682,  declared that they would ‘never detach themselves from that first link in the chain, without which all the others would fall away, and would leave nothing to be seen, save confusion, anarchy, and ruin.’ Each bishop then took the oath, customary at the inauguration of Councils,  ‘I recognise the Holy Church, Catholic and Roman, Apostolic and Roman, as mother and mistress of all the Churches. I promise and I swear true obedience to the supreme Roman Pontiff, successor of Saint Peter, prince of the apostles and vicar of Jesus Christ.’

A furious Napoleon denounced the Bishops as traitors for having taken an oath to two sovereigns 'who were at enmity with one another', and demanded a speedy settlement on  the matter for which the Council had been called, emphasising that he already had the Pope’s approval. The Bishops understandably doubted this, and insisted that the Council could register no valid decree without the consent of the Pope, obtained from him by a deputation from the Council, and bearing his signature.

          POPE PIUS VII aged 77yrs     (T.Lawrence 1819)

Napoleon was enraged, immediately dismissing the Council and casting into prison the three bishops he considered to be the ringleaders. His next step was to obtain from each of  those bishops still in Paris, a personal agreement to his proposals. Believing that a personal statement would carry little or no weight for committing the Church over the head of the Pope, and also intimidated by Napoleon, a total of eighty-five signatures were obtained. The Council was then hastily re-convened, and a collective agreement on the basis of the individual agreements already obtained, was achieved, with the proviso from the bishops that the agreement must be approved by the Pope.

A further delegation was then sent to Savona, where they  convinced the Pope that Napoleon sincerely wished for a just settlement, reinforcing this with many messages of respect and goodwill from cardinals and clergy. Although the Pope was persuaded to agree to Napoleon's request for 'Metropolitan Investitures in the event of a six months delay', he  insisted that the Paris Council was not a valid Council, and he accordingly re-wrote the decree as one emanating from himself, as Supreme Pontiff,  couching it in terms which excluded the bishops of the Papal States from being reckoned amongst those who could be invested by the Metropolitans. Although  the deputation was both surprised and delighted by his compliance,  Napoleon still refused to accept it, insisting that the Papal States must be included. Pope Pius would not budge on this point, and neither would Napoleon, who was obsessed with asserting his authority over the papacy in matters spiritual as well as temporal. Not even over the hierarchy of the Patrimony of St Peter would he allow the Pope to have final authority. Thus effectively Napoleon had discarded the opportunity of a religious settlement which might have done much to strengthen his hold upon the Mediterranean countries.

                       ST. PETER  (P.Besenzi  17th c.)

Ironically, Pius’ refusal to let the Emperor re-organize religion in Rome and central Italy,  had prevented him from issuing a brief which would have surrendered the papal position on a point of fundamental importance everywhere, namely papal investiture of bishops with their spiritual authority.  Popes had been accused before of sacrificing the true interests of the Church to those of the Papal States, but paradoxically on this occasion, the Pope’s concern for the Papal States had resulted in safeguarding the unique religious authority of the Papacy..

Napoleon however, did not give up. He was still militarily and politically powerful,  still confident and ambitious. He believed that it would greatly strengthen his bargaining  position if he arranged for the Pope to be transferred to France.  The trials and sufferings of Pope Pius VII were not yet over.
                                                                                                                                    (to be continued)

 Acknowledgement - 'Revolution and Papacy' by E Hales.(publisher Hanover House 1960).

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