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Urban VIII

Pope from 1623. This politically minded pope, classical scholar, and embellisher of the city of Rome was born into the wealthy Florentine Barberini family, and given the Christian name “Maffeo.” Educated by the Jesuits in Florence, he later studied at their Roman college and eventually took a doctorate of laws at Pisa (1589). He returned to Rome and held several offices in the church and Curia. He was legate and later nuncio to France (1601, 1604), was created cardinal (1606), made bishop of Spoleto (1608), legate of Bologna and prefect of Segnatura di Guistizia (1617), and finally was elected pope. Politically and militarily active, he spent great sums to establish an arms factory in Tivoli and various fortifications (including the Castel St. Angelo and Fort Urban), and even made the Vatican Library into an arsenal. He was jealous of the papal temporal power and pursued a balance-of-power policy consonant with that end. He reversed the pro-Hapsburg policy of his successor by fighting Spanish-imperial interests in Italy, and perhaps by supporting France and Sweden in the Thirty Years’ War,* thus contributing to the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire.

Urban was also reform-and mission-minded. He issued decrees on canonization, introduced reform into the Roman Breviary, enforced the Trent guidelines on episcopal residence, reduced the number of obligatory holy days, and approved new reform orders (including the Vincentians). He strongly supported missionary activity by opening the Far East to missionaries other than Jesuits and by founding Urban College for training missionaries (1627). His actions against heretics included the condemnation of Galileo* in 1632 (for the second time) and of Cornelius Jansen’s Augustinus (1642). He spent great sums on projects to beautify and build up Rome. Works he sponsored include the Barberini Palace, the Fountain of the Triton, Bernini’s refurbishing of St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Vatican Seminary. Though his private life was above reproach, Urban was the last pope to practice nepotism widely.

Bibliography: W.N. Weech, Urban VIII (1905); A. Leman, Urban VIII et la rivalité de la France et de la maison d’Autriche de 1631 à 1635 (1920); G. Albion, Charles I and the Court of Rome (1935).

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