Upon Pius VI’s election, he received much criticism that his coat of arms was ‘too busy.’ Within months of his election he yielded to the pressure and simplified the arms. In 1798 Napoleon and his troops stormed the Vatican, pillaging much of its art and furniture. This mirror was among the items taken. Because this mirror has the ‘busy’ coat of arms, which dates it to the first few months of Pius VI’s papacy, it is even more unique.
Giovanni Angelo Braschi was born on Christmas day in 1717 to an aristocratic and impoverished Italian family from Cesena. In 1735, at the age of seventeen, he graduated in law from Cesena. His first assignments were with Cardinal Ruffo, the legate of Ferrara, first as his secretary and later as the administrator of his dioceses. In 1753 Benedict XIV made him his private secretary and in 1758 a canon of St. Peter’s. Although engaged to be married, Braschi then became a priest and his fiancée entered a convent. Clement XIII appointed him treasurer of the apostolic chamber and Clement XIV named him cardinal in 1773.
In August of 1799, Pius VI died in exile, a prisoner of the French, in Valence. His last words were, Lord forgive them. His remains were placed in a basement there but Napoleon himself saw to it they were moved to a cemetery. In 1802, he allowed Pius’ remains to be transferred to Rome. In 1822, a monument built by Canova was completed for him in St. Peter’s.
Other Artifacts Connected to Pope Pius VI
A Word about the Holy Year Brick Featured Above:
A Brick from the Holy Year, 1775
The Collection has several Holy Year bricks, and this one is from 1775. If you remember, we talked about Holy Years occurring traditionally every 25 years and the Holy Year bricks actually brick up and block the holy doors in the various churches, especially St. Peter’s Basilica and the other basilicas around Rome.
This one is unique because of its age–from the Holy Year of 1775–which is actually 50 years older than the oldest one on display in the Vatican Museum. So what we’re seeing here is a very old example of this ancient tradition of blocking up the Holy Doors with these very ornate bricks.
In the Collection I have a number of these bricks, which are highly prized, ornate bricks that have the image of the tiara and cross-keys, the year, and the initials of the basilica foundry. I have about fifteen of these from the four major basilicas in Rome. –Father Richard Kunst
Pope Pius VI: 4th Longest Papacy
- Bl. Pius IX (1846–1878): 31 years, 7 months and 23 days (11,560 days).
- St. John Paul II (1978–2005):26 years, 5 months and 18 days (9,665 days).
- Leo XIII (1878–1903): 25 years, 5 months and 1 day (9,281 days).
- Pius VI (1775–1799): 24 years, 6 months and 15 days (8,962 days).
- Adrian I (772–795): 23 years, 10 months and 25 days (8,729 days).
- Pius VII (1800–1823):23 years, 5 months and 7 days (8,560 days).
- Alexander III (1159–1181): 21 years, 11 months and 24 days (8,029 days).
- St. Sylvester I (314–335): 21 years, 11 months and 1 day (8,005 days).
- St. Leo I (440–461):21 years, 1 month, and 13 days. (7,713 days).
- Urban VIII (1623–1644): 20 years, 11 months and 24 days (7,664 days).