You can see that this item is very important to me because it’s framed. I don’t have a lot of items that are framed. This one is a very rare and very large, framed document. Julius II was a larger-than-life character in papal history and one of my favorite popes.
This document is from 1504. It was the first year of his pontificate. He was elected in 1503. It was commonly referred to as a “papal fiat”. Somebody would actually write a request to the Holy Father and the Pope would look at the request and write his approval of whatever the request was. That’s exactly what this artifact is.
And so in this document what we see are two requests: number one, the top paragraph, and then the second request, in the bottom paragraph. And in both cases the Pope agreed and approved whatever the requests were.
It is an untranslated document. The signature, which was common at this time, actually, was just to write the first initial, which was “J”, for “Julius”. He’s also one of those rare popes, in recent history, anyhow, that didn’t change his name. Julius was his actual name. He was a very proud man in so many different ways, but he had good reason to be. He was born to lead. He started the Swiss Guard, founded the Vatican Museum, laid the cornerstone for St. Peter’s Basilica, and commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. His nickname was “Julius the Terrible” or “Julius the Warrior Pope”.
He got these nicknames for several reasons. If you watch the movie, “The Agony and the Ecstasy”, you’ll see that he got his own way. The movie entails the story of the painting of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. We see the portrayal of his personality accurately because there are cases in the film when Michelangelo disagrees with the Pope, and we know, historically speaking, what the Pope would do when Michelangelo disagreed with him. He would take his cane and whack him–he would just hit people over the back and say, “You don’t disagree”, and so you didn’t cross Julius the Terrible.
“Julius the Warrior Pope” was a title he received because at that period of time the Papal States were one state situated in literally what we call Italy today, and so they would do battle over geographic territories, over churches and over many other disputes.
The Pope had his army and the Swiss Guard, which he started, which were Swiss mercenaries at the time, and he would go right on the front line riding with his army. He literally put on armor and went to fight in battles.
How this Document Survived and Became Part of this Collection
Father Kunst knows the history of this document from the time he acquired it:
There are a lot of auction houses in Europe that sell old manuscripts, and that’s one way of acquiring them. How they get out, who knows. This particular one was written in response to a request and then sent back. So this didn’t come as if it had been leaked out of the Vatican. It was leaked out of some other organization that had the initial request. I got it from a dealer several years ago. It actually came with another item.
Julius II often gets a bad name because of how he led the papacy, but the fact of the matter is that despite the fact that he lived a questionable moral life before he was elected Pope, as soon as he became Pope, he lived a completely moral life. And so, although people often say, “these bad Popes,” we know that in his case, even though he may have had a questionable past, including having children, as soon as he was elected he took that leadership very seriously.
Again, he was born to lead and was a great leader–one of the great Popes. He did so much for the Church that is still here today. It reminds us of the gift of the Holy Spirit present in the works of our popes.
Definition of Fiat
A fiat gives permission to a diocese, or religious order, or an individual for whatever is being requested. The Holy Father writes in his own hand, Fiat et Petut, meaning, Let it be done according to Peter.
Julius II is one of Father Kunst’s favorite popes alongside Saint John Paul II and Pope John Paul I. He is very historically significant in papal history and this, therefore, makes it one of his favorite items in the entire Collection.
Pope Julius II
In 1453, Guiliano della Rovere was born to humble parents in Liguria. As the nephew of Pope Sixtus IV (1471 – 1484) he, like other nephews of popes, received special treatment that paved the way for his ascension to the papacy. Another uncle, Francesco, was responsible for his education at Perugia. Della Rovere received Holy Orders and became a Franciscan, and Sixtus appointed him a cardinal at the age of eighteen.
He became the papal legate to France for Sixtus IV. Later, during the pontificate of Innocent VIII (1484 – 1492) and while still in his thirties, Guiliano played an important role in papal government. However, his influence ended with the papacy of the Borgia pope, Alexander VI (1492 -–1503) with whom della Rovere had vied for election. Della Rovere actually fled for his life to France at that time and eventually accompanied Charles VIII, king of France, in his invasion of Italy to lay claim to the Kingdom of Naples.
Because of Rovere’s numerous alliances in Italy, Alexander was forced to seek a compromise with him and this was partially accomplished by della Rovere’s arrangement of the marriage of a French princess with Alexander’s son, Caesare.
Della Rovere became pope upon the death of Pius III who reigned in 1503 for less than a month. Taking the name of Julius II, the new pope pursued military solutions to the myriad problems left to him by Alexander’s VI’s attempt to create a Borgia dynasty. He led papal armies in a variety of military campaigns. He created alliances with France and Germany and then did an “about face” when he saw that France was becoming too powerful. He then wooed the Spanish by giving them Naples. Ever conscious of the Turkish threat, he was careful not to bring Venice to its knees when he wrestled their ill-gotten land holdings from them.
When dissident cardinals arranged a council at Pisa with the help of Louis XII of France to depose the pope, Julius countered with a legitimate council at the Lateran. This was the Fifth Lateran Council. Mostly dedicated to countering the actions of the French Council at Pisa, it did eventually condemn simony, the buying and selling of church offices but did not impose the needed spiritual and temporal reforms that may have checked Martin Luther’s demands. Most significantly the continued sale of indulgences was not addressed. It was indulgences that produced the revenue to fight ongoing wars in the Papal States and to promote the beautification of the Vatican for which Julius is remembered. It is worth noting that Julius, who began his papacy inheriting an empty treasury, left a full one.
Today, with the political intrigues of his century far behind us, we enjoy the benefits of Julius’ great interest in the arts. A patron of Raphael, Bramante and Michelangelo, Julius’ great sense of aesthetics abounds in Rome. Raphael’s frescoes adorn Julius’ apartment, particularly the room that served as his library. Bramante was commissioned to plan the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica. Michaelangelo, a sculptor, not only was commissioned to immortalize Julius in the design of his elaborate tomb, but was also commissioned to paint the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, a work of art enjoyed and reverenced by millions of people in the ensuing 500 years.
Michaelangelo’s relationship with the fiery Julius II was addressed in Irving Stone’s novel, The Agony and the Ecstasy which was made into a movie in 1965. Not only does the film portray their relationship, it also depicts Julius’ role as the warrior pope fully vested for battle in his numerous campaigns.
Julius II laid the cornerstone for St. Peter’s Basilica and established both the Vatican Museum as well as the Swiss Guard, both very important to the papacy to the present day.
In his assessment of Julius II’s papacy, Hans Kuhner in The Popes, Papal History in Picture and Word has stated,
It is often forgotten that he was given only ten years in which to accomplish his tasks, that he aimed to make the papacy, not the popes, great, that he was a statesman who wanted to bring peace to Italy at last after forty years of political assassins, among them the first Rovere pope, who wore the tiara and who served only their nepotism and had harmed the country as well as the Papal State with their policy of alliances. Thus normal standards fail here for judging the ruler who towered above all the rulers of his age. He was a pope who as a politician and rich patron of the arts strove to achieve a synthesis of the state, culture and spirit as has never again been conceived of in this monumental way.
Julius II died on February 21, 1513. He was seventy years old. It is a common error that many people believe the burial site of Pope Julius II is in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains) because of Michelangelo’s Tomb of Julius II located there. It includes the most famous of Michelangelo’s sculptures, his statue of Moses as the central piece of the monument. However, this tomb was not completed until 1545 and represents a much-abbreviated version of the planned original, which was initially intended for the new St. Peter’s Basilica.
Julius always intended to be buried in St. Peter’s. However, a much different burial site is his today. Together with his uncle, Pope Sixtus IV, their remains lie in the floor in front of the monument to Pope Clement X and are often covered by chairs and unavailable for visitors to view.