Sixtus V (Pope) (b. 1520, reigned 1585–1590)

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SIXTUS V (POPE) (b. 1520, reigned 15851590)

SIXTUS V (POPE) (b. 1520, reigned 15851590), Felice Peretti, born 13 December at Grottammare, near Montalto, March of Ancona. A farmer's son, educated by the Conventual Franciscans at Montalto, he joined the order at age twelve and received training at Fermo, Ferrara, Bologna, Rimini, and Siena before his ordination in 1547; he received a doctorate in theology from Fermo in 1548. Peretti's Lenten preaching at Rome in 1552 brought him notoriety, and he entered papal service as a member of Paul IV's (pope 15551559) reform commissions. During his service as inquisitor for Venice (15571559), he so vigorously enforced the Index of Prohibited Books of Paul IV that he was forced to flee the city. Appointed consultor of the Roman Inquisition in 1560, made vicar-general of the Franciscans and bishop of Sant'Agata dei Goti in Benevento in 1566, he was elevated to cardinal by Pius V (pope 15661572) in 1570 and transferred to become bishop of Fermo (15711577). Because of disagreements with Gregory XIII (reigned 15721585), Peretti (now known as Cardinal Montalto) withdrew to the Esquiline Hill, where he worked in obscurity on an edition of St. Ambrose's writings. Supported by a strong minority of reform-minded cardinals, he was elected pope on 24 April 1585.

Sixtus's five-year pontificate was significant internationally for his support of Catholic monarchs against Protestantism and for rallying (unsuccessfully) Christian princes against the Turks to recapture the Holy Land. He promised Philip II of Spain (ruled 15561598) monetary aid for his invasion of England, but after the Armada's ruin in 1588, he reneged and battled him, diplomatically at least, until the end of his life. Sixtus refused to recognize the right to the throne of French king Henry of Navarre (Henry IV, ruled 15891610), whom he excommunicated in 1585, as long as the king remained a Huguenot; Sixtus later encouraged Henry to return to Catholicism to resolve the religious wars in France. In Poland, he assisted Stephen Báthory (ruled 15751586) against Russia, and Sigismund III Vasa (ruled 15871632) of Sweden as Báthory's successor. His relations with the Holy Roman emperor Rudolf II (ruled 15761612) deteriorated, though he succeeded in putting in place a plan for the restoration of Catholicism in the empire.

Sixtus ruled the Papal States with severity, extirpating bandits, executing them publicly and punishing their protectors; but his severity also roused the anger of many fellow Franciscans, clergy, Romans, and others. He established public funds (monti) for carrying out public works; he drained swamps, promoted the wool and silk industries and agriculture, increased taxation, and reduced expenses. At his death he left over five million scudi in the papal treasury.

Sixtus is perhaps best remembered for his reorganization of the administration of the Curia Romana into fifteen congregations (nine for the spiritual affairs of the church, the others for the administration of Rome and the Papal States). He fixed the number of cardinals at seventy. The result made clear that the Sacred College's function was to offer advice and help, not to corule with the pope. Sixtus mandated that bishops visit Rome and submit regular reports on their dioceses. At Rome, his massive public works included road construction linking the seven pilgrimage churches, setting them off with obelisks crowned with crosses, the most prominent being that erected in Saint Peter's Square by Domenico Fontana (1586). He continued work on Saint Peter's Basilica, refurbished the Lateran Basilica and the Quirinal Palace, built the new wing for the Vatican Library, rejuvenated the University of Rome (Sapienza), repaired the aqueduct of Alexander Severus to bring fresh waters (aqua felice) to the Esquiline, and saw the completion of Michelangelo's dome for Saint Peter's. Sixtus died on 27 August 1590. His remains lie in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, where they were translated on 26 August 1591.

See also Index of Prohibited Books ; Inquisition, Roman ; Papacy and Papal States .


Pastor, Ludwig von. The History of the Popes from the Close of the Middle Ages. Vols. 21 and 22. Translated by Ralph Francis Kerr. St. Louis, 1952.

Schiffmann, René. Roma felix: Aspekte der städtebaulichen Gestaltung Roms unter Papst Sixtus V. Bern and New York, 1985.

Frederick J. McGinness