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He collected offices, sycophants and artists. He was the Lord of Bees.

Politicians who dream of combining foreign historical and PR policies could take a leaf out of the pope of four centuries ago.

The popes’ names start off carved in limestone. Then they blur into each other after which we forget them; which palace was built by Paul V and which by Alexander VII. Similarly with their coats or arms but which are clear enough to show, under their tiaras, the glory of their names.

You only have to raise your head and you can see the Pamphilli family doves , the Medici lilies, the lions of the Odescali and the three summits of the Chigi upon which shines the eight pointed star. A church or portico appears too with the donor in company with a menagerie of lions, dragons, bulls, deer , cupids and nymphs.

But one motif is repeated, even though only one member of the dynasty sat on the throne of St Peter- Maffeo or Matthew, the successor to the apostolic throne as Urban VIII, with the bees of the Barberini family.

There is always a dichotomy between the greatness of the office of the bishop of Rome and the earthly powers and interests that come to the fore during a pontificate. But the tension is softened by time. The more it is in the past the more we can evaluate human ambitions and weaknesses. It is difficult to understand all the factors both in Italy and Europe.

Those intolerable Catholic Habsburgs

How can we reconcile support for the Catholic Habsburgs in the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-48 with the reluctance to allow their domination of Italy. Take for example during their war of the Mantuan succession. What do we make of the conflict between two arch-Catholic powers like Portugal and Spain. Or the example of the Fronde civil wars and the Spanish ambassador’s role Cardinal Gaspard de Boria Y Velasco who could order ‘inconvenient’ cardinals to leave Rome.

It’s similar to the missions sent to the New World. What of the raising of martyrs (not just those Jesuits crucified in Japan but the Polish Jozafat Kuncewicz). Take too, Galileo’s intellectual work or the intrigues between Bernini and Borromini. Maffeo Barberini had to contend with all this in Rome where he presided over 21 years.

Read the full story.

By Wojciech Stanisławski
Translated by: Jan Darasz

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