No doubt largely as a result of my visit to Venice, I have begun reading about Pope Pius VII and his wonderful Secretary of State, Cardinal Consalvi.
John Martin Robinson wrote a very good biography of Consalvi, which I have read, and is now lying on the pile to be read again. But at the moment, I am reading Cardinal Wiseman's Lives of the Last Four Popes (=Pius VII, Leo XII, Pius VIII, Gregory XVI). They have all got rather lost behind the popes of the 'modern era' beginning with the Pope reigning when Wiseman was writing, Bd Pius IX.
The book is occasionally confusing, but always fascinating. I am learning so much that I cannot imagine why it has taken me so long to read this book, considering that it has been sitting on my shelves for at least twenty years.
For instance, I knew that the Papal elections before 1870 took place in the Quirinal Palace, and had heard that to this day in the attics there are all the partitions and paraphernalia necessary for a conclave. What I did not know was that the conclaves only began there in the nineteenth century; Pius VI and his predecessors were elected in the Sistine Chapel, as we are familiar with. Nor did I realise that each cardinal had had his apartment for himself and his entire staff, nor that a wicket gate was kept open in the conclave for each Cardinal to have his own meals prepared outside (usually from his own palace) and sent in, and for late arrivals to enter. Nor did I realize that the white smoke/black smoke is a recent thing. Even in the 19th century, any sort of smoke from the chimney outside the chapel was a sign that a particular ballot had been unsuccessful. The sign of a successful ballot was no smoke at all, followed by an opening of the bricked-up balcony window (which must have taken a while). Sometimes the Senior Cardinal Deacon announced the election to very few people indeed gathered in the Quirinal Piazza below.
Again, I did not know that until Bd Pius IX, who was buried in San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura and nearly had his body thrown into the Tiber getting there, it was customary for deceased Popes to be initally buried in a simple monument near the Choir chapel in St Peter's, with only their name marked on it. It was only when their successor died that they were moved to their permanent tomb and their successor took their place in the same temporary grave.
And how about this account of how Leo XII narrowly escaped death mere months after his election:
All Rome attributed the unexpected recovery to the prayers of a saintly bishop, who was sent for, at the Pope's request, from his distant see of Macerata. This was Monsignor Strambi, of the Congregation of the Passion. He came immediately, saw the Pope, assured him of his recovery, as he had offered up to Heaven his own valueless life in exchange for one so precious. It did indeed seem as if he had transfused his own vitality into the Pope's languid frame. He himself died the next day, the 31st December , and the Pontiff rose, like one from the grave.I'll post more if I find more worthy of posting. That, I think, is nearly certain.