Pius VII
Bishop of Rome
Portrait by Thomas Lawrence, 1819
ChurchCatholic Church
Papacy began14 March 1800
Papacy ended20 August 1823
PredecessorPius VI
SuccessorLeo XII
Ordination21 September 1765
Consecration21 December 1782
by Francesco Saverio de Zelada
Created cardinal14 February 1785
by Pius VI
Personal details
Barnaba Niccolò Maria Luigi Chiaramonti

(1742-08-14)14 August 1742
Died20 August 1823(1823-08-20) (aged 81)
Rome, Papal States
Previous post(s)
MottoAquila Rapax ("Rapacious eagle")[1]
SignaturePius VII's signature
Coat of armsPius VII's coat of arms
Other popes named Pius

Pope Pius VII (Italian: Pio VII; born Barnaba Niccolò Maria Luigi Chiaramonti;[a] 14 August 1742 – 20 August 1823) was head of the Catholic Church from 14 March 1800 to his death in August 1823. He ruled the Papal States from June 1800 to 17 May 1809 and again from 1814 to his death. Chiaramonti was also a monk of the Order of Saint Benedict in addition to being a well-known theologian and bishop.

Chiaramonti was made Bishop of Tivoli in 1782, and resigned that position upon his appointment as Bishop of Imola in 1785. That same year, he was made a cardinal. In 1789, the French Revolution took place, and as a result a series of anti-clerical governments came into power in the country. In 1798,[2] during the French Revolutionary Wars, French troops under Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Rome and captured Pope Pius VI, taking him as a prisoner to France, where he died in 1799. The following year, after a sede vacante period lasting approximately six months, Chiaramonti was elected to the papacy, taking the name Pius VII.

Pius at first attempted to take a cautious approach in dealing with Napoleon. With him he signed the Concordat of 1801, through which he succeeded in guaranteeing religious freedom for Catholics living in France, and was present at his coronation as Emperor of the French in 1804. In 1809, however, during the Napoleonic Wars, Napoleon once again invaded the Papal States, resulting in his excommunication through the papal bull Quum memoranda. Pius VII was taken prisoner and transported to France. He remained there until 1814 when, after the French were defeated, he was permitted to return to Rome, where he was greeted warmly as a hero and defender of the faith.

Pius lived the remainder of his life in relative peace. His papacy saw a significant growth of the Catholic Church in the United States, where Pius established several new dioceses. Pius VII died in 1823 at age 81.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI began the process towards canonizing him as a saint, and he was granted the title Servant of God.


Early life

Pope Pius VII by Antonio Canova 1805, Albertinum, Dresden
The birthplace of Pius VII

Barnaba Niccolò Maria Luigi Chiaramonti was born in Cesena in 1742, the youngest son of Count Scipione Chiaramonti (30 April 1698 – 13 September 1750). His mother, Giovanna Coronata (d. 22 November 1777), was the daughter of the Marquess Ghini. Though his family was of noble status, they were not wealthy but rather, were of middle-class stock.[3]

His maternal grandparents were Barnaba Eufrasio Ghini and Isabella de' conti Aguselli. His paternal grandparents were Giacinto Chiaramonti (1673–1725) and Ottavia Maria Altini; his paternal great-grandparents were Scipione Chiaramonti (1642–1677) and Ottavia Maria Aldini. His paternal great-great-grandparents were Chiaramonte Chiaramonti and Polissena Marescalchi.

His siblings were Giacinto Ignazio (19 September 1731 – 7 June 1805), Tommaso (19 December 1732 – 8 December 1799) and Ottavia (1 June 1738 – 7 May 1814).

Like his brothers, he attended the Collegio dei Nobili in Ravenna but decided to join the Order of Saint Benedict at the age of 14 on 2 October 1756 as a novice at the Abbey of Santa Maria del Monte in Cesena. Two years after this on 20 August 1758, he became a professed member and assumed the name of Gregorio.[4] He taught at Benedictine colleges in Parma and Rome, and was ordained a priest on 21 September 1765.

Episcopate and cardinalate

A series of promotions resulted after his relative, Giovanni Angelo Braschi, was elected Pope Pius VI (1775–99).[4] A few years before this election occurred, in 1773, Chiaramonti became the personal confessor to Braschi. In 1776, Pius VI appointed the 34-year-old Dom Gregory, who had been teaching at the Monastery of Sant'Anselmo in Rome, as honorary abbot in commendam of his monastery. Although this was an ancient practice, it drew complaints from the monks of the community, as monastic communities generally felt it was not in keeping with the Rule of St. Benedict. He served as librarian at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.

In December 1782, the pope appointed Dom Gregory as the Bishop of Tivoli, near Rome. Pius VI soon named him, in February 1785, the Cardinal-Priest of San Callisto,[5] and as the Bishop of Imola, an office he held until 1816.[6]

When the French Revolutionary Army invaded Italy in 1797, Cardinal Chiaramonti counseled temperance and submission to the newly created Cisalpine Republic. In a letter that he addressed to the people of his diocese, Chiaramonti asked them to comply "... in the current circumstances of change of government (...)" to the authority of the victorious general Commander-in-Chief of the French army. In his Christmas homily that year, he asserted that there was no opposition between a democratic form of government and being a good Catholic: "Christian virtue makes men good democrats.... Equality is not an idea of philosophers but of Christ...and do not believe that the Catholic religion is against democracy."[7]


Papal styles of
Pope Pius VII
Reference styleHis Holiness
Spoken styleYour Holiness
Religious styleHoly Father
Posthumous styleServant of God


Main article: Papal conclave, 1799–1800

Site of the papal conclave that elected Pius VII

Following the death of Pope Pius VI, by then virtually France's prisoner, at Valence in 1799, the conclave to elect his successor met on 30 November 1799 in the Benedictine San Giorgio Monastery in Venice. There were three main candidates, two of whom proved to be unacceptable to the Habsburgs, whose candidate, Alessandro Mattei, could not secure sufficient votes. However, Carlo Bellisomi also was a candidate, though not favoured by Austrian cardinals; a "virtual veto"[b] was imposed against him in the name of Francis II and carried out by Cardinal Franziskus Herzan von Harras.[8]

After several months of stalemate, Jean-Sifrein Maury proposed Chiaramonti as a compromise candidate. On 14 March 1800, Chiaramonti was elected pope, certainly not the choice of die-hard opponents of the French Revolution, and took as his pontifical name Pius VII in honour of his immediate predecessor.[7] He was crowned on 21 March, in the adjacent monastery church, by means of a rather unusual ceremony, wearing a papier-mâché papal tiara. The French had seized the tiaras held by the Holy See when occupying Rome and forcing Pius VI into exile. The new pope then left for Rome, sailing on a barely seaworthy Austrian ship, the Bellona, which lacked even a galley. The twelve-day voyage ended at Pesaro and he proceeded to Rome.

Negotiations and exile

Portrait of Pope Pius VII, oil on wood by Jacques-Louis David (1805, Louvre, Paris)

One of Pius VII's first acts was appointing the minor cleric Ercole Consalvi, who had performed so ably as secretary to the recent conclave, to the College of Cardinals and to the office of Cardinal Secretary of State. Consalvi immediately left for France, where he was able to negotiate the Concordat of 1801 with the First Consul Napoleon.[9] While not effecting a return to the old Christian order, the treaty did provide certain civil guarantees to the Church, acknowledging "the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman religion" as that of the "majority of French citizens".[10]

The main terms of the concordat between France and the pope included:

The arrest of Pius VII
Pius VII receives extreme unction while Napoleon's prisoner in 1812

As pope, he followed a policy of cooperation with the French Republic and subsequently Empire. He was present at the coronation of Napoleon in 1804. He even participated in France's Continental Blockade of Great Britain, over the objections of his Secretary of State Consalvi, who was forced to resign. Despite this, France occupied and annexed the Papal States in 1809 and took Pius VII as their prisoner, exiling him to Savona. On 15 November 1809 Pius VII consecrated the church at La Voglina, Valenza, Piedmont with the intention of the Villa La Voglina becoming his spiritual base whilst in exile. Unfortunately his residency was short lived once Napoleon became aware of his intentions of establishing a permanent base and he was soon exiled to France. Despite this, the pope continued to refer to Napoleon as "my dear son" but added that he was "a somewhat stubborn son, but a son still".

This exile ended only when Pius VII signed the Concordat of Fontainebleau in 1813. One result of this new treaty was the release of the exiled cardinals, including Consalvi, who, upon re-joining the papal retinue, persuaded Pius VII to revoke the concessions he had made in it. This Pius VII began to do in March 1814, which led the French authorities to re-arrest many of the opposing prelates. Their confinement, however, lasted only a matter of weeks, as Napoleon abdicated on 11 April of that year.[11] As soon as Pius VII returned to Rome, he immediately revived the Inquisition and the Index of Condemned Books.

Cardinal Bartolomeo Pacca, who was kidnapped along with Pope Pius VII, took the office of Pro-Secretary of State in 1808 and maintained his memoirs during his exile. His memoirs, written originally in Italian, have been translated into English (two volumes)[12][13] and describe the ups and down of their exile and the triumphant return to Rome in 1814.

Pius VII's imprisonment did in fact come with one bright side for him. It gave him an aura that recognized him as a living martyr, so that when he arrived back in Rome in May 1814, he was greeted most warmly by the Italians as a hero.[14]

Relationship with Napoleon I

Pope Pius VII presided over the coronation of Napoleon I, as depicted by Jacques-Louis David

Main article: Napoleon and the Catholic Church

From the time of his election as pope to the fall of Napoleon in 1815, Pius VII's reign was completely taken up in dealing with France.[15] He and the Emperor were continually in conflict, often involving the French military leader's wishes for concessions to his demands. Pius VII wanted his own release from exile as well as the return of the Papal States, and, later on, the release of the 13 "Black Cardinals", i.e., the cardinals, including Consalvi, who had snubbed the marriage of Napoleon to Marie Louise, believing that his previous marriage was still valid, and had been exiled and impoverished in consequence of their stand,[16] along with several exiled or imprisoned prelates, priests, monks, nuns and other various supporters.

Restoration of the Jesuits

Main article: Suppression of the Society of Jesus

On 7 March 1801, Pius VII issued the brief Catholicae fidei that approved the existence of the Society of Jesus in the Russian Empire and appointed its first superior general as Franciszek Kareu. This was the first step in the restoration of the order. On 31 July 1814, he signed the papal bull Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum which universally restored the Society of Jesus. He appointed Tadeusz Brzozowski as the Superior General of the order.

Vatican Museums

Opposition to slavery

Pius VII joined the declaration of the 1815 Congress of Vienna, represented by Cardinal Secretary of State Ercole Consalvi, and urged the suppression of the Atlantic slave trade. This pertained particularly to places such as Spain and Portugal where slavery was economically very important. The pope wrote a letter to King Louis XVIII of France dated 20 September 1814 and to King John VI of Portugal in 1823 to urge the end of slavery. He condemned the slave trade and defined the sale of people as an injustice to the dignity of the human person. In his letter to the king of Portugal, he wrote: "the pope regrets that this trade in blacks, that he believed having ceased, is still exercised in some regions and even more cruel way. He begs and begs the King of Portugal that it implement all its authority and wisdom to extirpate this unholy and abominable shame."

Reinstitution of Jewish Ghetto

Under Napoleonic rule, the Jewish Roman Ghetto had been abolished and Jews were free to live and move where they would. Following the restoration of Papal rule, Pius VII re-instituted the confinement of Jews to the Ghetto, having the doors closed at nighttime.[17]

Other activities

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Pius VII issued an encyclical Diu satis in order to advocate a return to the values of the Gospel and universalized the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows for 15 September. He condemned Freemasonry and the movement of the Carbonari in the encyclical Ecclesiam a Jesu Christo in 1821. Pius VII asserted that Freemasons must be excommunicated and it linked them with the Carbonari, an anti-clerical revolutionary group in Italy. All members of the Carbonari were also excommunicated.

His concerns about the work of non-Catholic bible societies were acknowledged by Pope Gregory XVI in the latter's 1844 encyclical letter Inter Praecipuas.[18]

Pius VII was multilingual and had the ability to speak Italian, French, English and Latin.

Pius VII reviews plans for the obelisk on the Quirinal Hill.

Cultural innovations

Pius VII was a man of culture and attempted to reinvigorate Rome with archaeological excavations in Ostia which revealed ruins and icons from ancient times. He also had walls and other buildings rebuilt and restored the Arch of Titus. He ordered the construction of fountains and piazzas and erected the obelisk on the Pincian Hill.

The pope also made sure Rome was a place for artists and the leading artists of the time like Antonio Canova and Peter von Cornelius. He also enriched the Vatican Library with numerous manuscripts and books. It was Pius VII who adopted the yellow and white flag of the Holy See as a response to the Napoleonic invasion of 1809.

Canonizations and beatifications

Throughout his pontificate, Pius VII canonized a total of five saints. On 24 May 1807, Pius VII canonized Angela Merici, Benedict the Moor, Colette Boylet, Francis Caracciolo and Hyacintha Mariscotti. He beatified a total of 27 individuals including Joseph Oriol, Berardo dei Marsi, Giuseppe Maria Tomasi and Crispin of Viterbo.


Main article: Cardinals created by Pius VII

Pius VII created 99 cardinals in nineteen consistories including notable ecclesial figures of that time such as Ercole Consalvi, Bartolomeo Pacca, and Carlo Odescalchi. The Pope also named his two immediate successors as cardinals: Annibale della Genga and Francesco Saverio Castiglioni (the latter of whom it is said Pius VII and his successor would refer to as "Pius VIII").

The "miracle" of Pius VII in 1811.

In addition, Pius VII named 12 cardinals whom he reserved "in pectore". One died before his nomination could ever be published (he was originally nominated in the 1804 consistory), Marino Carafa di Belvedere resigned his cardinalate on 24 August 1807 upon citing a lack of family descendance, and Carlo Odescalchi resigned the cardinalate on 21 November 1838 to enter the Society of Jesus.[19]

In 1801, according to Remigius Ritzler, Pius VII nominated Paolo Luigi Silva as a cardinal in pectore, however, he died before his name could be published. As a result, Pius VII added the Archbishop of Palermo Domenico Pignatelli di Belmonte in his place. In the March 1816 consistory, the former bishop of Saint-Malo Gabriel Cortois de Pressigny was among the cardinals created in pectore in the consistory, though he declined the promotion. Similarly, Giovanni Alliata declined the pope's offer for elevation in the same consistory. According to Niccolò del Re, the Vice-Camerlengo Tiberio Pacca would have been created a cardinal either in the March 1823 consistory, or a future one held by the pope. However, he suggests that a series of controversies beginning in 1820 prevented the pope from naming him to the Sacred College.[19]

The possible miracle of Pius VII

On 15 August 1811 - the Feast of the Assumption - it is recorded that the pope celebrated Mass and was said to have entered a trance and began to levitate in a manner that drew him to the altar. This particular episode aroused great wonder and awe among attendants which included the French soldiers guarding him who were in disbelief of what had occurred.[20]

Relationship with the United States

On the United States' undertaking of the First Barbary War to suppress the Muslim Barbary pirates along the southern Mediterranean coast, ending their kidnapping of Europeans for ransom and slavery, Pius VII declared that the United States "had done more for the cause of Christianity than the most powerful nations of Christendom have done for ages."[21]

For the United States, he established several new dioceses in 1808 for Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Bardstown. In 1821, he also established the dioceses of Charleston, Richmond and Cincinnati.

Condemnation of heresy

On 3 June 1816, Pius VII condemned the works of Melkite bishop Germanos Adam. Adam's writings supported conciliarism, the view that the authority of ecumenical councils was greater than that of the papacy.[22]

Death and burial

In 1822, Pius VII reached his 80th birthday and his health was visibly declining. On 6 July 1823, he fractured his hip in a fall in the papal apartments and was bedridden from that point onward. In his final weeks he would often lose consciousness and would mutter the names of the cities that he had been ferried away to by the French forces. With the Cardinal Secretary of State Ercole Consalvi at his side, Pius VII died on 20 August at 5 a.m.[23]

He was briefly interred in the Vatican Grottoes but was later buried in a monument in St. Peter's Basilica after his funeral on 25 August.[24][25]

The tomb of Pius VII in Saint Peter's Basilica.

Beatification process

Pius VII
Pope; Confessor
BornBarnaba Niccolò Maria Luigi Chiaramonti
14 August 1742
Cesena, Papal States
Died20 August 1823 (aged 81)
Apostolic Palace, Rome, Papal States
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
AttributesPapal attire
Papal tiara
Benedictine habit
PatronageDiocese of Savona-Noli
Persecuted Christians

An application to commence beatification proceedings were lodged to the Holy See on 10 July 2006 and received the approval of Cardinal Camillo Ruini (the Vicar of Rome) who transferred the request to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The Congregation - on 24 February 2007 - approved the opening of the cause responding to the call of the Ligurian bishops.

On 15 August 2007, the Holy See contacted the diocese of Savona-Noli with the news that Pope Benedict XVI had declared "nihil obstat" (nothing stands against) the cause of beatification of the late pontiff, thus opening the diocesan process for this pope's beatification. He now has the title of Servant of God.[26] The official text declaring the opening of the cause was: "Summus Pontifex Benedictus XVI declarat, ex parte Sanctae Sedis, nihil obstare quominus in Causa Beatificationis et Canonizationis Servi Dei Pii Barnabae Gregorii VII Chiaramonti". Work on the cause commenced the following month in gathering documentation on the late pope.

He has since been elected as the patron of the Diocese of Savona and the patron of prisoners.[27]

In late 2018 the Bishop of Savona announced that the cause for Pius VII would continue following the completion of initial preparation and investigation. The bishop named a new postulator and a diocesan tribunal which would begin work into the cause.[28] The formal introduction to the cause (a diocesan investigation into the late pontiff's life) was held at a Mass celebrated in the Savona diocese on 31 October 2021.[29]

The first postulator for the cause was Father Giovanni Farris (2007–18) and the current postulator since 2018 is Fr. Giovanni Margara.


Pope Pius VII's monument (1831) in St. Peter's Basilica, adorning his tomb, was created by the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen.



Motu proprio

Papal bull

See also


  1. ^ English: Barnabas Nicholas Maria Louis Chiaramonti
  2. ^ Rather than formal invocation of the claimed papal veto, this involved lobbying by the Austrian cardinals to deny him the necessary votes.



  1. ^ "Pope Pius VII (1800-1823)". GCatholic. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  2. ^ "Pius VI | pope | Britannica". 25 August 2023.
  3. ^ "Pius VII, pope". Geneall. Retrieved 2 February 2016.
  4. ^ a b Artaud de Montor, The Lives and Times of the Roman Pontifs, from St. Peter to Pius IX, Volume 2, D. & J. Sadlier, 1866, p. 538
  5. ^ Cardinal Title S. Callisto GCatholic.org
  6. ^ "Pope Pius VII (timeline)". Catholic Hierarchy. Retrieved 21 March 2012.
  7. ^ a b Thomas Bokenkotter, Church and Revolution: Catholics in the Struggle for Democracy and Social Justice (NY: Doubleday, 1998), 32
  8. ^ J. P. Adams, Sede Vacante and Conclave, 1799-1800.. Retrieved: 13 March 2016.
  9. ^ Schaefer, Francis. "Ercole Consalvi." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908
  10. ^ "France". Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. Archived from the original on 6 February 2011. Retrieved 15 December 2011. See drop-down essay on "The Third Republic and the 1905 Law of Laïcité"
  11. ^ Aston, Nigel (2002). Christianity and Revolutionary Europe c. 1750-1830. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-46027-9.
  12. ^ Pacca, Cardinal Bartolomeo. "Historical Memoirs of Cardinal Pacca, Prime Minister to Pius VII - Vol I (English translation)". Archive.org. Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. Retrieved 11 May 2021.
  13. ^ Pacca, Cardinal Bartolomeo. "Historical Memoirs of Cardinal Pacca, Prime Minister to Pius VII - Vol II (English translation)". Archive.org. Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. Retrieved 11 May 2021.
  14. ^ "Pius VII". Encyclopedia.com. 2004. Retrieved 27 February 2015.
  15. ^ J. M. Thompson, Napoleon Bonaparte: His Rise and Fall (1951) pp 251-75
  16. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia 1914 entry on Napoleon I
  17. ^ "Curious and Unusual - Rome's Ghetto".
  18. ^ Pope Gregory XVI, Inter praecipuas, Papal Encyclicals Online, paragraph 6, updated 20 February 2020, accessed 15 August 2023
  19. ^ a b Salvador Miranda. "Pius VII (1800-1823)". The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. Retrieved 22 February 2022.
  20. ^ "The miracle of the Servant of God Pope Pius VII Chiaramonti". Scuola Ecclesia Mater. 15 August 2015. Retrieved 2 February 2016.
  21. ^ Jefferson Versus the Muslim Pirates Archived 25 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine by City Journal
  22. ^ Fortescue, Adrian and George D. Smith, The Uniate Eastern Churches, (First Giorgas Press, 2001), 210.
  23. ^ Hearder, Harry (2013). Italy in the Age of the Risorgimento 1790 - 1870. Routledge. p. 104.
  24. ^ "Pope Pius VII". Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  25. ^ "CHIARAMONTI, O.S.B.Cas., Gregorio Barnaba (1742-1823)". Archived from the original on 2 February 2014. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  26. ^ "CHIARAMONTI, O.S.B.Cas., Gregorio Barnaba". Archived from the original on 2 February 2014. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  27. ^ "Pope Pius VII returned to Savona". Comune di Savona. 29 April 2015. Retrieved 21 August 2015.
  28. ^ "Avviata la causa di beatificazione per Pio VII". RSVN.it. 3 November 2018. Archived from the original on 23 December 2018. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
  29. ^ "In Cattedrale la prima sessione della causa di beatificazione di Pio VII". Sostieni l'eco di Savona. 18 October 2021. Archived from the original on 18 October 2021. Retrieved 19 October 2021.


Further reading

Catholic Church titles Preceded byGiulio Matteo Natali Bishop of Tivoli 16 December 1782 – 14 February 1785 Succeeded byGiovanni Battista Banfi Preceded byGiovanni Carlo Bandi Bishop of Imola 14 February 1785 – 8 March 1816 Succeeded byAntonio Lamberto Rusconi Preceded byTommaso Maria Ghilini Cardinal-Priest of San Callisto 26 June 1785 - 14 March 1800 Succeeded byCarlo Giuseppe Filippa della Martiniana Preceded byPius VI Pope 14 March 1800 – 20 August 1823 Succeeded byLeo XII