Sunday, 26th May 2024

Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi

SURPRISINGLY, THERE IS NO EVIDENT monument to Sir Christopher Wren in St Paul’s Cathedral, London. Instead, on the flagstone marking the architect¡¦s grave are inscribed the words: Si monumentum eius requiritis circumspicite – If searching for his monument, look around you. This eloquent and moving epitaph could also be attributed to the co-founder of the Pontifical Irish College, Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi.

To better identify and shed light on this remarkable ecclesiastic, an all too brief narration can begin with the death of Pope Paul V, on 28 January 1621 after a pontificate lasting over twenty years. In the conclave that followed, the fifty-two cardinals participating elected as pope by acclamation, on the evening of 9 February, after only two days in seclusion, albeit intense ones, Alessandro Ludovisi, the archbishop of Bologna, who assumed the pontifical name of Gregory XV. An eyewitness of these proceedings, Federico Cesi, wrote, ‘at the time we saw such discord and diversity in human opinion turn into a universal harmony, the marvellous work of the Holy Spirit, at first sketched out and then accomplished in perfect order’.

The newly elected pope was sixty-seven years old and already suffering from poor health: his complexion was pallid and reminded one of honey. He was described as being of modest stature, wan and reserved, with lacklustre eyes verging almost on melancholy. Definitely uninspiring. However, external appearances belied his true inner spirit. His pontificate proved to be one of the most significant of that entire age. The coronation followed on 14 February in St Peter¡¦s. On 15 February, the day after his coronation, the new pope created his nephew Ludovico, the barely twenty-five-year-old son of his elder brother, cardinal, assigning him his own former titular church of S. Maria in Traspontina near the Vatican. This was only the beginning of a meteoric ascent. Fate had it, however, that the pontificate was destined to be one of the shortest in papal history, because Gregory XV died on 8 July 1623, after a reign lasting only 2 years, 4 months and 27 days. Inevitably there was a sharp reverse in the fortunes of his nephew, but, in spite of that this cardinal’s memory is worthy of every encomium.


The Ludovisi family originally may have been of Teutonic stock that came to Italy with the imperial court and settled there, in the earlier centuries of the Middle Ages. Certainly, as an old distinguished noble family from Bologna it could trace its history back to the thirteenth century. Members of the family served as anziani, or elders, at the commune. In 1423, Count Giovanni Ludovisi of Agrimonte was a senator of Rome, but with him the family become extinct. The name and arms were assumed by his nephew, Ludovico di Monterenzi, whom the last of the Ludovisi had adopted in 1470. In 1514, Pope Leo X

invested this family with the title of counts of Samoggia and Tiola. This second Ludovisi family also went into extinction, in 1701, and the name and arms were then assumed by the Boncompagni family.

Count Pompeo Ludovisi and Camilla Bianchini were the parents of Orazio and Alessandro (the future pope), who was born to them at Bologna on 9 January 1554. Two other children died in infancy. His brother was five years his senior and, in the autumn of 1567,both were enrolled at the Jesuit Collegium

Germanicum at Rome, where Alessandro remained for the next two years while studying the classics at the Collegium Romanum, opened in 1551 by Ignatius Loyola for the humanities. Much later, he was the first alumnus of the Jesuits to be elected to the papacy, which explains the predilection shown by both uncle and nephew for the Society of Jesus. In 1569, Alessandro began the study of philosophy and theology, prior to switching to the faculty of jurisprudence at the famous university of his native city, where he graduated, on 4 June 1575, with the title of doctor utriusque iuris. He returned to Rome the following year, where his fellow citizen, Ugo Boncompagni, was happily reigning as Pope Gregory XIII (1572-85). A career in the Roman Curia was guaranteed and he fulfilled various offices in the judicial structure and continued serving under succeeding pontiffs. On 17 August 1599, he was named auditor (uditore) of the Roman Rota and subsequently was assigned missions of particular delicacy. He became archbishop of Bologna on 2 April 1612, but was frequently called upon to mediate in difficult cases. Although named a cardinal by Pope Paul V (1605-21), on 19 September 1616, it was not until the consistory of 20 November 1618 that he received the biretta cardinalizia and was assigned the titular church of S. Maria in Traspontina. Already his proud young nephew was hoping to follow in his uncle¡¦s footsteps and he did not have to wait too long.

Ludovico was born at Bologna on 27 October 1595, the eldest son of Count Orazio Ludovisi and Lavinia Albergati, his mother belonging to another distinguished and well-connected local family. He was educated under the tutelage of his clerical uncle and trained by the Jesuits in the Roman Collegium Germanicum. Like his uncle, he graduated with a laureate in law at Bologna and, by 1619, notwithstanding such an early age, was admitted to the ranks of the Roman prelature, functioning as a proponent (ponens) of the congregations of the Segnatura di Giustizia e di Grazia, of the Buon Governo and subsequently, on 5 January 1621, of the Sacra Consulta, little more than one month away from the event that would forever change his life.

A ponens was a lawyer who brought together in proper sequence the documentation required for submission to a commission, as the first step towards taking a decision: he was an exponent, a narrator, a reporter.He also formulated the sentence.The Segnatura di Giustizia was the highest tribunal of the Roman Curia which heard all the pleas to the pope and referred them to him in due form for his signature of assent. It was flanked by the Segnatura di Grazia which had exclusive competence in the concession of privileges and favours, especially when personal rights conflicted with legislative norms. The officials had to be skilled in jurisprudence. The Buon Governo, as the name implies, was the department entrusted with safeguarding the economic interests of the communes of the Papal State, controlling all the financial administration and keeping a watchful eye on the general conditions of the citizens. The Sacra Consulta enjoyed ample civil, criminal and mixed competence in all recourse against vassals, governors, the election of magistrates, and surprisingly over everything concerning public health. Early in his career, our bright young Monsignor Ludovisi was gaining first-hand experience in the many faceted aspects of government.

Life for him changed dramatically on 9 February 1621,with the unexpected election of his ailing uncle Cardinal Alessandro Ludovisi to the papacy. Ludovico was ordained to the priesthood on 10 February 1621, the day after his uncle’s accession. He was created cardinal priest on 15 February, the day after the coronation. On 17 March, he was appointed camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church (the chamberlain empowered with the administration and defence of the temporalities of the Church during the sede vacante), and subsequently, on 27 March, he was promoted as archbishop to the see of Bologna, vacated by his uncle’s recent election, but was dispensed immediately from the obligation of residence. Consecration followed in his private chapel, on 2 May, at the hands of Monsignor Galeazzo Sanvitale, archbishop of Bari. Several years later, exactly a month before his uncle’s death, Cardinal Ludovico resigned the office of camerlengo and, instead, was named vice-chancellor of the Holy Roman Church (which he retained until his own death), receiving as his titular church the basilica of S. Lorenzo in Damaso, incorporated into the structure of the palazzo of the Apostolic Chancery, and renouncing that of S. Maria in Traspontina. And the list of prestigious offices entrusted to him did not end here: clearly he was a man of capacity and undeniable organisational talent, and one who enjoyed the pope’s unreserved confidence and trust.


The young cardinal nephew was acclaimed by all. He was handsome and honest, discerning, sensible and sincere. His outward appearance was imposing, with a commanding presence, and normally not aloof, or over-bearing, though he could be arrogant and harsh, bordering on contemptuous, especially when humiliating and intimidating rivals. A splendid portrait by the artist Il Domenichino of Gregory XV and his nephew standing at his side does justice to them both. As cardinal nephew, Ludovico was expected to fulfil the functions of Secretary of State and principal minister for the pontiff. The archival collections of the Holy See record minutely the endless affairs that received attention on a daily basis, and a systematic survey of the papers of the Segreteria di Stato would reflect accurately the frenetic activity of Cardinal Ludovisi: the correspondence classified under Principi, Cardinali,Vescovi, Particolari, Soldati; the letters prepared by the two dependent Latin secretaries for the Brevia ad Principes and Litterae Latina; the highly important and fascinating interchange of despatches and reports between Rome and the papal nuncios ¡V a veritable labyrinth of history containing unexpected surprises.

Apparently, the cardinal conversed frankly and openly, without ostentation or exaggeration, and ambassadors delighted in dealing with such an apt, prudent statesman, able in the conduct of government affairs – talented, energetic, shrewd and skilful at finding a solution to the most intricate situations. He was meticulous and tireless in his application to work. This amiable, youthful prelate was endowed with a natural zest for politics. No wonder that Ludovico gained great influence with his uncle, whom he supplemented in the happiest fashion, for the nephew possessed abundantly the mental energy and strength that the ailing pontiff lacked, and injected fresh vigour into papal policy. Historians disagree only as how to apportion the merits for such far-reaching measures that encircled the globe and have endured the test of time. This does not mean that his position as cardinal nephew was not without criticism and setbacks, but a general assessment has always weighed heavily in his favour.

The secular political programme of the pontificate was dictated by the success or failure (depending upon which side one was aligned), of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), the outcome of which dominated European politics. The Holy See strove to foster harmony and unity between the Catholic powers in order to bring about a restoration of the Faith throughout Europe, and in that revival this short reign was of great consequence. Later, it contributed to the final disgrace of the cardinal nephew. After seemingly endless negotiations and counterproposals, the tormented regions of Bohemia and the Valtellina (which was of strategic geographical importance for defending the peace and quiet of Italy) were secured for the Catholic fold. Diplomatic relations with the foreign courts were maintained through the channels of eleven apostolic nunciatures.  No concordats, however, were ever stipulated by this pontiff with other governments.

In 1622, the Vatican Library received in donation from Maximilian I, duke of Bavaria, the fabulous library of Heidelberg, an endowment of very considerable importance. The Latin and Greek manuscripts alone numbered about two and a half thousand, the printed books almost twelve thousand. Gregory XV regarded this as one of the salient events of his pontificate. Technically, it was booty from the Thirty Years War and in many ways a quid pro quo, a form of compensation for the pope’s support of the Catholic duke’s candidacy for investiture by the Holy Roman emperor as elector of the Palatinate, a key move on the political chessboard of Europe at that time.


Life at the papal court was regulated by the liturgical calendar: the diaries of the masters of ceremonies paint a detailed picture of the ceremonies, all conducted according to a rigid protocol that covered matters such as order of precedence and seasonal modifications of official court dress. There were traditional annual para-liturgical rites, not belonging to the strictly sanctoral cycle, like the blessing of the lambs that provided wool for the pallium (the scarf-like insignia reserved to metropolitan archbishops), and the distribution of the coveted waxen tablets embossed with an image of the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), the tangible equivalent of the papal blessing to those who received one (21 January); the blessing and distribution of candles at Candlemas (2 February); the blessing and destination of the Golden Rose (on the fourth Sunday – Laetare Ierusalem  – in Lent); and the blessing and investiture with a ceremonial Sword and Hat, to be drawn in defence of the Faith (on Christmas Night): more exceptional occasions such as canonizations (in 1622), or consistories for the creation of cardinals (four promotions, for a total of eleven porporati, including Cardinal Armand Jean du Plessis Richelieu, prime minister of Louis XIII of France) – and Jubilee Years, that occurred every twenty-five years. There was also the diplomatic and secular aspect, the state visits of sovereigns and princes, of foreign ambassadors, their entertainment and hospitality, and lastly numerous popular holidays. Inevitably the lives of Gregory XV and his talented nephew were acted out against this rich backdrop, with due observance of the seemingly endless formalities of the occasions.

On 13 March 1622,  in one of the most splendid and meaningful ceremonies of its kind, the pope canonized Isidore of Spain (560-636) the patron of farmers; together with Teresa of Avila (1515-82), the reformer of the Carmelite order; Philip Neri (1515-95), founder of the Oratorians; Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Society of Jesus; and Francis Xavier (1506-52), the pioneer Jesuit missionary to India and Japan. It marked the culmination and the endorsement of the real reform and spiritual revival manifestly active within the Catholic Church. Hovering in the wings was the tantamount to omnipotent cardinal nephew, who considered the reality of individual personal sanctity to far outweigh the ritual formalities of proclamation. Gregory XV also has the great merit of fostering popular devotion among the faithful, inserting the feasts of St Anne (26 July) and St Joseph (19 March) into the universal calendar, to be observed annually throughout the entire Church, and especially he encouraged Marian devotion to the Immaculate Conception, although no dogmatic pronouncement was made on the matter, otherwise it would be included in Denzinger’s Enchiridion Symbolorum.


Within a short time of his singular promotion, Cardinal Ludovisi amassed a substantial fortune from the opulently lucrative benefices showered on him by his over-indulgent uncle, a patrimony which he used to his own advantage and that of his family. From the ancient Colonna family,who were deeply in debt, in 1622, he acquired the splendid palazzo adjacent to the basilica of the Ss. XII Apostoli at the very heart of Rome (sold back to them only a year later), and the duchy of Zagarolo, together with their ancestral territorial fiefs of Colonna and Gallicano, and Passerano, in the hinterland of Rome. These properties alone guaranteed him a revenue of over 25,000 scudi a year.

The cardinal ordered the restoration of existing prestigious villas, one at Frascati, purchased from the Altemps family, in August 1621, and another in Rome itself, on the slope of the Pincian hill, in the area just within the ancient city wall, near the Porta Pinciana, known in classical times as the horti Sallustiani IV the Gardens of Sallust ¡V commissioning the leading architects, such as Carlo Maderno (who designed the imposing facade of St Peter¡¦s), with their restructuring, and the finest artists of the day with their internal embellishment. The Roman villa and extensive garden were destined to house his growing collection of classical sculpture and priceless antiques, which included many items discovered on the site during the work of renovation, as well as purchases from other private collections, the most notable being that of Cardinal Bartolomeo Cesi. In a short time Ludovisi’s collection was renowned, unrivalled, one of the greatest testimonies to the grandeur of imperial Rome. An incomplete inventory of his possessions, drawn up only a few months after his death, lists, without counting bronzes and mere fragments, 216 statues, 94 heads and busts, 21 columns, 19 pedestals, 13 bas-reliefs, 11 tombstones, 4 sarcophagi, and 2 large basins.

The new parkland included everything expected of a seventeenth-century villa, with long straight walks, fountains and sculptures, planned and laid out by Il Domenichino, and ornate beds of rare imported flowers in the sunken private garden beside the lavishly equipped villa, while close to the Casino dell’Aurora there was a specially planted area of woodland. Several avenues converged on the highest vantage point of the estate from which there was a breathtaking view of the city. Not surprisingly, it was acclaimed as one of the glories of Rome, an oasis fit for gods and for poets. More importantly, was Galileo ever invited with his telescope to observe the clear night sky from this privileged location and expound to an enthralled audience his discoveries? The intellectual climate of Rome at that time with Ludovisi at its centre would not have ruled out such a possibility.

Although to general indignation Villa Ludovisi and its park were demolished in 1885, victims of ruthless land speculation, to make way for the frenetic urbanization of Rome as capital city of the modern kingdom of Italy, the collection of classical sculpture was acquired by the government, in 1901, and presently is exhibited fairly intact in the renaissance Palazzo Altemps (near Piazza Navona), a subsidiary of the Museo nazionale romano. In Room XV you will find the world-famous Ludovisi Throne, a rare example of early Greek sculpture at its best, dating from the fifth century before Christ; in the Sala delle Feste, the unusually fine marble bas-relief of hand-to-hand combat, still known as the Ludovisi Sarcophagus, together with many other valuable pieces from the original collection.

The election of the Bolognese cardinal-archbishop to the papacy signalled the influx of artists from the Romagna in search of patronage at the papal court: fortune smiled on those from the pope¡¦s birthplace. Il Domenichino, Guercino,Guido Reni,Agostino Tassi, Giovanni Lanfranco, all received commissions, and their works are there to be admired in numerous Roman churches and palaces. Needless to say, our young ecclesiastical Maecenas was the patron of the arts par excellence, much sought-after, and he assembled a gallery of masterpieces which ranked among the most valuable in Rome. It is difficult to tell what arose from personal taste and what may have been a simple desire for ostentation.

Works of art were given to him to ensure the donors his favour ¡V a noted example being the marble sculpture of Pluto carrying off Proserpine, an acclaimed masterpiece of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, which Scipione Borghese gave to his bitter rival Ludovisi, in a bid to secure the cardinal¡¦s good will. The cardinal engaged the romantic painter Guercino to decorate the Casino in his park. Bernini dined with him every Sunday evening, the sculptor¡¦s social graces and witty conversation being widely appreciated. Two inventories (compiled in 1623, and 1633) document the variety and richness of this art collection, which passed after the cardinal¡¦s death to his younger brother Niccolo, and regrettably was dispersed in the course of the century. Among the principal works were the Worship of Venus, the Baccanalia, and the Bacchus and Ariadne, three of Titian’s most characteristic paintings, which had made their way to Cardinal Ludovisi, in 1621, through his Aldobrandini connections. The collection was of inestimable value, comprising over three hundred canvases by other masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raffaello,Andrea del Sarto, Guido Reni, Caravaggio, to name the most renowned, many of which have subsequently entered the great collections like the Louvre in Paris, or the Prado in Madrid.


Despite a remarkable passion for art and antiquity, Ludovico Ludovisi was not a worldly pleasure-seeker, bent on acquiring wealth for its sake alone: he was a conscientious ecclesiastic who lived modestly and simply in private, except when ceremonial duties dictated what was expected of one of his rank and calling. But his love for the things of antiquity was genuine, and it inspired his building activity and the obvious pride he took in his collections, his desire to be surrounded by such beauty and share it with others. The cardinal¡¦s interest in the past produced at least one enduring beneficial effect: as camerlengo, he decreed that thenceforth the ruins of ancient Rome had not to be treated inconsiderately as mere quarries for building material, by attempting to put an end to centuries of abusive access to an inexhaustible source of excellent free marble and stone. He showed a personal interest in learning in a period of intellectual ferment, founding the Accademia dei Virtuosi, presiding over meetings with other prelates at the Quirinal to discuss questions of theology and biblical exegesis, especially concerning the Old Testament. It is consoling to learn that there was another face to this medallion: twice a day he had food distributed to the poor of Rome, and at the hospice near the Lateran 150 beds were maintained at his expense, which was calculated to have amounted to approximately 32,000 scudi annually.

Nor was the nephew the only family member to benefit from the uncle’s change of fortune. Like his predecessors, Gregory XV found it perfectly natural to invite the other members of his family to Rome, beginning with his elder brother, Count Orazio Ludovisi, and his wife Lavinia (the cardinal’s parents): they made a triumphal entry, on 13 March 1621,  escorted by six cardinals and the ambassadors of the imperial and the Spanish courts. The count was immediately promoted to the rank of Gonfaloniere di Santa Romana Chiesa (the pontifical standard-bearer) and given command of the papal militia. In addition he received the duchy of Fiano and the title that went with it, purchased for him from the Orsini for a mere 200,000 scudi. Later, he was assigned the formidable task of garrisoning with papal troops the fortresses of the Valtellina region, along the border between Italy and the Swiss Confederation (Treaty of Madrid, 14 February 1623), a strategy that did not resolve in the long term the local religious feuds between Catholics and Reformers. Shortly afterwards, Gregory XV died, leaving his successor in the papacy a thorny military and political legacy. Fortunately, the pope’s brother was a man of quiet and simple tastes, free from personal ambition, and made no attempt to meddle in government affairs.

The cardinal¡¦s younger brother Niccolo was made governor of Castel Sant’Angelo and of the area of the Borgo approaching the Vatican, and was promised in marriage to Isabella Gesualdo, the wealthy heiress of the prince of Venosa and Conza (24 April 1622). Notwithstanding their extreme youthfulness, he being only twelve years of age, she merely eleven, they were dispensed canonically and the marriage duly solemnized. Not surprisingly, it proved to be an unhappy union. After Isabella’s death (in 1629), he married Polissena Mendoza Appiani d’Aragona, hereditary princess of Piombino and Elba (d. 1643), and lastly, in 1644, Costanza Pamphilj, a niece of Pope Innocent X (1644-55), thereby uniting through marriage three papal families, the Aldobrandini, the Ludovisi and the Pamphilj. He became the secular head of his family, inheriting in due time the feudal lands recently acquired by his father and elder brother. By the time of his death (1664), he had been promoted viceroy of Sardinia. Their sister Ippolita married Giovanni Giorgio Aldobrandini, prince of Rossano, a grand-nephew of the late Pope Clement VIII, on 2 April 1621, who was immediately promoted prince of Meldola and duke of Sarsina.

A new family was introduced into the traditional Roman aristocracy, it being Gregory XV’s first concern to set up a nucleus of government comprising a basic familial core in line with the accepted political nepotism of the day. Nothing strange about that then, although alien to our way of thinking today. This pope, however, recognized the importance of debarring his relatives from any undue influence on politics, and fortunately his family as a whole had no leanings in that direction, with the exception of the cardinal nephew.


Cardinal Ludovico’s youthful energy and nimble intelligence account for the decisive spirit that characterized his uncle¡¦s few pontifical years, the memory of which is enshrined in a series of disciplinary, institutional and judicial measures that place the Bolognese pope on a par with other renowned papal legislators, and made a significant consolidation of the work of his predecessors. For instance, the much-needed rules Gregory XV enacted for conclaves in the Bull Aeterni Patris Filius (15  November 1621), and the more detailed provisions in the Bull Decet Romanum Pontificem (12 March 1622), resulted in an electoral codethat remained successfully in vigour for almost three hundred years, until supplanted by the reforms of Pius X, at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was on the earnest advice of the saintly Cardinal Robert Bellarmine that the new pope undertook to clarify the norms, as his own nephew testified in writing: ‘I particularly promised Cardinal Bellarmine, who is now at rest, and pledged him my word that I would employ all my authority and industry for the attainment of this result.’

The elaborate ceremonial, the electoral process behind closed doors, the formal arrangements for balloting, the validity of election upon obtaining a two-thirds majority of votes cast in a written secret ballot, or by compromise, or by acclamation, the formula of acceptance, the injunction against voting for oneself, were treated in turn and in detail with rigorous legal precision. Ludovico had gained first-hand experience of the workings of a conclave, when he accompanied his uncle as conclavista during those fateful days of 8-9 February 1621. The oath pronounced by each elector at the moment of depositing his vote: Testor Christum Dominum, qui me iudicaturus est, me eligere quem secundum Deum iudico elegi debere: ‘I call upon Christ our Lord as witness, Who will be my judge, I swear that I have chosen him whom I judge should be elected so help me God¡’, balanced nicely human choice and divine providence.

During his all too short pontificate, the ailing Pope Gregory XV could not have worked in isolation, he seems always to have worked in tandem ¡V in closest collaboration with his first minister, the cardinal nephew. Both were deeply aware of the immense responsibility that rested on those frail papal shoulders, and previous time should not be wasted. By far this pontiff’s greatest legacy was the institution of the new Congregation de Propaganda Fide – for the propagation of the Faith (now renamed ‘pro Gentium Evangelizatione’ for the evangelization of the peoples), with which inspired decision Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi was intimately involved.

The Sacred College shared the pope’s conviction that something exceptional had to be done to foster and support the missionary efforts in the Church. The 6 January 1622 is a seminal date, a veritable landmark in the history of the Catholic missions. Initially the explorative meetings, which began then, were presided over by the dean, Cardinal Antonio Maria Sauli, and the members of the nascent congregation comprising thirteen elite cardinals, assisted by two prelates and a secretary. Although not yet canonically instituted, the congregation already had full, free, entire responsibility, authority, and power to make, manage, treat, act, and carry out whatever was deemed opportune or necessary that its members might know and deal with each and every one of the affairs that related to spreading the faith throughout the entire world, and watch prudently over all the missions for the preaching and teaching of Catholic doctrine.

To that end these plenipotentiaries were to meet once a month in the presence of the pope and twice by themselves, in the residence of the senior member. Their preliminary deliberations culminated in the Apostolic Constitution Inscrutabili divinae providentiae, dated 22 June 1622, whereby Gregory XV gave lasting institutional form to previous measures by his predecessors. The congregation received generous financial endowment in order to guarantee the total gratuity of everything emanating from the newly created dicastery. One might trace those origins back to the special commissions of cardinals chosen by Pius V (1566-72), and Gregory XIII (1572-85), for the missions in the East and West Indies, for the Italo-Greeks, and the Congregatio Germanica (ÇbÇfÇhÇd), to care for ecclesiastical affairs in the predominantly Protestant areas of Europe. In fact, Clement VIII (1592-1605), had approved the institution of a Propaganda Fide congregation, in 1599, but after only a few years of activity it ceased to function.

This fresh attempt was dictated by that same, more urgently felt need to defend and spread the Catholic faith in a Europe drastically reduced by the defections to the Protestant reformers, by the revival of the Orthodox patriarchates in the East, by the ominous threat from the Ottoman Empire. Added to this, as if it were not already enough, was the daunting challenge presented by the recent discovery and colonization of the Americas, the opening of the maritime routes to Africa and the Far East, the expansion of the frontiers of the inhabited world, all of which offered extraordinary opportunities for evangelization and renewal throughout Europe and the continents of the New World.

Moreover, the new institution marked a decisive step in the extension of Roman centrality by creating the virtual headquarters of the Counter-Reformation, to guide and coordinate the Church¡¦s missionary commitment throughout the entire world. At its helm was Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi (who assumed the directional role of prefect as early as 12 November 1622, and retained it for over a decade, until his death on 18 November 1632), described as both potente and magnifico, and clearly the most powerful man in Rome after the sovereign pontiff himself.


On the evening of 8 July 1623, Gregory XV entered his final agony and breathed his last in the papal apartment at the Quirinal. Preparations began immediately for the conclave, under the direction of the camerlengo, Ippolito Aldobrandini, in sweltering heat that had a negative effect on the proceedings.

The fifty-five cardinal electors assembled in seclusion, on 19 July, and started the formal process of election which proved to be exceptionally difficult because ten succumbed to malaria, and one of the principal candidates became so ill that he was forced to retire. The contagious fever decimated the conclavists. Even the system of balloting went wrong, with papers not always corresponding to the number of voters. At last, after a full seventeen airless days of suffocating, exasperating voting, on 6 August 1623,Cardinal Maffeo Barberini received more than the required two-third majority of votes for his valid election and assumed the pontifical name of Urban VIII (1623-44).

The tide changed and Cardinal Ludovisi had to adapt to the mood of the new pontificate. He had been prepared for this by his uncle, probably during private conversations in those last months of life, as the pope¡¦s health declined and his inevitable demise drew near: he warned his nephew of the dangers he would encounter, advising him to be moderate, prudent, restrained, slow to play a leading role in the affairs of the Curia or in the sphere of politics. More easily said than implemented.

Although Ludovico Ludovisi had supported the candidacy of Cardinal Barberini in the protracted conclave and was instrumental in having him elected to the papacy, his own star was no longer in the ascendant, even if not immediately in eclipse. At the outset of the pontificate, in 1625, the new pope appointed him cardinal protector of Ireland. How inspired and providential that nomination has proved to be! However, he was no more the magnificent plenipotentiary cardinal nephew. In the first consistory, on 2 October 1623 Urban VIII created his own nephew, Francesco Barberini, cardinal deacon, with S. Onofrio as his titular church (vacated by the pope’ election), and at the same time assigned the Legation of Avignon to him, upon its being relinquished by Ludovisi, along with other curial offices. Already, exactly two months earlier, before his own uncle’s death, he had resigned from the prestigious office of camerlengo in favour of Ippolito Aldobrandini. It is interesting to note, however, that the newly elected pontiff confirmed him as vice-chancellor of the Holy Roman Church, as prefect of the all-competent Segreteria de’ Brevi, and as prefect of the Congregation of Propaganda, a key curial post which he retained until his death, a decade later. That prefecture was then conferred immediately (22 November 1632) on Antonio Barberini iunior (d. 1671), who held it for almost forty years, while all the numerous other benefices Ludovisi had accrued were distributed among the pope’s own relatives.

Between them initially, there may have been a rivalry of personalities, which is not surprising given that Cardinal Ludovisi had just stepped down from a pinnacle of power, which all admitted he had occupied so brilliantly, without diminishing his remarkably alert natural talents, but with an appreciable reduction in monetary income, inevitably reflected in his curtailed lifestyle. This even affected the scale of endowment he had originally destined for the Irish College. Already during the conclave the cardinals were divided into two opposing factions – those who supported the Hapsburg emperor and his Spanish ally, and those who tended towards the policies of France. The new pontiff, who owed his cardinal’s hat to the French monarch, Louis XIII, belonged to the latter, whereas Ludovisi, faithful to his late uncle’s policy of bolstering the Catholic powers, belonged to the former. Pope Urban VIII aimed at curbing Hapsburg influence, especially in Italy, by counterbalancing it with the rising power of France. Following this strategy, however, he found himself accused of betraying the Catholic cause in Europe at the precise moment when the armed forces of the Protestant king of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus (aided and abetted by his French ally Cardinal Richelieu), had reached the zenith of his victorious campaign against the armies of the Catholic emperor.

Reservations about the shift in papal politics were voiced frequently by members of the Sacred College, who were becoming increasingly harsher in their criticism, indeed even to the point of tabling a motion of censure with a threat of deposition, if necessary by convoking a general council. Tension between the pope and the intransigent Spanish partisans came to a head during a consistory, on 8 March 1632, when Cardinal Gaspare Borgia, representing the   interests of the king of Spain, openly accused Urban VIII of favouring the heretics, to the detriment of the Catholic religion. The pope ordered him to be silent, otherwise he would depose him: the cardinal refused to desist and be muzzled, with the meeting ending in a scuffle, when the attendants were summonsed to intervene. Borgia had dominated the consistory and isolated the pontiff, and was supported by all the cardinals of his party – Ludovisi, Albornoz, Colonna, Doria, Sandoval, Spinola and Ubaldini. Immediately, news of the scandal went the rounds of the chancelleries of Europe.

There was another clash between the pope and the Spanish cardinal, on 11March, in the course of a routine meeting of the Holy Office. Then, 17 March, the Barberini pope took his revenge on Ludovico Ludovisi, Ippolito Aldobrandini and Roberto Ubaldini, considered to be extremist pro-Spanish accomplices, who were ordered to depart from Rome. Victim of these dramatic circumstances, our cardinal retired from the Curia and returned to his archdiocese, the obligation of residence being applied ad personam, where eight months later he died prematurely, at the early age of only thirty-seven, worn out by gout from which he had suffered acutely for many years.

In hindsight, this enforced exile may have been providential. Shortly afterwards, in the following year, 1633, Pope Urban VIII became deeply embroiled in the cause celebre of the century ¡V the trial and condemnation of Galileo, by which time Cardinal Ludovisi himself was dead. It would be interesting to conjecture what stance his eminence might have taken in that vexed controversy, given his strong attachment to the Jesuits of the Collegio Romano, who found themselves at the very heart of the matter. The professor in the chair of astronomy had this to say: ‘If Galileo had known how to retain the affection of the Fathers of this College, he would have lived gloriously before the world, and none of his misfortunes would have happened, and he would have been able to write as he chose about everything, including the motion of the earth.’ Being infatuated by his own genius and disdainful of his peers, clearly he contributed to his own downfall.


From its outset, the new Congregation of Propaganda directed particular attention to the colleges and educational institutions, both in Rome and extra Urbem. A special commission was named with responsibility for the national colleges flourishing in the Eternal City – the German (1573), Hungarian (1579), English (1579), Maronite (1584), Greek (1585), Armenian (1585), and Scots (1600) – which preceded a canonical visitation of all these national institutions at the express order of the Roman Pontiff. It was precisely in this context that Cardinal Ludovisi became involved in the affairs of the Church in Ireland, and later, as cardinal protector of the Irish nation, personally promoted the founding of the Irish College.

This is narrated with charming simplicity in the Fundatio et Progressus Collegii Ludovisiani Hibernorum de Urbe, recently translated and published in a splendid edition, Albert McDonnell (ed.), The Irish College Rome, 1628-1678 (Rome, 2003), quoted here:

This seminary is called ‘Ludovisian’ after its founder, for the same reason that the other colleges of foreign nations in Rome are called ‘pontifical’: for they were established for the propagation of the faith by the Supreme Pontiffs (and indeed almost all of them by Gregory XIII), so for the same end the Irish College was founded through the munificence of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, nephew of Gregory XV. The Ludovisian College therefore has in common with the pontifical colleges the same raison d’tre, that of the mission (for the students promise on oath to embrace the ecclesiastical life and go to the mission in Ireland). Nevertheless, it does not share the same burdens that the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith decreed a few years ago to be imposed on the pontifical colleges and also because without them (as experience shows) the college advances no less successfully towards its mission, and perhaps is given a direction more closely in accordance with the intention of its founder.

The narrator digresses at this point to explain why Pope Gregory XIII or his immediate successors did not establish a college for the Irish, but then continues with his account: ’Moreover, none of the succeeding Popes turned his attention to the founding of a college for the Irish, whereby the outstanding zeal of Cardinal Ludovisi found an open field through which to extend his fervour to the furthermost boundaries of Europe.’ The narration of the Fundatio becomes more fascinating as it unfolds:

The founding of the college happened in this way. After the death of Gregory X, his successor Urban VIII obtained for Cardinal Ludovisi the title, Protector of Ireland, which he accepted as much as an act of kindness as an auspicious sign for Ireland. Afterwards, the magnanimous and generous Prince, not wishing to be the bearer of an empty title but to perform a deed worthy of his resolve, immediately began to think about a way of giving substance to his role and of proving his zeal to Ireland by means of a great and everlasting act of generosity. For some time he hesitated, undecided as to the many ideas running through his mind, until Father Luke Wadding, an Irish Franciscan and a very dear friend of the Cardinal, suggested a project, which by giving reasons he convinced him was most worthy of the Cardinal¡¦s munificence, advantageous to the Irish above all other undertakings, and by his efforts would be extensive and long-lasting, namely, the establishment of a seminary in Rome to educate the Irish youth for the purpose of the mission. The Cardinal agreed immediately to the advice of this prudent man, not just because of his influential authority, but also because of the added weight of the reasons he offered. For the Cardinal readily appreciated that hardly anything could be thought of more suitable than that type of beneficial act which he saw would help all the provinces of Ireland and people of every class. It would be the type of benefit that would be unsurpassed and would endure through the ages, so long as the Irish, inhabiting such a far-off place in the world ,would be forever able to draw through it the salvation of their souls and the purity of Catholic truth from that font of orthodox religion, Rome.

How prophetic these words have become!

The Cardinal was pleased to tackle the project straightaway. A search was made for Irish youths suitable for so great a purpose who, clearly desiring to devote themselves to the ecclesiastical life and sacrifice for the good of their homeland, might be gathered in a new seminary to be immersed in learning and spirituality. Six were chosen first of all from those present in the English College, to be maintained at the Cardinal’s own expense until such time as their own house could be acquired, while the other two were placed in another suitable location.

Many additional details that follow in the first chapter of the Fundatio are not of immediate interest for this profile of Ludovico Ludovisi, but some are:

In order to establish some key points of discipline, the Cardinal entrusted to Father Luke Wadding the task of composing suitable rules for the institute and the regulations to be observed henceforth in the college. Father Luke dealt with this task in a few chapters, which were approved by the Cardinal as the first constitutions of the college and presented to the students in a solemn ceremony on the very first day the college began.

So, the co-founder seems to have taken a personal interest in the daily life of the college and for which he deserves full praise.

At any rate, it is well-established that Cardinal Ludovisi, a Prince of lofty mind, was so impressed by these fruitful beginnings that he intended to leave this college extended in size and no stranger to his munificence. However, the untimely death of the Prince (which occurred in the sixth year after the college’s foundation) and the adverse misfortunes of his last years, with which he was troubled after the earlier years of Urban VIII, diminished in no small way these great hopes.

From the beginning until the death of our founder, the college occupied a rented house. No revenue was yet granted to the college except for a payment of 600 scudi which was provided each year from the Cardinal’s property. From that sum, the cost of the rent of the house had to be paid, as was the upkeep of the Rector, six students and one lay servant. When the Cardinal was near death, although he was not in a position to carry out the lofty plan he had in mind, he did not however want to leave the standing of the college precarious and without a solid foundation. Therefore, on top of the annual payment of 600 scudi, he added another 400, thus making 1,000 scudi, and wished his heirs to be obligated to pay this sum in perpetuity and in addition to purchase a suitable building for the college. Furthermore, he left to the college a splendid property which he possessed in the countryside of Castelgandolfo, a place twelve miles distant from Rome.

Ludovico Ludovisi expired at Bologna on 18 November 1632:

Following the death of our eminent founder, his brother and heir Niccolò Ludovisi, Prince of Venosa and Piombino, in fulfilment of the will immediately bought a building for the college, the one that is situated in the vicinity of Saint Isidore’s, which up until then the college had rented. The Prince immediately began to provide the annual payment and showed himself ready to pay it in perpetuity.The above-mentioned property was also handed over. After these transactions, it was reckoned that nothing in the will relating to the college had been left unfulfilled.

So, the indebtedness of the college to the Ludovisi family was indeed very great. Only one matter had yet to be resolved.

Nonetheless, there still remained one clause that had not been fulfilled at all. In this clause our founder indicated that he wanted the management of the college to be totally entrusted to the priests of the Society of Jesus. Father Wadding found this difficult to accept; conscious of the love and care with which he had helped to establish the college, he did not think that he should be seen to withdraw from the maintenance of the same college. Hence he tried by various interpretations to attach a different meaning to our founder’s intention. Since however his intention had been too clearly ascertained from the words of the will, the judge, after deliberating over the case for some time, decided in favour of the Jesuits. At this point the college, along with the house, the above-mentioned property and 1,000 scudi in revenue, was in the end handed over to the Jesuits on 8 February 1635, two years after the death of the Cardinal, eight since its foundation.

Given the strong bonds of affection and esteem that existed between Cardinal Ludovisi and the Society of Jesus from adolescence, as an alumnus, until his sad demise, there was nothing strange in his choice of the Jesuits as mentors for the new foundation: it was a clear sign that he desired the best for the formation of Irish seminarians. One can also understand the initial dismay of the native Irish Franciscan, Father Luke Wadding, at this unwarranted diminutio capitis in his regard, albeit unwittingly, by his former friend Cardinal Ludovisi, a human reaction in which we all must share. What is remarkable is how, what was unforeseeable then, has been resolved happily in that Ludovisi and Wadding are honoured equally as co-founders of the Irish College, which was so close to both hearts: then and now and forever cor ad cor loquitur!


Whilst the Villa Ludovisi on the Pincio is remembered in Rome only by the name of the street at right angles with Via Vittorio Veneto, the magnificent baroque church of St Ignatius bears eloquent witness, even to this day, to the pietas of the wealthy papal nephew. It was at the suggestion of his uncle

Gregory XV that Cardinal Ludovisi planned the construction of this vast edifice on the site of the ancient temple of Isis in imperial Rome, to provide the Collegio Romano with an adequate university church, one that is still unsurpassed in grandeur and beauty.

The Roman college was one of the most successful initiatives of St Ignatius Loyola, founded in 1551 as a school of grammar, humanities and Christian doctrine, free of charge. Soon it became one of the most effective institutions within the Church for the realization of the spiritual restoration invoked by the Council of Trent, since so much depended on the higher education of the young under the direction of capable and well instructed teachers. It became the model for countless other junior and senior schools and universities maintained by the Jesuits, and the centre for the philosophical and theological training of the Catholic clergy, both secular and religious, throughout the world.

In order to make it as large and suitable for such an ambitious purpose, Pope Gregory XIII (1572-85) financed the construction of the southern part of the university on a grandiose scale to accommodate the two thousand students, drawn from many nations, who entered its portals every day. This sovereign act

is immortalized by the lapidary inscription at the centre of the facade:





Among those students was Alessandro Ludovisi (the future Pope Gregory XV), who remained deeply attached to his alma mater and ever grateful for the formation he had received there, as is witnessed by the fact that as pope he canonized the Jesuit founder, in 1622, and encouraged his nephew Ludovico to raise a temple in his honour.

Cardinal Ludovisi accepted the challenge with characteristic enthusiasm. Several architects were invited to submit plans: the project finally accepted was designed by Jesuit Father Orazio Grassi, professor of Mathematics at the Collegio itself. Before work could begin the terrain had to be cleared and finally, on 2

August 1626, the foundation stone was laid. The construction proceeded fairly rapidly, but later delays became exasperating and it seemed that the building would never be completed. Probably the cardinal had intended to see the church finished by 1640, to mark the first centenary of the foundation of the Society of Jesus (27 September 1540), but, alas, his premature death, 1632, deprived him the satisfaction of his dream becoming true. For the completion of this splendid sacred edifice, however, he set aside a generous endowment of 200,000 scudi in his last testament, so the work continued after his death under the patronage of his younger brother Niccolo, prince of Piombino and Venosa, and so it could be opened for worship on the occasion of the Holy Year of 1650.

The rich embellishment of the interior was added at various stages (the magnificent frescoed ceiling, an apotheosis of Ignatius Loyola and of the Order he founded, the masterpiece by Jesuit lay-brother Andrea Pozzo, was inaugurated in 1694), and the church was solemnly consecrated by Cardinal Anton Felice Zondadari Chigi, on 17 May 1722,with a display of pomp rarely seen. Appropriately, the bodies of two Jesuit scholastics, St Aloysius Gonzaga (1568-91) and St John Berchmans (1599-1621), are venerated in this university church, together with those of a former rector, St Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), and Father Felice Cappello (1879-1962) and Cardinal Paolo Dezza (1901-99), former professors of the Pontifical Gregorian University, which is the continuation in modern times of the original Ignatian foundation.

Acclaimed as one of the glories of Christian Rome, it is truly fitting that both uncle and nephew, Pope Gregory and Cardinal Ludovico should now share the same resting place within the church of St Ignatius in an imposing sepulchralmonument that enshrines their mortal remains. It dominates the Boncompagni family mortuary chapel which is located to the left of the imposing altar-shrine of St Aloysius Gonzaga, beyond the transept. It is the work of two of Bernini’s pupils, the French sculptors Pierre Le Gros and Pierre Etienne Monnot. Gregory XV is represented enthroned in the act of imparting the Apostolic Blessing, supported by carved figures of Faith and Munificence, the surrounding canopy and ornate marble drapery upheld by trumpeting angels. On his marble sarcophagus the simple identification: ‘GREGORIVS XV PONT MAX’. On the pedestal supporting his statue, almost hidden from view, is the Latin phrase in gold lettering:




Placed on a level below that of the pontiff is the sepulchral urn inscribed: ‘LVDOVICUS CARD. LVDOVISIVS’, surmounted by a fine marble bas-relief portrait of the cardinal in profile, that brings out nicely his handsome features, within an oval frame flanked by cherubs, but is bereft of any form of laudatory epitaph.

The arms of the Ludovisi family are somewhat unusual in heraldry. Generally they are described as: Di rosso, a tre bende scorciate d’oro, moventi dal capo – Gules,three bends or retraits in chief. Probably the original form was: Gules, a chief bendy or and gules. Gregory XV’s arms are found on his coins and official publications, and in an elegant version on the bindings of certain codices of the Vatican Library. They feature above his sepulchral monument in the church of St Ignatius. In the Vatican they are to be found only in the ceiling of the choir chapel of St Peter¡¦s Basilica. As cardinal, Ludovico Ludovisi adopted identical arms to those of his uncle. They adorn the triangular pediment crowning the facade of the church of St Ignatius, with the dedicatory inscription occupying the principal lower entablature: ‘IGNATIO SOC. IESV FVNDATORI LVD. CARD. LVDOVISIVS S.R.E. VICECANCELLAR.A. DOM. MDCXXVI’.

In the interior above the central portal, these arms are repeated in conjunction with the fuller inscription:











The arms of the cardinal and of other members of the Ludovisi family figure in the frieze below the cornice surrounding the nave of the church. During the sede vacante of 1623, as camerlengo, he would have had the right to mint issues of coins and medals bearing his arms, but for the fact that he had relinquished that office in favour of Ippolito Aldobrandini, on 7 June, exactly one month before the death of his uncle. The Fundatio relates a curious personal interpretation of the cardinal’s arms:

When the college had been completed by him, he provided to those who were eager to show some sign of their gratitude the occasion for interpreting his family crest (which contains the outlines of three rivers) in accordance with that sentence of Isaiah (uttered as if for this reason), ‘I shall extend the rivers to the islands’, that is, the river of providence, the river of love and the river of kindness. By means of these, the protection of Ludovisi made Ireland more fertile for bearing the divine seed than even the Nile fertilises Egypt.

The upper facade of the modern Palazzo Regina Margherita in Via Veneto (original site of the palazzo grande of Villa Ludovisi, actually the embassy of the United States of America to the Italian Republic) combines the heraldic charges of the Boncompagni-Ludovisi family to whom it formerly belonged as a residence.

When all is said and done, therefore, it does not seem so outlandish to ascribe to Cardinal Ludovisi, co-founder of the Irish College, the epitaph for Sir Christopher Wren: ‘If searching for his monument, look around you.’ The enduring fabric of this College is formed of living stones, bonding together in a common noble purpose the hearts and minds of the best of Irish youth, their dreams and endeavours, their achievements, hopes, and disappointments. It is a most fitting monument to such a princely founder and would correspond exactly to his lofty aspirations, almost certainly it would be the one of his preference. This was the benefit that he envisaged as cardinal protector of Ireland, one that would remain unsurpassed and endure through the ages.

Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi – a churchman of honour and renown. Ludovisian – the designation of which his College can forever be proud!

Circumspicite, circumspicite!

Dáire Keogh & Albert McDonnell The Irish College, Rome and its World (Dublin 2008) pp 24 – 44.