The Legacy of Pope Alexander VI

“..the history of Alexander VI as it has reached us is a tissue of inaccuracies, extraordinarily easy to disprove the moment recourse is had to contemporary documents in a spirit of sane criticism.” [1]

“Surely the very statement of the simple facts and dates might suffice to dispose of the foul calumny, just as perjured testimony is destroyed in the courts by a few searching questions: and like most perjured witnesses, the calumniators of Alexander went too far, proved too much, overshot their mark, and have destroyed their own credibility.” [2]

In this series, I have recalled many wondrous works of Alexander. Here are, in no particular order, five other notable things:

1. He defended the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, well before Pope Pius IX proclaimed it as dogma. He also promoted devotion to St. Anne, the Virgin’s own mother, and granted the Dominicans the right to establish confraternities of the Rosary. [3] This is not surprising, because of his intense devotion to the Theotokos; he would often exhort his children to “pray diligently to the Madonna”. [4]

2. He ordered and supervised the creation of his master of ceremonies’, Johann Burchard’s, improved rubrics and Ordo, setting in place some liturgical reform and regularizing just prior to that of Pope St. Pius V. [5] [6] In this vein, he also codified Jubilee celebrations, with the utmost magnificence, and he instituted the daily three-fold recitation of the Angelus. [7]

3. He was the first to suggest forbidding the printing of books without an imprimatur. [8] He wrote, in Inter Multiplices (1501), “The art of printing can be of great service in so far as it furthers the circulation of useful and tested books; but it can bring about serious evils if it is permitted to widen the influence of pernicious works. It will, therefore, be necessary to maintain full control over the printers so that they may be prevented from bringing into print writings which are antagonistic to the Catholic faith or which are likely to cause trouble to believers.” [9]

4. He was a major patron of beauty. He repaired and refurbished churches, [10] built up musical industry, [11] and commissioned artists such as Pinturicchio.

5. He was extremely talented at discipline and canon law. “[A]t leaving school, he was honored with an unusual title, graduating not simply as Doctor of Law, but as ‘[t]he most eminent and judicious jurisprudent'”. [12] He wrote “several learned works” in this field. [13] He vociferously tackled laxity and abuses (of doctrine and of practice), even as Archbishop of Valencia. [14] From Rome, he tried to quash the violations then prevalent in Venice and elsewhere. [15]

Alexander survived death twice, in 1500. First, a large piece of iron fell and almost struck him in the Basilica [16] – then, the next day (29 June, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul), a roof caved in on him, at his throne. [17] He just kept working, but he was nevertheless taken from earth in 1503.

After his death, an oration given by Bishop Alexius Celadonius declared that, “He had such a sharp and shrewd wit as to aid not only those before his pontificate but also those after his time”. [18] And, “Alexander was a very successful man and generally healthy – not weak, not feeble, but full of hope and understanding of the many things which could be accomplished”. [19]

Perhaps, though, Alexander’s greatest legacy resides in the canonization of his great-grandson, St. Francis Borgia.

Alexander – savior of Rome, unifier of Italy, father of Europe, evangelist of the Americas, defender of the Church, blasphemabitur reformator – pray for us.


1. Ferrara, quoted by N. M. Gwynne, p. 17

2. The Dublin Review, p. 341

3. von Pastor, Vol. 6, p. 143-146

4. Mathew, p. 90

5. Abp. Piero Marini, Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, The Magistri Cæremoniarum (

6. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1910), Liturgical Books (

7. de la Bedoyere, p. 91-92

8. Coulombe, p. 338

9. George Haven Putnam, The Censorship of the Church of Rome, Vol. 1 (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1906), p. 80-81

10. Mathew, p. 389

11. Robb

12. de Roo, Vol. 2, p. 29

13. de Roo, Vol. 5, p. 262

14. de Roo, Vol. 2, p. 94-102

15. von Pastor, Vol. 5 (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Co., 1898), p. 334-336

16. Mathew, p. 279

17. Hibbert, p. 160-161

18. The English Historical Review, Vol. VII, 1892, p. 311-314 (Quote: Ingenio quidem tam acri et callido fuit ut et alios ante se ad pontificatum iuverit et post modum se quoque ipse)

19. The English Historical Review (Quote: Ecce Alexandrum tam prospera valetudine in toto corpore hominem non imbecillem non decrepitum sed longioris vitae spe plenum eaque animo concipientem vel gerentem quae vix annis pluribus compleri potuissent)

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One comment on “The Legacy of Pope Alexander VI
  1. donadrian says:

    Absolutely fascinating. Thank you for this series.

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