Profile of Sixtus V

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Profile of Sixtus V

The fourth of seven children, Felice Peretti was born on December 13, 1521 in Grottammare

in today’s province of Ascoli Piceno, to Mariana, native of Camerino, and Piergentile, a Montaltese citizen banished for political reasons the day following the war between the Duchy of Urbino and Pope Leo X. In the town of his father’s exile, Felice had a poor childhood, which he later recalls making no secret of his satisfaction in “having been in the countryside leaving the pigs grazing, cutting wood, collecting chicory in the forest, and hoeing the garden.” Thanks to his quick wit, when he was seven years old, Felice was taken into the care of Brother Salvatore Ricci, his maternal uncle, who introduced him to the novitiate at the Order of Friars Minor Conventual of Saint Francis at Fratte in Montalto. Here he successfully completed public school, taking his vows in 1536.

Once he completed a three-year course in philosophy travelling between Fermo, Pesaro, Jesi and Roccacontrada, on September 1, 1540 he went to the theology institute of Ferrara to complete his training. Three years later he was transferred first to Bologna then to Rimini as a baccalaureate in the local convent, then moved to Siena where he was ordained a priest in 1547. Cardinal Rodolfo Pio da Carpi entrusted him with the role of regent of the convent theology studio of Siena (1549), where he was entrusted with the same role in Naples from 1553 – 1556, until he came to Rome in 1556 at the request of Pope Julius III who appointed him theologian at the Preparatory Committee of the Council of Trent.

In this same year, the General Chapter of Brescia sent him to Venice with the task of governing the convent of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari to end the serious disagreements that had arisen some time before. At the same time, Cardinal Carpi entrusted him with the task of inquisitor for the city and for the Dominio Veneto, a role that he accomplished with tenacity despite the many attempts of resistance by the Most Serene Republic of Venice. Also thanks to this severe reformation work, and in line with the precepts that the Council of Trent was elaborating in those years, Brother Felice was called back to Rome and was sent to Spain to conclude the trial against the Archbishop of Toledo Bartolomé Carranza.

Upon his return, the new pontiff Pius V (1566 – 1572), his friend and protector, appointed him Vicar General of the Order, thereby the Bishop of Sant’Agata dei Goti, and on May 18, 1570 he was made Cardinal with the title of San Girolamo degli Schiavoni. From this moment on he became known as Cardinal Montalto, carrying a name that recalled his homeland in the Marche, with which he took up relations again from 1571 to 1577 as regent of the Archbishop seat of Fermo.

The pontificate of Gregory XIII Boncompagni (1572 – 1585), disliked by the clergy and a personal enemy of Peretti, was a period of disgrace in which our Felice, excluded from all duties, was forced to withdraw to his Roman villa where he dedicated himself to rereading the writings by the Fathers of the Church and to building structures. Once Pope Gregory died, he participated in the conclave of April 21, 1585, from which he left three days later as Pope Sixtus V.

The five years of rule that followed were some of the most intense and memorable of the history of his papacy. The resolute determination of the pontiff and the rigorous observation of the Tridentine precepts brought him, first of all, to reform the order of the Pontificate State, establishing a fixed number for the Holy College at seventy and increasing the congregations of the cardinals. He dedicated himself with extraordinary efficiency to the repression of banditry that was then raging also in Urbe, by promulgating severe laws against wrongdoers and those who were protected or favored by them. He reorganized the state finances and succeeded in accumulating an extraordinary fortune in the Treasury of Castel Sant’Angelo, earning him the fame as the richest sovereign of Europe, assuring prosperity for the Church until the Napoleonic era. He took up the task of supplying the State with both water resources and food, channeling water to Urbe hereafter called “Felice Water.” He also attempted to empty the Pontine Marshes in order to promote agriculture and to free the population from malaria.

His patronage activities were very important, through which he noticeably reinforced the image of the papacy, restoring to Rome an aspect of a modern capital. To this aim, he entrusted the architect Domenico Fontana with the task of fixing the roadways to connect the main basilicas, marking each with an obelisk erected in the corresponding square. Many important construction projects were carried out by the pontiff including the Lateran Palace, the Sistine Chapel of Santa Maria Maggiore, and the protective encasement of the Scala Sancta or Holy Stairs. Pope Sixtus brought to completion also work on the Quirinal Palace, where he placed the Roman statues of “Dioscuri” or “Castor and Pollux”, coming from the Baths of Constantine at the sides of one fountain of Felice Water.

His intense efforts to increase the stability and magnificence of the Church did not keep the pontiff from also favoring his native Marche whenever he could. He promoted public works and promoted the cities of Camerino, Tolentino, San Severino, Loreto and Montalto to Diocesan seat. He died on August 27, 1590 in the Quirinal Palace, which would then become the habitual residence of the supreme pontiffs. After reigning for only five years, he succeeded in notably modifying the political-economic structure of the State and the face of Rome.



The dispute between Montalto and Grottammare about the place and birth of Sixtus V has very remote origins that go back to the XVII century. However, it is by now established that Felice Peretti (the name of Sixtus V before his pontificate) was born in Grottammare in December 1521 to a family of ancient Montaltese origins. Therefore, this was a fortuitous birthplace due to the fact his parents fled their homeland following the war between Leo X and the Duke of Urbino.

As Cardinale, Peretti had already honored his “dearest homeland” of Montalto with the foundation of a school and other donations, but his attentions increased when he became Pope in 1585. He granted them sums of money and the right to directly nominate the Podestà; he allowed free commerce as well as exemption from taxes. In 1586 he went so far as to donate a very precious reliquary, a work of a very capable goldsmith craftsman from a Parisian school that is today conserved in the local museum. After having elevated Montalto to the status of city and Diocese, he granted them the privilege of being the legal and administrative center of the Presidiato (small province directly dependent on Rome) until founding a mint that autonomously produced coins.

Grottammare was also honored, the city of his birth. Upon being elected Pope, Sixtus V wanted to build a public school there to allow students to directly pass into studies of medicine, law and philosophy. Later, he granted two young students from Grottammare a position in the Collegio Montalto in Bologna and then created a Grain bank and a pawnshop. Near the great building works of Montalto, Sixtus V wanted to erect a church dedicated to S. Lucia (his birthday) in his birthplace and commissioned the architect Domenico Fontana. The Pope gave particular importance to the construction of the church as can be seen by the precious furnishings it hosts, including a chalice and vestments. Unfortunately, the death of Sixtus V came on August 23, 1590 when the church had just began construction, and therefore it was his sister, Camilla, who brought the work to completion in 1595, spending more than 25,000 Italian scudi. A few years afterwards, the church was elevated to the rank of Collegiate Church by Clement VIII.


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