Pope Urban VIII – Maffeo Barberini

Pope Urban VIII – Maffeo Barberini
Papa Urbano VIII Pietro da Cortona, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Pope Urban VIII – Maffeo Barberini

Born in Florence in 1568 to a rich cloth merchant, the future Pope Urban VIII, born Maffeo Barberini, is the most illustrious member of the family that takes its name from the town of Barberino val d’Elsa.

The Barberini family had become very powerful and influential in Florence thanks to its trade and for some generations, it had also expanded its influence in Rome, so much so that the future Pope Urban could study in both cities.
He took the ecclesiastical path from an early age and, once ordained a priest, his career in the Church was very rapid: in two years he became first a bishop and then cardinal.

The change in the heraldic coat of arms of the Barberini family is also due to him and to the role he held: three golden bees replaced, against the blue background, the less noble gadflies, linked to the birthplace of the family, just outside the town of Barberino.
This change was not painless, once he became pope so that this family secret did not affect the image of the Pope, stonemasons were sent to Florence and the province to eliminate all the old stone coats of arms. One, however, seems to have been saved and the unexpected story is told within the narrated Barberino Nascosta path, dedicated to the mysteries of the Valdelsano village.

Urban VIII is also famous because during his papacy the trial of Galileo Galilei and his heliocentric theories took place. It should be noted that Galileo from Pisa found himself facing a pope also of Tuscan origins and, even more so, Galileo himself had stayed and taught at the Monastery of Passignano, not far from Barberino.

As the local historian Bruno Rinaldi points out: “The extraordinary thing is that the ancestors of Galileo, the urban pope and Boccaccio were all born in the land of Semifonte”.

The papacy of Urban VIII is also emblematic for the shrewdness with which he had part of some ancient Roman buildings (eg the Colosseum) destroyed to have the bricks necessary for the buildings he intended to build, to the point that the Romans coined the saying: “What the barbarians did not do, the Barberini did “.

Pope Barberini also appears in some fictional works: for example, he is the reigning pope during the events recounted in Manzoni’s “I promessi sposi” (The Betrothed).

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