95 Theses in 59 Instalments – 2. Pope Julius II
Pope Julius II was pope while Martin Luther was making his bargain with St Anne in 1505. Some say that Pope Julius had a golden suit of armour. Whether or not this is true doesn’t change the fact that he was never happier than wearing armour and standing on a battlefield, modelling himself on a previous inhabitant of Rome, Julius Caesar. It is surprising that these were deemed suitable attributes to be pope, but then again his election was something of a stitch up. He’d been made a cardinal by his uncle, Pope Sixtus IV, keen to promote members of his own Della Rovere family.
In the 1500s, being pope was as much about dynastic politics, personal patronage and international diplomacy as anything else. The Pope wasn’t just the head of the Church, but Prince of the Papal States at a time when everything in Italy was up for grabs, and armies marched about in what is known as The Italian Wars. Julius enjoyed getting involved, just one of the things for which the satirist Erasmus criticised him. (More on Erasmus in due course).
What Pope Julius II really wanted, however, was a tomb big enough to house his entire ego. That would take a lot of marble. In 1505, he commissioned Michelangelo to make a start. It took him forty years and was finished decades after Julius’s death in 1513. To be fair to Michelangelo he was distracted by painting the roof of the Sistine Chapel, which took four years. And then he had to rebuild St Peter’s Basilica after the previous one was starting to show signs of wear and tear.
Julius, never bothered by self-doubt, decided he should be the one to tear down the old one and build something bigger and better than ever. This is relevant to our story because buildings like basilicas were not cheap. Funds were needed. Enter Johann Tetzel.
To find out more about the Reformation - with jokes - why not seek out a performance of a Monk's Tale.