Today is the birthday (1502) of Ugo Boncompagni who became pope Gregory XIII in 1572. He is best known for commissioning his namesake Gregorian calendar, but his influence in his day was much more widespread. Remember, his lifespan covered the major upheaval in Europe of the Protestant Reformation.
Gregory was the son of Cristoforo Boncompagni (1470 – 1546) and Angela Marescalchi, born in Bologna, where he studied law, graduating in 1530. Later he taught jurisprudence for some years. He had an illegitimate son, Giacomo, after an affair with Maddalena Fulchini, before he took holy orders. At the age of 36 he was summoned to Rome by Pope Paul III (1534–1549), under whom he held successive appointments as first judge of the capital, abbreviator, and vice-chancellor of the Campagna. Pope Paul IV (1555–1559) attached him as datarius to the suite of cardinal Carlo Carafa, Pope Pius IV (1559–1565) made him cardinal-priest of San Sisto Vecchio basilica and sent him to the Council of Trent, which met from 1545 to 1563 to address the crisis in the Catholic church created by the Protestant Reformation and to launch the Counter Reformation.
He also served as a legate to Philip II of Spain (1556–1598), being sent by the Pope to investigate the cardinal of Toledo. It was there that he formed a lasting and close relationship with Philip, which was to become a key component of his foreign policy as Pope, especially in his dealings with England and Ireland.
Upon the death of Pius V (1566–1572), the conclave chose Boncompagni as pope, who assumed the name of Gregory XIII in homage to the great reforming Pope, Gregory I (590–604), surnamed the Great. It was a very brief conclave, lasting less than 24 hours. Many historians have attributed this to the influence and backing of the Spanish king. Gregory XIII’s character seemed to be perfect for the needs of the church at the time. Unlike some of his predecessors, he was to lead a faultless personal life, becoming a model of simplicity. Additionally, his legal brilliance and management abilities meant that he was able to respond and deal with major problems quickly and decisively, although not always successfully.
Once he came pope, Gregory XIII’s rather worldly concerns became secondary and he dedicated himself to reform of the Catholic Church. He committed himself to putting into practice the recommendations of the Council of Trent. He allowed no exceptions for cardinals to the rule that bishops must take up residence in their sees, and designated a committee to update the Index of Forbidden Books. He was the patron of a new and greatly improved edition of the Corpus juris canonici. In a time of considerable centralization of power, Gregory XIII abolished the consistories of cardinals, replacing them with colleges, and appointing specific tasks for these colleges to work on. He was renowned for having a fierce independence; some confidants noted that he neither welcomed interventions nor sought advice. The power of the papacy increased under him, whereas the influence and power of the cardinals substantially decreased.
A central part of the strategy of Gregory XIII’s reform was to apply the recommendations of Trent. He was a liberal patron of the recently formed Society of Jesus throughout Europe, for which he founded many new colleges. The Roman College of the Jesuits grew substantially under his patronage, and became the most important center of learning in Europe for a time. It is now named the Pontifical Gregorian University. Pope Gregory XIII also founded numerous seminaries for training priests, beginning with the German College at Rome, and put them in the charge of the Jesuits.
In 1575 he gave official status to the Congregation of the Oratory, a community of priests without vows, dedicated to prayer and preaching (founded by Saint Philip Neri). In 1580 he commissioned artists, including Ignazio Danti, to complete works to decorate the Vatican and commissioned The Gallery of Maps. Also noteworthy during his pontificate as a further means of putting into practice the recommendations of the Council of Trent is the transformation in 1580 of the Dominican studium founded in the 13th century in Rome into the College of St. Thomas, the precursor of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum.
Pope Gregory XIII is best known for his commissioning of a new calendar started by the Calabrian doctor/astronomer Aloysius Lilius with the aid of Jesuit priest/astronomer Christopher Clavius who made the final modifications. The reason for the reform was that the average length of the year in the Julian calendar was too long. It treated each year as 365 days, 6 hours in length, whereas calculations showed that the actual mean length of a year is slightly less (365 days, 5 hours and 49 minutes). As a result, the date of the actual vernal equinox had slowly (over the course of 13 centuries) slipped to 10th March, while the computus (calculation) of the date of Easter still followed the traditional date of 21st March.
This was verified by the observations of Clavius, and the new calendar was instituted when Gregory decreed, by the papal bull Inter gravissimas of 24th February 1582, that the day after Thursday, 4th October 1582 would be not Friday, 5 October, but Friday, 15 October 1582. The new calendar duly replaced the Julian calendar, in use since 45 BCE, although it took centuries to come into universal use, particularly because of resistance in Protestant countries.
Though he expressed the conventional fears of the danger from the Turks, Gregory XIII’s attentions were more consistently directed to the dangers from the Protestants. He also encouraged the plans of Philip II to dethrone Elizabeth I of England, thus helping to develop an atmosphere of subversion and imminent danger among English Protestants, who looked on any Catholic as a potential traitor (right through the reigns of all the Stuart monarchs).
In 1578, to further the plans of exiled English and Irish Catholics such as Nicholas Sanders, William Allen, and James Fitzmaurice FitzGerald, Gregory outfitted adventurer Thomas Stukeley with a ship and an army of 800 men to land in Ireland to aid the Catholics against the Protestant colonies. To his dismay, Stukeley joined his forces with those of king Sebastian of Portugal against Emperor Abdul Malik of Morocco instead.
Another papal expedition sailed to Ireland in 1579 with only 50 soldiers under the command of Fitzmaurice, accompanied by Sanders as papal legate. All of the soldiers and sailors on board, as well as the women and children who accompanied them, were beheaded or hanged on landing in Kerry, in the Smerwick Massacre. Gregory’s greatest success came in his patronage of colleges and seminaries which he founded in continental Europe for expatriate Irish and English Catholics, among others. In 1580 he was persuaded by English Jesuits to moderate or suspend the Bull Regnans in Excelsis (1570) which had excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I of England. Catholics were advised to obey the queen outwardly in all civil matters, until such time as a suitable opportunity presented itself for her overthrow.
After the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacres of Huguenots in France in 1572, Gregory celebrated a Te Deum mass. However, some hold that he was ignorant of the nature of the plot at the time, having been told the Huguenots had tried to take over the government but failed. Three frescoes in the Sala Regia Palace of the Vatican depicting the events were painted by Giorgio Vasari, and a commemorative medal was issued with Gregory’s portrait and on the obverse a chastising angel, sword in hand and the legend UGONOTTORUM STRAGES (“Overthrow of the Huguenots”).
In Rome Gregory XIII built the magnificent Gregorian chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter, and extended the Quirinal Palace in 1580. He also turned the Baths of Diocletian into a granary in 1575. He appointed his illegitimate son Giacomo, castellan of Sant’Angelo and Gonfalonier of the Church, and Venice, anxious to please Gregory, enrolled him among its nobles. Philip II of Spain appointed him general in his army. Gregory also helped his son to become a powerful feudatary through the acquisition of the Duchy of Sora, on the border between the Papal States and the kingdom of Naples.
Gregory died on 10th April 1585.
Gregory was born, raised, and practiced law in Bologna before moving to Rome, so that a recipe for ragù alla bolognese is suitable even though the first documented recipe comes from the late 18th century – well after Gregory’s time. Can’t have everything. In Italian cuisine this sauce is customarily used to dress tagliatelle al ragù and to prepare lasagne alla bolognese. In the absence of tagliatelle, it can also be used with other broad, flat pasta shapes, such as pappardelle or fettuccine. Genuine ragù alla bolognese is a slowly cooked sauce, and its preparation involves several techniques, including sweating, sautéing and braising. Ingredients include a characteristic soffritto of onion, celery and carrot, different types of minced or finely chopped beef, often alongside small amounts of fatty pork or pancetta. White wine, milk, and a small amount of tomato concentrate or tomatoes are added, and the dish is then gently simmered at length to produce a thick sauce. What is called Bolognese sauce outside of Italy is usually more akin to southern Italian sauces that are heavy with tomatoes, whereas ragù from Bologna is not. Also, ragù is not served with spaghetti in Italy, where the ubiquitous US and UK “spag Bol” is unheard of and unthinkable (much the same as spaghetti and meatballs is an abomination).
The earliest documented recipe for a meat-based sauce (ragù) served with pasta comes from late 18th century Imola, near Bologna. Pellegrino Artusi published a recipe for a meat sauce characterized as being bolognese in his cookbook published in 1891. Artusi’s recipe, which he called maccheroni alla bolognese, is thought to derive from the mid-19th century when he spent considerable time in Bologna (maccheroni being a generic term for pasta, both dried and fresh). The recipe only partially resembles the ragù alla bolognese that is traditionally associated with tagliatelle. The sauce called for predominantly lean veal filet along with pancetta, butter, onion, and carrot. The meats and vegetables were to be finely minced, cooked with butter until the meats browned, then covered and cooked with broth. Artusi commented that the taste could be made even more pleasant by adding small pieces of dried mushroom, a few slices of truffle, or chicken liver cooked with the meat and diced. As a final touch, he also suggested adding half a glass of cream to the sauce when it was completely done to make it taste even smoother. Artusi recommended serving this sauce with a medium size pasta (“horse teeth”) made from durum wheat. The pasta was to be made fresh, cooked until it was firm, and then flavored with the sauce and Parmigiano cheese.
The trick to cooking ragù alla bolognese traditionally is to take your time. Let the meat and vegetables simmer in broth for hour upon hour until the sauce is thick, rich and flavorful. Then let it sit in the refrigerator overnight to let the taste mature. You can follow Artusi’s directions, or add a little tomato paste to the broth. But do not add too much. This is not a Neapolitan sauce. If you are in any doubt, hop a plane to Italy and head to any trattoria in Bologna. You will not find a bad ragù; you will have to wait, though. This is not fast food.