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Pope Innocent XII : biography

13 March 1615 - 27 September 1700

Pope Innocent XII ( 13 March 1615 – 27 September 1700), born Antonio Pignatelli, was the head of the Catholic Church from 12 July 1691 to his death in 1700.

Early life

Pignatelli was born on 13 March 1615 in Spinazzola (current Puglia) to one of the most aristocratic families of the Kingdom of Naples, which included many Viceroys, and ministers of the crown. He was educated at the Jesuit college in Rome.

At the age of 20 he became an official of the court of Pope Urban VIII. He served successive popes as nuncio to Florence, Vienna and Poland. Later he went to Malta where he served as an inquisitor. Antonio Pignatelli


In 1681 he was elevated to Cardinal by Pope Innocent XI and was made Cardinal-Priest of the Church of San Pancrazio in Rome. Later that year he was appointed Archbishop of Naples.


Pope Alexander VIII died in 1691 and the College of Cardinals assembled to hold a conclave. Factions loyal to the Kingdom of France, Kingdom of Spain and the broader Holy Roman Empire failed to agree on a consensus candidate. After five months, Cardinal Pignatelli emerged as a compromise candidate between the cardinals of France and the Holy Roman Empire.

Immediately after his election on 12 July 1691, Innocent XII declared his opposition to the nepotism which had afflicted the reigns of previous popes. The following year he issued the papal bull, Romanum decet Pontificem, banning the curial office of the Cardinal-Nephew and prohibiting popes from bestowing estates, offices, or revenues on any relative. Further, only one relative (and only "if otherwise suitable") was to be raised to the cardinalate.

At the same time he sought to check the simony in the practices of the Apostolic Chamber and to that end introduced a simpler and more economical manner of life into his court. Innocent XII said that "the poor were his nephews" and compared his public beneficence to the nepotism of many predecessors.

Innocent XII also introduced various reforms into the States of the Church including the Forum Innocentianum, designed to improve the administration of justice dispensed by the Church. In 1693 he compelled French bishops to retract the four propositions relating to the Gallican Liberties which had been formulated by the assembly of 1682.

In 1699, he decided in favour of Jacques-Benigne Bossuet in that prelate's controversy with Fénelon about the Explication des Maximes des Saints sur la Vie Intérieure of the latter. Innocent XII's pontificate also differed greatly from his predecessors' because of his leanings towards France instead of Germany; the first in the 20 years following France's failure to have its candidate elected in 1644 and 1655.

thumb Innocent XII died on 27 September 1700 and was succeeded by Pope Clement XI (1700–1721). His tomb at St. Peter's Basilica was sculpted by Filippo della Valle.


Innocent XII appears as one of the narrators in Robert Browning's long poem "The Ring and the Book" (1869), based on the true story of the Pope's intervention in a historical murder trial in Rome during his papacy.

Innocent XII was the last pope to have a beard in the modern era.

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Living octopus

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