THE MALASPINAS AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

 

Marquesses of the Holy Empire, sovereign power of Lunigiane for eight centuries, most of the Malaspinas engaged in diplomacy or in the army. But, from the XIIIth century, some of them were also major figures of the Catholic Church. Prelates of the Church, members of the Curia, apostolic nuncios, bishops, archbishops or eminent members of regular or military Orders came from the different branches of the family. In Italy and in the rest of Europe, they contributed to the spreading, the defence and the illustration of faith, particularly in the troubled centuries when Islam gained ground around the Mediterranean and the Reformation progressed. Tireless defenders of Rome and Christendom while still respecting the Holy Empire, they were often keepers of the pontifical authority in a context of serious political tensions in Europe.

The defence of the Church and Faith

Descendant from the Cybos, a Genoese family from Byzantine origin who would beget the Cybo-Malaspina dynasty, sovereign power of Massa-Carrare, Giovanni Battista Cybo, son of Arano Cybo and Teodorina de Mari, was elected pope in 1484 under the name of Innocent VIII. Considered as the last medieval pope, the main concern of his pontificate was the firm defence of faith. As soon as he arrived on the pontifical throne, he tried to talk the European princes into the necessity of a crusade to stop the progress of the Turkish. In 1485, he dissolved the military orders of Saint Sepulchre and Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem for the benefit of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, better suited for the fight in the Holy Land, decision confirmed in 1505 by Pope Julius II. The fall of Granada, in 1492, also took place during his pontificate, and he organised a jubilee in Rome on the occasion. During this major event of the Christian recovery of Europe, he granted Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile the title of “Catholic Monarchs”. This pontificate was also the dawn of a new era which witnessed the discovery of the New World. Underestimated for a long time, we now know that Innocent VIII played a major role in the support of Christopher Columbus, his fellow Genoese. His assistance was also a financial one, in particular through Genoese and Florentine bankers from his kin and through Santa Hermandad, as one of the two administrators was indeed his nephew Francesco Pinelli. Innocent VIII died only seven days before Christopher Columbus's departure from the port of Palos to a continent which would allow the worldwide spreading of Christian faith and of the grandeur of Spain.

In the course of the next century, with the progress of the Reformation, particularly in Central and Northern Europe, several members of the Malaspina family were entrusted major missions for the defence of the Roman Church by Supreme Pontiffs. First of all, Orazio Malaspina, son of Moroello Malaspina, marquess of Monti, of the Villafranca marquesses. Before being sent to Paris for the Council of Trent which organised the Counter-Reformation movement, Orazio had been an apostolic nuncio in Vienna at the end of the 1570's, then by the Emperor Rudolf of Hungary. A few years later, his successor was Germanico Malaspina (1550-1603), son of Girolamo Ambrogio Malaspina, marquess of Aulla, captain of the Duke of Parma, and of Susanna Malaspina, of the marquesses of Mulazzo. A major figure of the Counter-Reformation in the Germanic countries, he started his ecclesiastical career as Clerk of the Apostolic Chamber of Pope Gregory XIII and was eventually sent to Sweden and Norway as an Apostolic Visitor. In 1580, Gregory XIII appointed him Internuncio by the Archduke Charles of Austria to urge him to return to the bosom of the Church by chasing the Protestants away from his States. Germanico eventually became the first nuncio of the new nunciature of Styria, founded especially for him.

At that thime, the Catholic religion underwent the growing influence of the reformed people in the provinces of Styria and Carinthia. A Catholic, Archduke Charles was nevertheless under their influence and their pressure. Urged by Archduke Ferdinand and by the Duke Albert of Bavaria, whose daughter was Charles's wife, he finally begged the Pope for forgiveness, asking for the permanent appointment of a nuncio who would represent the Supreme Pontiff to restore his States to order. Gregory XIII eventually sent him Germanico Malaspina for the defence of the Catholic cause by the Diet of Graz. After lengthy quarrels and protests, the Archduke finally issued an edict which banned the Protestants. Further to this mission, which allowed to maintain Austria in the bosom of the Roman Church, Germanico joined a delegation sent to Germany in 1583 to control the  Elector of Cologne. From 1585, he was successively apostolic nuncio by Rudolf, king of Hungary, then in the Kingdom of Naples (1590), before being sent to Poland by Clement VIII to meet King Sigismond III and urge him to wage war against the Turkish. Based in Poland, he acted as a representative of the pontifical policy in Transylvania aiming to repel the Ottoman thrust. This fierce defender of Catholic faith died in Krakòw in 1604, leaving behind him numerous writings and instructions for his successors, among which a “Dialogue of Mons. Malaspina about the Spiritual and Political State of the Empire and the Provinces Infested by Heresy”.

In the course of the centuries, the Roman Church could rely on other descendants of the Malaspina family to defend its interests and prerogatives in Central Europe. One of them was Bartolomeo Pacca (1756-1844), son of the marquess Orazio Pacca and Cristina Malaspina, descendant of the marquesses of Olivola. After attending Clementino School in Rome, where the navigator Alessandro Malaspina also studied, Bartolomeo Pacca got into the Academy of Ecclesiastical Nobles in Rome, where the future Pope Leo XII was a fellow student.
A short time later, he was appointed secret chamberlain of Pie VI and entered prelature in 1785. Appointed archbishop of Damietta and apostolic nuncio in Cologne, he endeavoured to defend the Holy See's prerogatives, threatened by the civil authorities and an anti-establishment clergy rallied to the imperial political power. In particular, he made the priests under his nunciature acknowledge the Supreme Pontiff as only competent authority regarding the marriage dispensations. On Pie VI's orders, in an encyclical letter sent to the priests, he declared as null and void the marriages with nullifying defect contracted without the Holy See's dispensation. The three ecclesiastical Electors of Cologne, Treves and Mayence published manifests against the encyclical and lodged their complaints to the emperor. Pie VI eventually forwarded a letter to the Elector of Cologne in which he declared that his nuncio had only followed his formal orders with moderation.

After Cologne, Pacca was appointed nuncio to the Court of Portugal, where he stayed for seven years. He was regarded and appreciated by the regent, Prince John, and by the whole royal family, and he also managed to keep untouched the rights of the Primacy of the Roman Pontiff, which were threatened one more time. Elevated to the dignity of cardinal by Pie VII in 1801, he assisted the pope in 1804 during Napoleon Bonaparte's coronation, and he is featured on the picture David painted to immortalise the event. Bartolomeo Pacca became a member of the Roman Curia in 1808, officiating as Pie VII's pro-secretary of State. Arrested with the pope on the orders of Napoleon in 1809 during the invasion of the French troops in Rome, he was held prisoner in the Fortress of Fenestrelle for three years and a half. In 1824, he returned to Rome with the Supreme Pontiff. Appointed Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church until 1824, he was still a minister-secretary of State for more than a year. He joined the conclaves of 1823, 1829 and 1830-1831, was appointed cardinal-bishop of Ostia and Velletri in 1830 and was eventually appointed archpriest of St. John Lateran. After a life devoted to the Holy Church, he died Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals, primus inter pares, in 1844.

In Italy in the Middle-Ages, the defence of the Church and of papal prerogatives often went through a more or less direct confrontation with the imperial authority and a dangerous stand in the fight between Guelphs, followers of the pope and the free cities, and Ghibellines, supporters of the imperial power.

Benedictine monk, bishop of Luni in the first third of the XIIIth century, Guglielmo Malaspina was the son of Obizzone II and the brother of Corrado Il Antico, leader of the Spino Secco. Summoned to Rome by Innocent IV to join the Council of Lateran, he was made prisoner by Pisan followers of the imperial faction during his journey. He was eventually handed to Frederick II, who sent him to Apulia. He was released in 1250 after the emperor's death and he went back to his diocese, but his vassals did not want to acknowledge him as their lord any longer. Innocent IV then granted him the right to alienate his possessions, which he sold to Niccolo Fieschi. Bishop Guglielmo died in 1272.

In the following decades, Gherardino Malaspina, another bishop of Luni (1312), also paid dearly for his loyalty to the Supreme Pontiff. Second born of Alberto Malaspina, marquess of Filattiera and, according to other people, son of Gabriello, marquess of Verrucola, he was at once a friend of Dante, who mentioned him in Epistle VIII and of Pope Clement V. In 1313, his joining the Guelph party was coupled with his refusal to submit to the Emperor Henry VII and to go to his coronation ceremony. To punish him, the latter deprived him of his county temporal powers paired with his title of bishop and submitted to imperial authority.

While remaining faithful followers of the Supreme Pontiff, other Malaspinas nevertheless tried to reconcile with both parts in order to ease political tensions. Among them, Gabriele Malaspina, son of Azzolino II, marquess of Fosdinovo. Canon of the Verona Cathedral, then appointed bishop of Luni by Pope Clement VI in 1351, he governed the diocese with watchfulness and steadiness. In 1353, his fame had him chosen by the Guelphs and the Ghibellines to seal the peace between the factions at Sarzana. For this purpose, he welcomed the Congress of Deputies, Princes and Italian Republics in Sarzana Church-Cathedral. Yet this historical event of Italian medieval history only led to a fragile peace which was soon broken. After this political failure, Gabriele Malaspina devoted himself to his pastoral mission, though his endeavours and his intact aura got him an imperial diploma granted by Charles IV. The latter restored him in his former privileges as Bishop-count, when his predecessor Gherardino Malaspino had been deprived of them forty years before. He was also appointed Prince of the Holy Empire.

High prelates, members of the Roman Curia and close relations of the pope


The service of the Church led some members of the Malaspina family to hold high positions in the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the Roman Curia. They could give proof of their faithfulness and of their skills in different fields, sometimes even as close relations of Supreme Pontiffs.

If his patronymic is unequivocal regarding his being a member of the Malaspina family, we still ignore from which branch came Saba Malaspina, pontifical writer, secretary of Pope John XXI, still famous for his History of Sicily (1250-1276) which remains a reference for historians. As for his genealogy, his origin is still unknown (Sicily or Rome). Regarding his pastoral career, we know he was a dean, then a bishop of Mileto in Calabria at the end of the XIIIth century, appointed by Pope Honorius IV in 1286.

Also a close relation of a pope in the following century, Aragonio Malaspina was the son of Antonio Malaspina, marquess of Bagnone. Canon of Verona Cathedral in 1389, then archbishop of Albenga in 1403, he eventually became Protonotary apostolic of Benedict XIII, who also appointed him bishop and administrator of the diocese of Luni. In 1410, John XXIII made him a commissary apostolic for the dispensation of indulgences in Sicily, before appointing him Archbishop of Brindisi in 1415. In the middle of the fight between Roman and Avignonese papacy, he was granted the archbishopric of Otranto by Pope Martin V three years later. But he could not fulfill this mission, as he died a few days before his arrival in the city.

Close to Pope Eugene IV, with whom he kept up a lengthy correspondence in the first decades of the XVth century, Antonio Malaspina was said to be the son of the marquess Leonardo Malaspina, from Castel dell'Aquila. Vicar General of the bishop of Verona, he eventually held the important position of Clerk of the Apostolic Chamber. But Antonio Malaspina is mainly remembered in Verona for the erection of the Chapel Our Lady of the People, also called “Malaspina Chapel” in the city cathedral in 1440.

The genealogy of Bernabo Malaspina, cup-bearer of Pope Leo X in the first decades of the XVIth century, is still unknown. Little information is available about his life, but he was nevertheless famous because he was wrongly suspected of the murder of the pope in 1521, officially killed by malaria, but actually poisoned. Badly rewarded for his service, Bernabo Malaspina was first charged with plotting with the French, enemies of Charles V, since recently allies of the pope. Rapidly exonerated, he nevertheless remained in European memory, his misfortune told by Voltaire (Annals of the Empire), who wrongly called him “George, from the Malaspina marquesses” and Stendhal (Roman Walks).

Among the Roman prelates from the Malaspina family, there were also a few members of the Cybo-Malaspina family, sovereign power over Massa and Carrare for nearly four centuries. This marquisate was brought by Ricciarda Malaspina as her dowry when she married Lorenzo Cybo, Duke of Ferentillo, at the beginning of the XVIth century.

In addition to Pope Innocent VIII, two cardinals of the Roman Curia came from the Cybo family at the beginning of the XVth century: Angelo Cybo and his brother Leonardo, a famous legist. Both of them were created cardinals by Pope Boniface IX in 1402, the former with the title of dean (deacon) of Santi Silvestro e Martino ai Monti, the latter as dean of Santi Cosma e Damiano. Innocenzo Cybo (1491-1550), kin to both Innocent VIII and Leo X, was created cardinal in 1513 with this same title. Grand-son of Laurent de' Medici through his mother, he was immortalised by Musset in Lorenzaccio. Among the Cybos who became cardinals was also Lorenzo Cybo de Mari (1450-1503), Innocent VIII's nephew, created cardinal priest in 1489 with the title of Santa Susanna.

Among the Cybo-Malaspinas themselves, who brought to a climax the dedication at the top of the Catholic hierarchy, one must first name Alderano Cybo-Malaspina (1613-1700), who held many prestigious positions.

Domestic prelate of Pope Urban VIII, referendary of the Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature in 1641, Majordome to His Holiness and Prefect of the Sacred Apostolic Palaces in 1644, he was created cardinal in 1645 by Innocent X with the title of Santa Pudenziana, then that of Santa Prassede (1668) and finally that of San Lorenzo in Lucina, one of the most ancient and prestigious titulus, probably instituted by Pope Evariste around 112. Between 1646 and 1651, Alderano Cybo-Malaspina officiated as Papal Legate in several cities and provinces of the pontifical States, eventually becoming their General Superintendant. In 1656, he was elected bishop of Jesi, position he held until 1671. From 1676 to 1689, he was Secretary of State for Innocent XI's policy, joining meetings and procedures which put an end to quietism. At the same time, he was also pontifical legate in Avignon (1677-1690), then secretary of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, Prefect of the Congregation of Rites and of the Congregation for Bishops and Regulars. In 1683, he became dean of the Sacred College and bishop of Ostia and Velletri, like Bartolomeo Pacca a hundred and fifty years earlier.

As for his brother, Odoardo Cybo-Malaspina, he was elected Patriarch Latin Titulary of Seleucia in 1670, then of Constantinople in 1689, a prestigious title created in 1204 during the Crusades, which was also born during the following century by his grand-nephew Camillo Cybo-Malaspina, son of Carlo II Cybo-Malaspina, Duke of Massa, and of Princess Teresa Pamfilia. Attracted to the ecclesiastical vocation, Camillo abandoned his primogeniture rights in favour of his bother Alderano. First Majordome to the Sacred Palace, he was eventually created cardinal priest in 1729 by Benedict XII with the title of Santo Stefano al Monte Celio. He finished his life as Grand Prior of Rome of the Sovereign Order of St. John of Malta.

The Malaspinas in the Regular Orders

For centuries, some members of the Malaspina dynasty were engaged in high positions of secular clergy, while others were called by regular vocation, while remaining involved in the events of the century. A good example was Guido Malaspina, abbot general of the Cistercian Order, also appointed cardinal by Urban IV with the title of San Lorenzo in Lucina, distinction which was also granted to Alderano Cybo-Malaspina four centuries later. This position allowed him to be present at Clement V's election in 1264-1265. The latter first appointed him apostolic legate at the Court of France (1265) then sent him to Denmark in 1266 to resolve the civil disputes in the Kingdom. In 1267, he celebrated the provincial Council of Vienna, before going to Poland where he was solemnly welcomed in Krakòw by King Boleslav V and the bishop of  Krakòw. He eventually convened a national council at Breslavia in order to get help for the Holy Land. He later went to Sweden, France and Saxe to celebrate various synods and councils. In 1271, he was one of the six cardinals who took part into the election of Gregory X. Even if his genealogy is not clear and if, as if was customary at that time, his patronymic is mentioned nowhere, his coat-of-arms (a Spino with a golden half-moon), later used by Spinetta Il Grande, marquess of Verrucola and Fosdinovo, unequivocally confirmed that he was indeed a Malaspina.

In the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries, the Dominicans could also rely on Malaspinas, who held major positions in the Order. Such was the case of Cherubino Malaspina, a marquess of Treschietto, who became Provincial of the Order, before being granted the bishopric of Borgo San Sepolcro by Alexander VII in 1655. Related to Cherubino, Ferrante Aniceto Malaspina, son of Giovangaspero Malaspina, of the marquesses of Treschietto and Plumesana, entered the Dominican Order at Santa Novella (Florence). In 1636, he was admitted to the Theology School of the University of Florence, of which he became dean in 1654. Later synodal examiner of the bishop of Fiesole, Consultant to the Holy Office of Florence, Prior of Prato Convent, then Prior of Santa Maria Novella Convent, Provincial of the Roman State, he finally held the position of Vicar of his Order.

Sometimes involved in the institutional life of the Dominican Order, the Malaspinas also played a major role in the promotion and the development of the Order's own spirituality. A good illustration was Francesco Antonio Malaspina, author of “Short and Clear Instruction to Properly Exercise the Powers of the Soul in Time of Mental Prayer”, published in Florence in 1706.

Like the Order of St. Dominic, the Company of Jesus welcomed in his ranks a famous Malaspina, whose memory is still alive. Felice Malaspina, of the marquesses of Villafranca, got early into the Company and he rapidly became Lector of Moral Theology at Piacenza, while counselling some Provincials of the Order. In 1607, he advocated his “Conclusions of Philosophy”, dedicated to the Emperor Rudolf II, in front of the Sacred College in the presence of numerous cardinals and of the imperial ambassador. Later Rector of Faenza, then of Piacenza, he nevertheless wanted to put an end to his career to go and evangelise Japan, but his hierarchy did not approve of his plan. Driven by a deep faith and a fierce charity, this brilliant intellectual decided to give up his position as Rector of Piacenza in 1630 to go to Parma, then hit by the plague, and help the sick. But he caught the disease himself and died in horrible pain a few days later.

Born in 1772, Fabrizio Malaspina, last representative of the branch of Varzi, son of Mercurio Malaspina and Mariettina Poggi, was also a brilliant intellectual. At first affiliated to the Monastery  of Santa Maria in Rome, he eventually became diacre of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. In 1794, he was appointed Lector of Logic and Metaphysics at the Monastery of Montemarciano de Perugia. Further to the restrictions imposed by the French revolutionaries in 1798, he withdrew to Santa Maria delle Grazie at Novara and became its abbot in 1803. He eventually won fame in particular as a Royal Reformer of the University of Turin, position he reached in 1827, before being appointed Director of the University Library of the city. Commander of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus in 1844, he was also one of the founders of the Royal Deputation for the Studies of the Mother Country History (Regia Deputazione per gli Studi di Storia Patria). After his withdrawal to Varzi, he started studying the history of his family and worked on the subject for about fifty years. He gathered and rewrote thousands of documents in the aim of publishing an exhaustive history of his family. But he could not finish the task because of his public duties. When he could at last retire, he was too old to put into order the thousands of documents he had gathered.

The Malaspinas in the Sovereign Military Order of St. John of Jerusalem (Order of Malta)

Founded in the XIth century, the Order of the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, which later became the Sovereign Order of Malta, played a major part in the defence of Christendom in Eastern Mediterranean. From the XIVth to the XIXth century, there were several dozens of Malaspinas among the Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, and some of them held glorious positions. Indeed, the Malaspinas provided the Order with a Bailiff, a Prior, a Grand Prior and no less than three Admirals and four Commanders. Other Malaspinas, sometimes simple knights, also won fame in famous episodes, particularly during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, to the extent of holding a major position in the Chronicles of the Order.

The lesser known branch of the Malaspinas of Murello gave birth to the most ancient knight we could trace back: Federico Malaspina, Hospitaller Knight who took his vows in 1317. About ten years later, he was Collector (Commander) of the Commandry of Murello, where the Order owned a castle acquired after the dissolution of the Order of the Temple at the beginning of that century. In 1334, Fra Federico Malaspina became Hospitaller Prior of Messina. He was the first Italian to hold this position, previously reserved to Frenchmen and later to the Aragonese.

Even if the Malaspinas of Fosdinovo provided the Order of St John of Jerusalem with several knights during the XVIth and the XVIIth centuries, the most famous of them is obviously Ippolito Malaspina, who took his vows on July 13th, 1556 at the age of 16. Elder son of Giuseppe Malaspina, marquess of Fosdinovo, and of Luigia Doria, descendant of the family of the Genoese Princes, he passed his rights to his brother Andrea when he joined the Order of Jerusalem. He quickly became the bailiff of Naples of the Order, and eventually Counsellor of the Grand Master. In 1560, leading an infantry column, he joined a famous assault against the Barbary corsairs at Djerba. In 1565, he was among the officers taking part to the Grand Secours sent by the king of Spain in order to help Malta on September 8th. He was then elected Admiral of the Order in 1601, and eventually accepted the commanding of the pontifical fleet offered by Pope Clement VIII two years later . In 1605, after witnessing the election of Paul V, he decided to withdraw in a Maltese monastery. In spite of the Pope's repeated promptings, he always refused to resume the commanding of the pontifical fleet.
After Ippolito, two other Malaspinas of Fosdinovo joined the Order: Alderano, who took his vows in 1588 and later, in 1632, another Ippolito.

The Malaspinas of Podenzana gave the Order one of their most glorious figures, Vespasiano Malaspina, son of Leonardo Malaspina, marquess of Monte di Vaj and Podenzana. Even if few things are known about Vespasiano's life, his death is very famous on the contrary and it remains an emblem of the martyrdom some knights went through during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. After being injured during the siege of Fort St. Elmo, he was killed on July 15th, 1565 while he was defending Fort St Michael. Together with other knights, he was beheaded by the Turks and crucified on planks. A deep-rooted legend makes him the last casualty of the Great Siege, an honour  in fact due to another Malaspina, Giovanni, one of the marquesses of Mulazzo. The effigy of Vespasiano Malaspina, martyr, adorns today the Chapel of the Italian Language in St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta (Malta). Vespasiano's glorious death must have explained the vocation of his nephew Niccolò, son of his brother Alessandro Malaspina, who joined the Order in 1605.

Giovanni Malaspina remains a major figure in the memory of the Order. He was indeed the last knight to be killed during the Great Siege of Malta. While observing from a parapet the withdrawal of the Turkish troops after several months of fierce battle, he is said to have been hit by an arquebus shot by the Ottoman camp while reciting the In Te, Domine, Speravi psalm. Even though we lack for details about his genealogy, the different histories of the Order guarantee that he was indeed a descendant of the marquesses of Mulazzo. Among the fighters of the Siege of Malta, other Malaspinas met a less tragic fate: Carlo, of the Malaspinas of Chivasso, on the Francigene Way in the province of Turin, who joined the Order in 1563, and Curzio Malaspina. The latter's origin is still unknown, but he joined the Grand Secours fleet to defend Malta in 1565, even before he was knighted on September 28th, a few days after the end of the fights.

In the XIXth century, the branches of the marquesses Monti and Suvero were fairly represented through Ricordano Malaspina, who took the religious name of Fra Francesco when he took his vows in 1840. Grand Squire, in charge of the matters of the Order by the Court of the King of Italy, then Lombard-Venitian Kingdom, he was also Commander of the First Commandry in Parma, decorated with the Tuscan Holy Military Order of St. Stephen.

Among the Malaspinas who held major positions in the Order in the XIVth and XVth centuries, some are from imprecise descent. Such was the case of a Giovanni Malaspina, who took his vows in 1347 and officiated as Commander of the Hospitaller Commandry of Versato.
As for Federico Malaspina, he joined the Order in 1422 and became Commander of Candiolo, in the province of Turin, fief of the Savoies until the XIVth century when it passed into the hands of the Order. Finally, two Malaspinas took the prestigious charge of Admirals of the Langue of Italy: Ferlino in 1417 and Federico from 1427 to 1428.