Cesare Cardinal Baronius - Cardinal, Antiquarian and Scholar of the Roman Church

Cesare Cardinal Baronius was born in the Kingdom of Naples on August 30, 1538 and died on June 30, 1607. He was one of the most noteworthy scholars of ecclesiastical history and antiquities in the sixteenth and seventeenth century and while Baronius was from Naples, his heart and mind was assuredly 'Roman' in its focus -- and in fact, it was he who changed his family's surname from "de Barono" to its more Roman form of Baronius. 

It was in 1557 that the young Baronius would suddenly and fortuitously find himself living in Rome for a time due to political and civil circumstances and it was during this sojourn that he would become a pupil of the "apostle of Rome," St. Philip Neri, founder of the Oratory.

It was under the guidance and encouragement of Neri that Baronius was encouraged to undertake his famous "Annals" -- the Annales Ecclesiastici -- which were published between 1588-1607 and which recounted the first twelve centuries of ecclesiastical history. 

St. Philip Neri encouraging Baronius to write the Annals

Baronius' scholarly spirit and genius was recognized by Neri and others and it was as such that Neri directed Baronius' attention to the matter of the history of the church -- which was very much necessary at the time due to a polemical and revisionist work of "ecclesiastical history" that had been published by protestants at the time.   Ultimately, Baronius demonstrated that Neri's perception of him was not unjustified and his name would become synonymous with scholarly rigour, historical research and insight -- and indeed, Baronius' reputation for being able to penetrate into church history would come to be widely known.

It was around 1584 that Pope Gregory XIII 'tapped' Baronius to undertake a revision of the Martyrologium Romanum -- the Roman Martyrology. This work was required due to Gregorian calendar reform, a project that, after much research, Baronius concluded first in 1586 and then finally completed with a second, further corrected edition in 1589.

Baronius would become the successor to St. Philip Neri as the superior of the Congregation of the Oratory and while three successive pontiffs sought to make Baronius a bishop, he seems to have avoided this dignity but would finally be given the rank of a cardinal by Pope Clememt VIII in 1596.  In 1597 Pope Clement, in recognition of his scholarly erudition, would make Cardinal Baronius the Vatican librarian which gave him unfettered access to some of the most important works of the time. 

As a cardinal-priest, Baronius was assigned the titular church of Ss. Nereo e Achilleo located near the entrance of the Baths of Caracalla which was -- aptly enough given Baronius' scholarly work on a new edition of the martyrology -- dedicated to two Roman martyrs. Baronius would fund a major restoration of this church wherein his Roman and antiquarian interests would shine through splendidly and find further expression. Here he had various frescoes commissioned which depicted scenes from the martyrology, most especially the martyrdom of the apostles.

Various other artistic interventions in the church were undertaken under the direction of Cardinal Baronius, including the addition of medieval works which are thought to have been taken from San Paolo fuori le Mura, as well as the apse fresco and the design of the throne behind the altar.  Baronius' intent here was clearly a kind of 'homage' to Romanitas and the more ancient, medieval form of Roman churches.  He would leave an epigraphic inscription within the building which described his work of restoration and which appealed to his successors in the title to preserve his restorations intact. 

But Baronius' interventions on behalf of liturgical and ecclesiastical art were not solely confined to Ss. Nereo e Achilleo for he also undertook similar restorationist works at the nearby church of San Caesario in Palatio (also known as San Caesario de Appia) located near the advent of the Appian Way.  The altar and schola cantorum of this church, both of which exhibit beautiful cosmatesque works, are speculated to possibly have come originally from the Lateran archbasilica, brought under the aegeis of Cardinal Baronius, as was the new ciborium over the altar done under his watchful guidance.

In addition to this, he also had a new coffered ceiling installed -- one of the most spectacular in all of Rome -- and several other elements of cosmatesque ornament were brought in under him.

Baronius, the great scholar of Rome and son of the 'apostle of Rome', would die in 1607, the day after that much venerated feast of the Romans, Ss. Peter and Paul. He is buried in the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella, better known to us as the Chiesa Nuova. 

Cesare Cardinal Baronius was by no means infallible in his research of course (who, indeed, can possibly make such a claim?) but what he absolutely was, was a pioneer in the historical sciences and his reputation as one of the very most noteworthy scholars of his time continues today, setting the foundation for future generations to come.

1682 copperplate of Cardinal Baronius by Esme de Boulonois

Cardinal Baronius; scholar and antiquarian, a Roman at heart and a loyal son of St. Philip Neri, was declared Venerable by Pope Benedict XIV in 1745. The cause for his canonization was petitioned to be re-opened  in 2007 on the 400th anniversary of his death by the Procurator General of the Oratory. 

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