On August 29th 1799, Pope Pius VI (r. 1775-99) died a prisoner in the French city of Valence. How on earth did the Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ end up a captive of the French army?
On February 20th 1798, French forces entered Rome unopposed, declared the Eternal City a republic, and demanded that the pope renounce his temporal authority. On his refusal to do so, Pius VI was deposed, taken prisoner and escorted to France, where he died, in the citadel of Valence, just six months short of the 25th anniversary of his reign, the longest to date of any pope.
The town prefect registered the pope's death as that of 'Citizen Braschi, exercising the profession of Pontiff'. He was first buried in Valence, but his remains were transferred to St. Peter's Basilica on February 17th 1802.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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