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Pope Leo X

Pope / Religious Figure

Born: 11 December 1475
Died: 1 December 1521
Birthplace: Florence, Italy
Best known as: The Medici pope when the Reformation started
Pope Leo X is the Roman pope whose combination of extravagance and neglect helped provoke the Reformation in the sixteenth century. He was born Giovanni de Medici, the second son of Florentine ruler Lorenzo de Medici ("Lorenzo the Magnificent"). Lorenzo's powers were such that Giovanni was made a cardinal when he was 13 years old. From 1492 until about 1512 the Medicis were out of favor and out of power in Florence, but Giovanni used his position in the church to rebuild the family power base, and in 1513, when he was 38 years old, he succeeded Julius II to the papacy as Leo X. A great supporter of the arts and sciences -- he was a generous patron of Raphael -- Leo helped make Rome a cultural center of the Renaissance, but at the expense of the church. Within two years of being pope he had emptied the coffers, and his plan to rebuild St. Peters led to the abuse of indulgences (selling God's forgiveness of sins to raise money). That in turn is said to have provoked Martin Luther's 95 theses (1517) and the Reformation. The pope excommunicated Luther, but most historians agree that Leo underestimated the seriousness of Luther's dissatisfaction and handled things poorly. After only eight and a half years as pope, Leo died unexpectedly, leaving the church with an artistic legacy, but deeply in debt.

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