Breccia di Porta Pia, an event that changed the history of the papacy

Breccia di Porta Pia, an event that changed the history of the papacy

The Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, in collaboration with the Institute for Political Studies “S. Pius V.” in Rome, the presentation of a book on the event of 1870, which, as Cardinal Pietro Parolin writes at the beginning of the volume, ushered in a progressive change made under the action of Providence

Amedeo Lomonaco – Vatican City

Retracing with documentary certainty the complex events that initiated the progressive change in the papacy’s international relations to the world more than 150 years ago. The volume “La Breccia di Porta Pia. Collection of Studies for the 150th Anniversary (1870-2020)”, edited by Francesco Anghelone, Pierantonio Piatti and Emilio Tirone, published in the “Acts and Documents” series, for the Types of the Vatican Publishing House. It is an international and multidisciplinary collection of studies made on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Porta Pia episode. The book will be presented this afternoon at the Pontifical German College in the Vatican. The event is organized by the Institute of Political Science “S. Pius V “and by the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences. The presentation of the book begins with greetings from Father Bernard Ardura, President of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, General Fulvio Poli of the Army Staff and Paolo De Nardis, President of the Institute for Political Studies “S. Pius V”. Francesco Bonini, Rector of the Free University Maria SS.ma Assunta (Lumsa) and Massimo De Leonardis of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart spoke. Finally, the intervention of Alberto Melloni from the Giovanni XXIII. Foundation for Religious Studies.

The Injury of Porta Pia (painting by Carlo Ademollo).




The Injury of Porta Pia (painting by Carlo Ademollo).

A providential event

An in-depth analysis of the events of 1870 is that made in 1962 by the then Archbishop of Milan, Giovanni Battista Montini, who a few months later took the name of Paul VI. When the cardinal opened a cycle of conferences on the councils on October 10 of the same year, he uttered these words: “It seemed to be a collapse; and for papal territorial rule it was”. Referring to the fall of temporal power, which took place on September 20, 1870, the future pope notes that “conciliatory words, followed by grave contradictory facts, were unable to resolve the to appease a papacy stripped, even deprived, of its temporal power, he could equally have expressed its mission in the world”. But the event at Porta Pia turns out to be providential: “Providence, now we can see it well – emphasized the then Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini – had arranged things differently, played almost dramatically with the events. In fact, a few days ago the Vatican Council I had declared immeasurable and infallible the spiritual authority of this pope who, at that fatal moment, practically lost his temporal authority … As you know, the papacy then resumed its acts as master with unusual Vitality and witness to the gospel to rise to such heights in the spiritual leadership of the church and in the moral charism of the world as never before”. The events of 1870, therefore, ushered in a progressive change in the papacy’s international relations with the world. A change that certainly took place under the influence of Providence in the historical memory of the Holy See, as highlighted in the opening of the volume “La Breccia di Porta Pia” by Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

The fracture of the Porta Pia in a color lithograph.




The fracture of the Porta Pia in a color lithograph.

An inevitable event

The 1870 was an inevitable event. The historian points this out Gianni LaBella, among the authors of the book “La Breccia di Porta Pia. 150th Anniversary Study Collection (1870-2020)”. “The Pope – he adds – is no longer the Pope-King, but the leader of the universal Church”.

Listen to the interview with historian Gianni La Bella

What do we mean by the expression “Breccia di Porta Pia” and what did this event mean?

On September 20, 1870, the Piedmontese troops arrived in Rome and broke through the walls of Porta Pia. It is an important event for the history of the Church but also for the history of Italy.

The commander of the Italian army, General Raffaele Cadorna.




The commander of the Italian army, General Raffaele Cadorna.

It was a breakdown for many Catholics at the time. In reality, the Porta Pia episode turned out to be how the later Pope Paul VI. 1962 said as a providential event. Words also echoed in a 1966 speech by Pope Montini…

It was an event that in a way put an end to an idea of ​​the Church that Pope Paul VI. 1966 with these very significant words read: “Let us preserve the historical memory of it, as that of a secular , legitimate and in many respects a provident institution of bygone times”. to the world, was no longer bound to a temporal power and freed it from physical ties to territoriality.

How does the figure of the papacy change in the eyes of the world after the events of 1870?

The year 1870 was an epochal transition that changed culture, theology, pastoral care and the relationship to civil society. The Pope is no longer the Pope-King, but the leader of the universal Church. This process has a traumatic effect in the first phase: this repositioning of the papacy is seen as an image of the imprisoned and sometimes no longer free pope. However, this is only a temporal evaluation of this event.

The commander of the papal troops, Hermann Chancellor.




The commander of the papal troops, Hermann Chancellor.

Let’s talk about this book “La Breccia di Porta Pia. Study collection for the 150th anniversary”. Does the volume also contain unpublished data and contributions?

There are many reports that address the shocks from different perspectives, including an international one. Many of the contributions used innovative archive sources. This volume represents the best that history has produced on the subject to date.

Let’s rewind the story with the premise of whether… Had it not been for the rupture of Porta Pia, would the course of history still have been as we know it today?

I think that if the episode of the rupture of Porta Pia had not taken place on September 20, 1870, it would have taken place shortly thereafter. It was in some respects an event that was inevitable from both an Italian and an ecclesiastical point of view.