Under Pope Sixtus IV, builder of the Sistine Chapel, the nepotism of the Renaissance papacy reached its worst. The Vatican bustled with his 16 nephews, two brothers, and three sisters who continually injected themselves into Italian and church affairs. They became the leading figures of Rome. They traveled with vast retinues, feasted at banquets, dressed in pearl-embroidered clothes, and slept with endless partners in luxuriant beds.

But they soon clashed with their rivals in pleasure and power, the Medici family, based in Florence. The Medici banking firm had been the traditional Vatican bankers. But when conflicts arose, Sixtus transferred the vast papal fortunes to another family of bankers, the Pazzi. The Medici counterattacked, tempers flared, and in 1478, with the pope’s knowledge, his nephews and bankers hatched a plan to murder Lorenzo and Julian Medici.

On Sunday, April 26, 1478, the two Medici brothers entered the cathedral in Florence for Easter Mass. They were, according to their custom, unarmed and unguarded. The service began. Suddenly, as the priest lifted the bread of the Eucharist into the air, Julian felt a stabbing pain pierce his chest. The dagger was withdrawn, then thrust again and again. He died quickly. Lorenzo was attacked at the same instant. He instinctively flung his cape around his arm, forming a shield, and fought off his attackers.

His rage was unquenchable. He tracked down the conspirators and had them hung or thrown from palace windows. Their ears and noses were cut off, and they were hacked to pieces, dragged through the streets, and thrown into the Arno.

Sixtus retaliated by excommunicating Lorenzo, suspending all religious services in Florence, and launching a futile two-year war against the city. The two men remained enemies till 1484 when Sixtus died. Lorenzo the Magnificent, as he was called, lived eight years longer, then died at age 43 after drinking a mixture of jewels prescribed by physicians for his stomach pains.

We know what love is because Jesus gave his life for us. That’s why we must give our lives for each other. (1 John 3.16)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Apr. 26.

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