Sistus V, from Felice Peretti to Tough Pope
Felice Peretti was born in Grottammare on 13 December 1521. His father Piergentile, known as Peretto, had taken refuge in this fishing village after being sentenced to exile for ten years by the ecclesiastical authority, perhaps for having shown sympathy for the Duke of Urbino during the war with Pope Leo X. In Grottammare, he worked as a gardener at Ludovico De Vecchi and his wife Mariana di Frontillo was employed as a family maid.
The daughter, Camilla, was born first, followed by Felice in 1521. He lived a very poor childhood and did menial jobs with his parents. In Montalto, his maternal uncle, Fra’ Salvatore Ricci, lived in the monastery of San Francesco delleFratte of which he was Guardian, that is Abbot. Felice entered here at the age of 9 and began the novitiate at 12. In 1535, he took the Franciscan habit thus assuming the name of Fra’ Felice and embarked on his philosophical and theological studies. In the following years, he became famous as a great preacher in Rome, Perugia, Ascoli, Pisa and Naples. A charismatic man and profound theologian, he participated in the preparatory work for the Council of Trent and was appointed Inquisitor of Venice. In 1567, he was consecrated Bishop of S. Agata dei Goti (BN) and in 1570 Cardinal with the name of S. Girolamo degli Schiavoni.
In 1585, Pope Gregory died and Fra’ Felice Peretti was elected Pope with the name of Sistus V, as a tribute to his former fellow monk Sistus IV. His pontificate lasted only 5 years, but left an indelible mark. He died on 27 August 1590: his heart was taken to the church of SS. Vincenzo and Anastasio under the Quirinale, the body instead in the Vatican.
Throughout his life, he showed great fondness for his homeland, Montalto delle Marche. As a Cardinal, he granted the licence for a weekly market, a tradition still maintained today every Wednesday morning. He also installed a doctor and founded a high school. As a Pope, he made Montalto a centre of primary importance, conferring it the title of City, creating a new Diocese and establishing the Presidato, that is a territory of 17 municipalities governed by a ruling Governor who also administered justice, including the ius sanguinis*. To create the New Montalto, he established the papal mint activity here and gave impetus to the construction of the magnificent Cathedral dedicated to the Assumption, where, according to his glorious vision, the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem should have been moved. He also took care to ensure studies for less well-off deserving young people, establishing the Montalto College in Bologna. Over 1300 jurists, doctors, mathematicians, theologians and high prelates trained here for over two centuries.
Unconditional love for his “Beloved Homeland” is commemorated in the precious gift of the reliquary offered to the community for perpetual protection.
* ius sanguinis – (‘right of blood’) is a principle of nationality law by which citizenship is determined or acquired by the nationality or ethnicity of one or both parents.