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The Borgias

Chapter 11
One thing alone was wanting to assure the success of the vast projects that the
pope and his son were founding upon the friendship of Louis and an alliance with
him--that is,--money. But Alexander was not the man to be troubled about a
paltry worry of that kind; true, the sale of benefices was by now exhausted, the
ordinary and extraordinary taxes had already been collected for the whole year,
and the prospect of inheritance from cardinals and priests was a poor thing now
that the richest of them had been poisoned; but Alexander had other means at
his disposal, which were none the less efficacious because they were less often
The first he employed was to spread a report that the Turks were threatening an
invasion of Christendom, and that he knew for a positive fact that before the end
of the summer Bajazet would land two considerable armies, one in Romagna, the
other in Calabria; he therefore published two bulls, one to levy tithes of all
ecclesiastical revenues in Europe of whatever nature they might be, the other to
force the Jews into paying an equivalent sum: both bulls contained the severest
sentences of excommunication against those who refused to submit, or
attempted opposition.
The second plan was the selling of indulgences, a thing which had never been
done before: these indulgences affected the people who had been prevented by
reasons of health or business from coming to Rome for the Jubilee; the journey
by this expedient was rendered unnecessary, and sins were pardoned for a third
of what it would have cost, and just as completely as if the faithful had fulfilled
every condition of the pilgrimage. For gathering in this tax a veritable army of
collectors was instituted, a certain Ludovico delta Torre at their head. The sum
that Alexander brought into the pontifical treasury is incalculable, and same idea
of it may be gathered from the fact that 799,000 livres in gold was paid in from
the territory of Venice alone.
But as the Turks did as a fact make some sort of demonstration from the
Hungarian side, and the Venetians began to fear that they might be coming in
their direction, they asked for help from the pope, who gave orders that at twelve
o'clock in the day in all his States an Ave Maria should be said, to pray God to
avert the danger which was threatening the most serene republic. This was the
only help the Venetians got from His Holiness in exchange for the 799,000 livres
in gold that he had got from them.
But it seemed as though God wished to show His strange vicar on earth that He
was angered by the mockery of sacred things, and on the Eve of St. Peter's Day,
just as the pope was passing the Capanile on his way to the tribune of
benedictions, a enormous piece of iron broke off and fell at his feet; and then, as
though one warning had not been enough, on the next day, St. Peter's, when the
pope happened to be in one of the rooms of his ordinary dwelling with Cardinal
Capuano and Monsignare Poto, his private chamberlain, he saw through the
open windows that a very black cloud was coming up. Foreseeing a
thunderstorm, he ordered the cardinal and the chamberlain to shut the windows.