Pope Leo X

Facts about Pope Leo X

Pope Leo X died at 45 years old
Birthplace: Florence, Italy
Best known as: The Medici pope when the Reformation started


Pope Leo X Biography

Pope Leo X is the Roman pope whose potent combination of extravagance and neglect helped provoke the Reformation in the 16th 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. 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 the artist Raphael — Leo helped make Rome a cultural center of the Renaissance, but at the expense of the church. Within two years he had emptied the coffers, and his plan to rebuild St. Peters led to the abuse of indulgences (in which church officials raised money by selling God’s forgiveness of sins).

That, in turn, is said to have provoked Martin Luther‘s famous 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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