In the sixteenth century, papal anatomy and its depiction in the news became a matter of central importance to politics and religion in Rome. Although papal bodies had been imbued with symbolic meaning from the early Middle Ages and examined after death from the thirteenth century, the early modern period brought significant change in how the body was treated. In particular, twin developments in anatomy and news circulation meant that the interior of the papal corpse became a matter of debate where supporters or detractors could use anatomy to praise or malign papal rule. This paper will, in particular, look at several cases—including those of Pius V, Urban VIII, and Innocent X—for which multiple meanings were attached to the same anatomical discoveries inside the pope’s body. Through these cases this article argues that circulation of postmortem reports could alter both the content and the interpretation of papal anatomy.
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