Pope Alexander VI was quite the party animal and a grave embarrassment to the Church.
“He has a unique record among the popes for the public prominence of his illegitimate children and the blatancy of his amours in the “Sacred Palace”. With his 12 bastard children, including Cesare, Juan, Lucrezia and Jofre, and his numerous mistresses, the “Vatican was a brothel” with a debauched papal court. Alexander VI was a sexual pervert, and lurid stories were bandied about by the intellectual underworld of Rome.
“Once he became Pope Alexander VI, Vatican parties, already wild, grew wilder. They were costly, but he could afford the lifestyle of a Renaissance prince; as vice chancellor of the Roman Church, he had amassed enormous wealth. As guests approached the papal palace, they were excited by the spectacle of living statues: naked, gilded young men and women in erotic poses. Flags bore the Borgia arms, which, appropriately, portrayed a red bull rampant on a field of gold. Every fete had a theme. One, known to Romans as the Ballet of the Chestnuts, was held on October 30, 1501. The indefatigable Burchard describes it in his Diarium. After the banquet dishes had been cleared away, the city’s fifty most beautiful whores danced with the guests, “first clothed, then naked.” The dancing over, the “ballet” began, with the Pope and two of his children in the best seats.
Candelabra were set up on the floor, scattered among them were chestnuts, “which”, Burchard writes, “the courtesans had to pick up, crawling between the candles.” Then the serious sex started. Guests stripped and ran out onto the floor, where they mounted, or were mounted by, the prostitutes. “The coupling took place,” according to Burchard, “in front of everyone present.” Servants kept score of each man’s orgasms, for the Pope greatly admired virility, and measured a man’s machismo by his ejaculative capacity. After eveyone was exhausted, His Holiness distributed prizes- cloaks, boots, caps, and fine silken tunics. “The winners”, the diarist wrote, “were those who made love with the courtesans the greatest number of times.”
image by Franz von Bayros
His death was not such a grand and exciting affair. Johann Burchard was the man who dressed and prepared the Pope’s body for burial.
“With the help of three others, I took hold of the bier and moved it so that the pope’s head was close to the altar. There we shut the bier in behind the choir. The Bishop of Sessa, however, wondered if the ordinary people might not climb up to the body there, which would cause a great scandal and perhaps allow somebody who had been wronged by the pope to get his revenge. He therefore had the bier moved into the chapel entrance between the steps, with the pope’s feet so close to the iron door that they could be touched through the grill. There the body remained through the day, with the iron door firmly closed.
At four o’clock on that afternoon when I saw the corpse again, its face had changed to the color of mulberry or the blackest cloth and it was covered in blue-black spots. The nose was swollen, the mouth distended where the tongue was doubled over, and the lips seemed to fill everything. The appearance of the face then was far more horrifying than anything that had ever been seen or reported before.
Later after five o’clock, the body was carried to the Chapel of Santa Maria della Febbre and placed in its coffin next to the wall in a corner by the altar. Six laborers or porters, making blasphemous jokes in contempt of his corpse, together with two master carpenters, performed this task.
The carpenters had made the coffin too narrow and short, and so they placed the pope’s miter at his side, rolled him up in an old carpet, and pummeled and pushed it into the coffin with their fists. No wax tapers or lights were used, and no priests or any other persons attended to his body.