Pope Julius II laid the cornerstone of the current St. Peter’s Basilica, one of Catholicism’s most sacred buildings.

St. Peter’s Basilica, whose enormous Michelangelo-designed dome makes it one of the most dominant features on the Rome skyline, is located on what Catholics believe is the burial site of Saint Peter, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ.

Emperor Constantine the Great had built an earlier basilica on the site of a shrine that was reputed to mark St. Peter’s burial place in the 4th century. However, this building had fallen into a poor state of repair by the 15th century and in 1505 Pope Julius II made the decision to demolish the 1,100 year old basilica and build an entirely new one.

Such an undertaking would prove to be incredibly costly but, with funds partially provided by the selling of indulgences, construction began on a design by architect Donato Bramante in 1506. A number of adaptations were made to the plans over the next few decades, although a large part of the current building was designed by Michelangelo after he took over the project in 1547.

It took over a century to complete St. Peter’s Basilica, which was consecrated by Pope Urban VIII on 18 November 1626. Judged by many as the greatest example of Renaissance architecture, the basilica is the largest church in the world. Even more than 500 years after its construction, the dome still remains one of the largest in the world and continues to tower over lavish decorations and unmatched pieces of religious art. Yet, despite its position as perhaps the most famous Catholic building in the world, St. Peter’s Basilica is not the mother church. This is rather St. John Lateran, the cathedral church of Rome and the official seat of the Pope.

The shortest papacy in history ended after just twelve days following the death of Pope Urban VII, shortly after he introduced Europe’s first smoking ban.

Giovanni Battista Castagna was elected as Pope on 15 September 1590 but died of malaria less than two weeks later. Despite his short reign, he was responsible for introducing a range of financial reforms that benefited the poor. Ranging from bread subsidies to public works projects, these were partly funded through restrictions on luxury items and partly from his own pocket.

As well as these charitable acts, Urban VII was also responsible for Europe’s first smoking ban. Tobacco had arrived in Europe less than a century earlier, and the new Pope threatened to excommunicate anyone who was caught “chewing it, smoking it with a pipe or sniffing it in powdered form through the nose”  in the porchway of, or inside, a church.

An earlier smoking ban had been introduced by the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico in 1575, specifically prohibiting smoking inside churches. It was Urban VII’s ban, however, that gained most attention due to the growing popularity of tobacco in Europe in the 16th Century. It was later extended by Urban VIII in 1624 when he completely banned the use of snuff due to the sneezing it prompted resembling ‘sexual ecstasy’.

Urban VII’s ban on tobacco in churches and their porches stayed on the books until the early 18th Century, far outlasting the Pope himself. Following his death from malaria, which it is believed he contracted within two days of his election as Pope, Urban VII was buried in the Vatican. His remains were later moved to the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, near the Pantheon in Rome.

Born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, Pius IX’s election by the Papal conclave of 1846 came at a time of significant political unrest across Europe. A particular issue facing the 50 members of the College of Cardinals who attended the conclave regarded the future governance of the Papal States, which the new Pope would rule. A conservative faction wished to see the continuation of a policy of papal absolutism, while more moderate cardinals hoped for some liberal reforms.

Going against the general mood of the rulers of Europe who wished to see a conservative Pope, the moderate Cardinal Bernetti successfully persuaded other like-minded cardinals to vote for Mastai-Ferretti. The papal historian Valérie Pirie wrote that, as one of the scrutineers responsible for recording the votes of the conclave, Mastai-Ferretti therefore proclaimed his own election.

His appointment was met with enthusiasm from European liberals, and he was celebrated by English Protestants as a ‘friend of light’. Having named himself Pius after Pope Pius VII, the first years of the new Pope’s rule saw a number of liberal actions including the release of political prisoners and the beginnings of a constitution for the Papal States. However, the revolutions of 1848-49 and a number of nationalist terrorist attacks began to turn him away from this initially liberal agenda.

By the 1850s Pius IX had become more conservative, and he began to consolidate the power of the Church. The capture of the Papal States by the Italian Army in 1870, however, led to him declaring himself the ‘Prisoner of the Vatican’.