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Juan Carvajal

Cardinal, b. about 1400 at Truxillo in Estremadura, Spain; d. at Rome, December 6, 1469

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Carvajal (CARVAGIAL), JUAN, CARDINAL, b. about 1400 at Truxillo in Estremadura, Spain; d. at Rome, December 6, 1469. Little is known of his early youth, except that he made much progress in canon and civil law, and by 1440 had attained distinction at Rome as auditor of the Rota (q.v.) and governor of the City. Thenceforth his life was to be spent mostly in the foreign service of the Holy See; his contemporary, Cardinal Jacopo Ammanati, says (Comment., I, 2, 7) that he was sent twenty-two times as papal legate to various rulers and countries. Between 1441 and 1448 he spent much time in Germany and labored, in union with Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (q.v.), to placate the strong feelings of the German princes against Eugene IV, to overcome their “neutrality” in the last, and schismatic phase of the Council of Basle, and to bring about the treaties known as the Concordat of the Princes (1447) and the Concordat of Aschaffenburg or Vienna (1448; see Concordat). He was rewarded by Eugene IV (December 14, 1446) with the Cardinal‘s hat and the Title of St. Angelo in Toro piscium. In 1444 and again in 1448 he was sent to Bohemia to promote the cause of religious unity but failed both times, owing to the stubbornness of the Calixtines and the influence of John Rokyzana, Archbishop of Prague, beloved in Bohemia, but whose orthodoxy was suspected at Rome (see Hus and Hussites).

In 1455 Carvajal was sent by Callistus III to Hungary to preach a vigorous crusade against the Turks, and for six years was the soul of the first effectual resistance made by Christian Europe to the ominous progress of the Ottoman conquerors of Constantinople (1453). Aided by the famous Capuchin preacher, Saint John Capistran (q.v.), he gathered an army of about 40,000 men, effected a union with the troops of John Hunyady (q.v.), and on July 22, 1456, the siege of Belgrade, the key of the Danube, was raised by a glorious victory that inaugurated the century-long resistance of Christian Hungary to the propaganda of Islam. He reconciled King Ladislaus (1457), with Emperor Frederick III, and in 1458 made peace between the Magyar nobles in favor of Matthias Corvinus as successor of Ladislaus. He was still in Hungary, organizing the defense of that bulwark of Christendom, when Pius II invited the princes of Christian Europe to meet him at Mantua (1459) to confer on the common danger and the need of a general crusade. While Cardinal Bessarion (q.v.) sought in Germany something more than brilliant promises, Carvajal continued his labors in Hungary, which he left only in the autumn of 1461, after six years of extraordinary service for the common good of Christian Europe, but “grown old and feeble”, says Pastor (History of the Popes), “in that severe climate, amid the turmoils of the Court and the camp, and the fatigues of travel … [in] that bleak country of moorlands and marshes” He was made CardinalBishop of Porto and Santa Rufina on his return. He had long held the See of Plasencia in Spain, where a noble bridge across the Tagus, built by him, is yet known as “the cardinal’s bridge”. In spite of his age and feeble health, he was still willing to take a foremost part in the crusade that Pius II was preparing at Ancona in 1464, when the death of that pope (August 14) put an end to the enterprise. His last legation was to Venice in 1466.

From all his journeys Carvajal brought back nothing but the reputation of an unspotted priesthood (Pastor, op. cit., IV, 131). “Such a legate”, wrote the King of Hungary, “truly corresponds to the greatness of our need” (op. cit., II, 391). By his contemporaries he was considered the ornament of the Church, comparable to her ancient Fathers (Cardinal Ammanati) and the sole reminder of the heroic grandeur of Rome‘s earliest founders (Pomponius Lsetus). Though genial in intercourse, there was something awe-inspiring about this saintly man whose ascetic life enabled him to provide liberally for the poor and for needy churches. Denifle mentions (Die Universitaten, I, 813) a college founded by him at Salamanca. His discourse in the papal consistories, says Pastor, was brief, simple, clear, logical, and devoid of contemporary rhetoric; his legatine reports have the same “restrained and impersonal character”. Palacky, the non-Catholic historian of Bohemia writes of Carvajal (Geschichte Bohmens, IV, ii, 372): “Not only in zeal for the Faith, in moral purity and strength of character, was he unsurpassed, but he was also unequalled in knowledge of the world, in experience of ecclesiastical affairs, and in the services which he rendered to the papal authority. It was chiefly due to his labors, prolonged during a period of twenty years that Rome at last got the better of Constance and Basle, that the nations returned to their allegiance, and that her power and glory again shone before the world with a splendor that they had not seen since the time of Boniface VIII.” Pastor says of him that he was absolutely free from the restless ambition and self-glorification so common among the men of the Renaissance, and seemed born for ecclesiastical diplomacy. His dominant idea was the consecration of his life to the Church and the promotion of the glory and power of Christ’s Vicar. “Pars haec vitae ultima Christo neganda non eat” (I must not refuse to Christ this last portion of my life) were the words in which he offered himself to Pius II as leader of a relief to the diminutive Christian Republic of Ragusa hard pressed in 1464 by the Turks. He left no printed works; among his manuscript remains are a defense of the Holy See, reports of his legations, a volume of letters, and discourses sacred and profane. He was buried in San Marcello al Corso. A. monument erected to him there by Bessarion bears these words: Animo Petrus pectore Caesar erat (A Peter in spirit, a Caesar in courage).


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