Marcellus II, POPE (MARCELLO CERVINI DEGLI SPANNOCHI), b. May 6, 1501, at Montepulciano in Tuscany; d. May 6, 1555, at Rome. His father, Ricardo Cervini, was Apostolic treasurer in the March of Ancona. After studying some time at Siena, he came to Rome, shortly after the accession of Clement VII, in 1523, to continue his studies, and through his purity of life and longing for knowledge gained the respect and friendship of many persons of high influence. Paul III, who had succeeded Clement VII in 1534, appointed him prothonotary apostolic and papal secretary. When, in 1538, Paul III entrusted his youthful nephew, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, with practically the complete management of the temporal affairs of the Church, the prudent and virtuous Cervini was appointed the adviser and private secretary of the young and inexperienced cardinal and as such had a great influence in the papal curia. He accompanied Farnese on his various legations, and in order that he might take actual part in the consultations and negotiations between Farnese and the monarchs of Europe, he was created cardinal-priest of the title of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, December 19, 1539. He had already been appointed to the See of Nicastro, in addition to which he became administrator of the Diocese of Reggio the following year, and that of Gubbio in 1544. In 1539 he accompanied Farnese on an important legation to Charles V of Germany and Francis I of France. The purpose of this legation was to induce the two monarchs to send the prelates of their countries to the intended General Council of the Church and to gain their assistance against Henry VIII of England and the Turks.
They had an audience with Francis I at Amiens on February 9, 1540, and with the emperor at Ghent on the twenty-fourth of the same month, but their mission proved useless. They were already returning to Rome when Cervini received orders from the pope to stay as legate at the imperial court and to represent him at the Diet which the emperor wished to convene at Speyer. When, however, it became evident that the Protestants would be predominant at the Diet and had no desire to come to an understanding with the Catholics, the pope counteracted his order and sent no representative to the Diet which in the meantime had been transferred to Hagenau. In October, 1540, Cervini returned to Rome, not, however, before he had urgently requested the pope to send a representative to the intended Diet of Worms. In a consistory held at Rome on February 6, 1545, he was appointed one of the three presidents of the Council of Trent. His two colleagues were Cardinals Giovanni Maria del Monte (afterwards Julius III) and Reginald Pole. On March 13, 1545, he arrived at Trent. During the first period of the Council, i.e. from its opening session on December 13, 1545, until its prorogation for an indefinite period at Bologna on September 14, 1547, he fearlessly represented the interests of the pope and the Church against all opposition from the emperor, whose extreme hatred he in consequence incurred. In 1548 he succeeded Agostino Steuco as librarian of the Vatican with the title of “Bibliothecae Apostolicae Vaticanae Protector”. Under his protectorate the Vatican library was soon put in a flourishing condition. More than 500 Latin, Greek and Hebrew volumes were added, and new catalogues of the Greek and Latin manuscripts were prepared. As early as 1539 he had induced the pope to have printed at least the most valuable Greek manuscripts. Cervini’s public activity was less prominent during the pontificate of Julius III (1550-5). He was replaced as president of the Council of Trent by Marcello Crescenzi in the hope that the emperor would give his support to the presidents of the Council.
After the death of Julius III (March 23, 1555), the cardinals present in Rome, 39 in number, entered the conclave on April 4, and four days later Cardinal Marcello Cervini was elected pope, although the emperor had instructed his cardinals to prevent his election. Contrary to custom, Cervini, like Adrian VI, retained his old name of Marcello and was called Marcellus IL On the following day, April 10, he was consecrated bishop, for, though he had administered the Dioceses of Nicastro, Reggio, and Gubbio, he had not yet received episcopal consecration. He was crowned pope on the same day, but without the customary solemnity, on account of the Lenten season. The new pope had been one of those cardinals who were desirous of an inner reform of the Church. While administrator of Reggio he undertook a thorough visitation of the diocese in 1543, and abolished abuses wherever they were found. Immediately upon his accession he took the work of reform in hand; he died after a reign of only 22 days, of a sickness resulting from over-exertion during the pontifical functions of Holy Week and Easter. Palestrina entitled one of his famous polyphone masses “Missa Papa; Marcelli” in his honor. This mass was not, however, as is often asserted, chanted in the presence of Marcellus II; it was not composed until after the death of this pope.