The Concordat of 1801

The Concordat of 1801

  • Cardinal Consalvi, Secretary of State of the Holy See.

    LAWRENCE Thomas (1769 - 1830)

  • Signature of the Concordat between France and the Holy See, by Pope Pius VII, August 15, 1801.

    WICAR Jean-Baptiste Joseph (1762 - 1834)

To close

Title: Cardinal Consalvi, Secretary of State of the Holy See.

Author : LAWRENCE Thomas (1769 - 1830)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Print by Charles Edward Wagstaff after Thomas Lawrence.

Storage location: National Museum of Malmaison Castle website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Picture reference: 01-004546 /MM.52.3.9

Cardinal Consalvi, Secretary of State of the Holy See.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Signature of the Concordat between France and the Holy See, by Pope Pius VII, August 15, 1801.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: February 2009

Historical context

Born August 14, 1742 in Cesena, Romagna, Gregory Barnabé Chiaramonti - the future Pope Pius VII - came from a family of old Romagna nobility. He expresses his political and religious position in a famous homily delivered on Christmas Day 1797: democratic rule is not contrary to the Gospel, but it cannot do without religion.

On August 29, 1799, Pope Pius VI died in Valence, a prisoner of the Directory. Pius VII entrusts Ercole Consalvi with the formidable task of negotiating the terms with Bonaparte.

Image Analysis

A surprisingly precocious artist, Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) became in 1792 the ordinary painter to King George III of England and presided over the Royal Academy from 1820 until his death. A disciple of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), he was an internationally renowned social portrait painter. He painted the portrait of Cardinal Ercole Consalvi, Secretary of State of the Holy See, during a trip to Rome, probably in 1818. Charles Edward Wagstaff (1808-1850) reproduced this portrait in print. The prelate is represented in his office in the Vatican, seated in an armchair, his left arm resting on a stack of papers. He holds in his right hand a bundle of leaflets and his cardinal bar. Behind him, a wide bay lets glimpse a blurred neoclassical architecture, that of the facade of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.

A pupil of David, the Lille painter Jean-Baptiste Wicar (1762-1834) was a member of the Science and Arts Commission which accompanied General Bonaparte during the Italian Campaign. He was responsible for seizing works of art that could enrich the collections of national museums. In 1800 he settled permanently in Rome. The drawing representing Pope Pius VII, when he hands over to Cardinal Consalvi, after having ratified it, the text of the Concordat signed in Paris on July 15, 1801, was commissioned by François Cacault, protector of the artist, representative of the First Consul in Rome. Executed from nature, the work was exhibited from 1803 in the Palace of the French Legation, along with a plaster bust of Napoleon Bonaparte by Canova. As for an exchange of gifts, the drawing was then handed over to Bonaparte in Paris, while the bust was offered to the Pope.


The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, voted by the Constituent Assembly on July 12, 1790, had instituted a National Church with priests elected by the faithful, remunerated by the State and required to take an oath of loyalty "to the Nation, to the Law. and to the King ”. This Constitution had been condemned by the Holy See, so that two clergy were opposed in France: the sworn or constitutional clergy and the non-sworn or refractory clergy, faithful to Rome.

For Napoleon Bonaparte, the settlement of the religious question is a necessary condition for the internal pacification of the country and he wants to put the Catholic Church, still very influential, at his service. On the advice of Etienne Bernier, parish priest of Saint-Laud in Angers, he therefore opened negotiations with Pope Pius VII, newly elected, on June 25, 1800. The slowness of negotiations, often broken off, can be explained by a difference in fundamental point of view: Bonaparte approaches the religious question on a political level while the Pope considers it on a spiritual level. Pius VII first sent Cardinal Spina to Paris and then, on June 20, 1801, his Secretary of State, Cardinal Consalvi, charged with relaunching negotiations. Finally, the Concordat was signed on July 15, 1801. By ratifying it on the following August 15, the pope recognized the republic and renounced the restitution of national property. For its part, the French government retains control over the organization of the Catholic Church: it appoints bishops; the number of dioceses is halved compared to the Ancien Régime; the clergy are paid by the state and must take an oath of loyalty. The provisions of the Concordat were extended to other denominations then represented in France: Lutherans, Calvinists, Jews.

Despite the addition of the Organic Articles which partly restore Gallicanism and which the Pope will never ratify, the Concordat of 1801 enshrines the return to religious peace. It will remain in force in France until the separation of Church and State in 1905.

  • Concordat of 1801
  • Consulate
  • Pius VII
  • national property
  • Church property


Jacques-Olivier BOUDON, Napoleon and the cults, Paris, Fayard, 2002. Jacques CRETINEAU-JOLY, Memoirs of Cardinal Consalvi, Secretary of State to Pope Pius VII (with an introduction and notes), Paris, Plon, 1864 Yves-Marie HILAIRE, History of the Papacy, Paris, Le Seuil, collection “Points Histoire”, 2003. Jean LEFLON, The Concordat and Imperial Church, Paris, Maison de la Bonne Presse, 1947.Bernardine MELCHIOR-BONNET, Napoleon and the Pope, Paris, The Contemporary Book, 1958. Gérard PELLETIER, Rome and the French Revolution: Theology and Politics of the Holy See in the Face of the French Revolution (1789-1799), Collection of the French School of Rome, 2004. Jean TULARD, Napoleon dictionary, Paris, Fayard, 1999.

To cite this article

Alain GALOIN, "The Concordat of 1801"

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