"We can find the Spanish origin of the Borgias in an ancient family tree of them, but we can't state it for certain. Their coat of arms was changed many times".

This illustrious family was ascribed to the Roman nobility on March 18th, 1756 and is still held in Velletri ": this is what Amayden wrote in his famous book of heraldry about the Borgia family of Velletri[1].

Borja is the name of a Spanish family of popes and captains. We have historical information about them from the first half of the thirteenth century. They came originally from the city of Valencia (Spain), where they are still celebrated in museums, ducal palaces, churches and cathedrals, as a family of universal fame.

For a long time the royal house of Aragon was considered the common stock of all the families of the same name, but this happened only in the sixteenth century, thanks to "complacent genealogists"[2]. ". In fact, according to more recent and in-depth studies, Don Pedro de Atarés, lord of Borja and pretender to the throne of Aragon, who according to some had fled to Italy following the dynastic struggles, died without leaving heirs. Thus, this common agnation remains unproven[3].

In the archives, we can find a lease dating back to 1181, with the name of "Dominus" (Lord) that was referred to the noble Riccardo Borgia from Velletri. The common ancestry of the two houses, with the same name and coat of arms, is surrounded by the mystery of history. The reputation about the family of Alonso (Callixtus III) and Rodrigo (Alexander VI) has changed over time.

The bad name was the result of nineteenth-century romanticized stories, that affected  the collective imagination.

At the time of Sister Angela Catherine, bringing that name and making it go back, even in the absence of certain sources, to the common Spanish ancestry of the papal family, was not a burden. On the contrary, entering the convent bringing a huge dowry and the name of bishops, cardinals and even popes was an advantage.

So let's go back to the times of this character, to discover him again. After I studied for many years the figure of Stefano Borgia, a learned humanist and cardinal, I wrote that a history of the women of the family would have been more meritorious. It would be also more improbable, because of the scarcity of documentary sources.

Therefore, honor be to those who wanted and knew how to raise the veil of oblivion on the other half of the panorama of the illustrious family.

We will focus only on a few characters who lived in a time closer to the one in which Angela Catherine lived, who among the ancestors and ancestors included the "de Ponziani" or "Ponzianelli" ("noble and holy family" which belonged to St. Francesca Romana) and the "Ginnetti" princes (among whom Cardinal Marzio is remembered, 1586-1671).

Clemente Erminio Borgia was a scholar. He had the merit of having begun, at the end of the seventeenth century, the collection of a first nucleus of objects, especially Greek, Roman and volsche antiquities, coming from the countryside around Velletri. His collection gradually grew in quantity, in the following century, and became the famous Museum Borgia (now in Naples), which was mentioned by Goethe, who visited it during his trip to Italy.

From the marriage of Clemente Erminio (1640-1711) with Cecilia Carboni (1663-1739) twelve children were born. Almost all of them started to embrace the religious life (excluding the eldest one). Among them we can find the following ones:

  • Alessandro (1682-1764), second-born, general auditor of the nunciature of Cologne in 1705 and future archbishop of Fermo since 1724, known for his works of erudition and homiletics;
  • Fabrizio (1689-1754), seventh son, bishop of Ferentino, author of ascetic-religious works;
  • the 10th child, our Angela Catherine.

From the marriage of the firstborn Camillo (1681-1793) with Maddalena Gagliardi (1708-1778), ten children were born, including Stefano (1731-1804), second son and future cardinal, certainly the most famous and authoritative character in the history of the family. Also in this generation, the tenth daughter was called Angela Catherine (born in 1747) and she was initiated into religious life, as all of her brothers and sisters, one of whom also a nun in St. Lucy in Selci. We can find some brief references and letters, written to Stefano and collected in the family Epistolary, kept in the city library of Velletri, whose interest is linked only to family affairs.

Andrea Maria Erba, scholar of Church History and Bishop of Velletri, wrote about Stefano, first secretary and then prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (1799-1804): "I was fascinated by his great personality as a scholar and manager, a man of Church, open to the widest cultural interests worldwide. Stefano Borgia appeared to me as one of the most learned, capable and worthy prelates of the eighteenth century, above all for the long and intense service rendered to the Church and the papacy in places of high responsibility"[4].

Between lights and shadows of a very difficult period of transition, between the Renaissance and the French Revolution, I would like to conclude this brief excursion on the famous family, with the words of the historian Miquel Battlori: “I Borgia: una famiglia dalla vita drammaticamente e intensamente vissuta tra Valencia e Roma, tra la Spagna e l’Italia, tra storia e leggenda, tra vita e morte, tra il chiaro e lo scuro delle passioni e del potere” (The Borgias: a family whose life was dramatically and intensely lived from Valencia to Rome, from Spain to Italy, between history and legend, between life and death, between the lights and the darkness of passions and power).

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[1] T. AMAYDEN, La storia delle famiglie romane, con note e aggiunte del comm. C.A. Bertini, Roma 1887, I, pages. 219-220.

[2] “Borgia”, in Enciclopedia Italiana, VII, pages 474-475.

[3] M. BATTLORI, Le origini della famiglia Borgia, in I Borgia, Electa 2002, page 23.

[4] A.M. ERBA, Stefano Borgia: un cardinale umanista, in R. LANGELLA – R. MAMMUCARI, edd. Stefano Borgia, la famiglia, la storia, Il museo, Velletri 1995, pag. 69.