A Swedish Queen in Rome

One of the more unusual people to call Rome her home was a Swedish queen who gave up her throne, converted to Catholicism, and lived out her life in the Eternal City.

Queen Christina of Sweden as a child
Queen Christina of Sweden as a child

Queen Christina of Sweden was born in 1626. At the age of six, she became queen upon the death of her father, King Gustav II Adolph. Considered one of the most intelligent and educated women of her time (at one point Rene Descartes was her tutor!), she was interested in art, literature, theater, religion, and philosophy. She also commissioned hundreds and hundreds of works of art.

Christina with Rene Descartes
Christina with Rene Descartes

Christina had been raised as a Lutheran. The world was consequently shocked when, in 1654, she abdicated her throne and converted to Catholicism. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Rome, where she was treated to many fetes and parties welcoming her to the city.

Enormous party to welcome Queen Christina to Rome in the courtyard of Palazzo Barberini on February 28, 1656
Enormous party to welcome Queen Christina to Rome in the courtyard of Palazzo Barberini on February 28, 1656

As a Catholic queen, she was treated as a “guest” of five successive popes despite the fact that she lived a very unconventional lifestyle. She remained unmarried and rejected many of the conventions placed upon women at her time. Indeed, she even adopted male attire on occasion, including when she rode through Rome on horseback.

After a short stay in the Vatican, she settled in the magnificent Palazzo Farnese, where she established a weekly salon.

Palazzo Farnese, near Piazza Campo de' Fiori
Palazzo Farnese, near Piazza Campo de’ Fiori

Later she would move to Palazzo Corsini in Trastevere which she filled with art and tapestries.

Palazzo Corsini, in Trastevere … not a bad place to stay!
Palazzo Corsini, in Trastevere … not a bad place to stay!

Queen Christina is part of one of the great legends in Rome. The story goes that a painter staying at Villa Medici was late for a meeting with the queen, so she fired a cannon ball at the villa from Castel Sant’Angelo. The cannon ball hit the massive front door, leaving a dent still seen today. A lovely fountain in front of Villa Medici seems to pay homage to this event, as water flows from a round ball about the size of a cannon ball. Most probably a myth, but a wonderful one!

Painting by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot of the "cannonball" fountain in front of Villa Medici
Painting by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot of the “cannonball” fountain in front of Villa Medici

Today, this former queen is buried in the Vatican grottoes, one of only three women allowed to do so. She also left an important legacy to the Vatican — her library.

Queen Christina of Sweden's tomb in the Vatican grottoes
Queen Christina of Sweden’s tomb in the Vatican grottoes

So, we’ve seen British, Scottish, and Swedish royals living in Rome. Next up are the French (or, more correctly, Corsicans)!

 

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