Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros

Cardinal Cisneros

Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, O.F.M. (1436 – 8 November 1517), known as Ximenes de Cisneros in his own lifetime, and commonly referred to today as simply Cisneros, was a Spanish cardinal, religious figure, and statesman.[1] Starting from humble beginnings he rose to the heights of power becoming a religious reformer, twice regent of Spain, Cardinal, Grand Inquisitor, promoter of the Crusades in North Africa, and founder of the Complutense University, today the Complutense University of Madrid. Among his intellectual accomplishments, he is best known for funding the Complutensian Polyglot Bible, the first printed polyglot version of the entire Bible. He also edited and published the first printed editions of the missal (in 1500) and the breviary (in 1502) of the Mozarabic Rite, and established a chapel with a college of thirteen priests to celebrate the Mozarabic Liturgy of the Hours and Eucharist each day in the Toledo Cathedral.

Cardinal Cisneros' life coincided with, and greatly influenced, a dynamic period in the history of Spain during the reign of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. During this time Spain underwent many significant changes, leading it into its prominent role in the Spanish Golden Age (1500–1700). Modern historian John Elliott said as far as any particular policies that can be attributed to Spain's rise, they were those of King Ferdinand and Cardinal Cisneros.[2]

Rise to power

Cardinal Cisneros
Coat of arms of Cardinal Cisneros.
The Most Eminent and Most Reverend
Cardinal Fray Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros
O.F.M.
80th Archbishop of Toledo, Primate of Spain
In office
20 February 1495 – 8 November 1517
Preceded by Cardinal González de Mendoza
Succeeded by William de Croÿ
Governor of the Kingdom of Castile
In office
23 January 1516 – 8 November 1517
Monarch Joanna I "The Mad"
Preceded by Ferdinand II of Aragon, Governor of the Realm
Succeeded by Charles I, co-monarch with his mother Joanna,
President of the Council of Regency of the Kingdom of Castile
Preceded by Philip "The Handsome", King of Castile, iure uxoris
Succeeded by Ferdinand II of Aragon, Governor of the Realm
Personal details
Born

1436

Torrelaguna, Crown of Castile
Died

8 November 1517

Roa de Duero, Crown of Castile

He was born as Gonzalo Jiménez de Cisneros in Torrelaguna in Castile in 1436, the son of hidalgos Alfonso Jiménez y María de la Torre, from the villa of Cisneros, Palencia.[3] He studied at Alcalá de Henares and Salamanca, where in 1456, he obtained a bachelor's degree in law. In 1459, he traveled to Rome to work as a consistorial advocate where he attracted the notice of Pope Pius II. He returned to Spain in 1465 carrying an "executive" letter from the Pope giving him possession of the first vacant benefice. That turned out to be Uceda. However, Alfonso Carrillo de Acuña, the Archbishop of Toledo and Primate of Spain, refused to accept the letter, wishing instead to bestow the benefice upon one of his own followers. When Cisneros insisted, he was thrown in prison, first at Uzeda and afterwards in the fortress of Santorcaz.[4] For six years, Cisneros held out for his claim, free to leave at any time if he would give it up, but at length in 1480 Carrillo relented at Cisneros' strength of conviction and gave him a benefice. Fearing further reprisals, Cisneros traded it almost at once for a chaplaincy at Sigüenza, under Cardinal Pedro González de Mendoza, the bishop of Sigüenza, who shortly after appointed him vicar general of his diocese.

At Siguenza, Cisneros won praise for his work and he seemed to be on the sure road to success among the secular clergy, when in 1484 at the late age of forty-eight he abruptly decided to become a Franciscan friar. Giving up all his worldly belongings, and changing his baptismal name, Gonzalo, for that of Francisco, he entered the Franciscan friary of San Juan de los Reyes,[3] recently founded by Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile at Toledo. Not content with the normal lack of comforts for a friar, he voluntarily slept on the bare ground, wore a cilice, doubled his fasts, and generally denied himself with enthusiasm; indeed throughout his whole life, even when at the height of power, his private life was rigorously ascetic.

He retired to the isolated friary of Our Lady of Castañar and built a rough hut in the neighboring woods, in which he lived at times as an anchorite, and later became guardian of a friary at Salzeda.[4] Meanwhile, Mendoza (now Archbishop of Toledo) had not forgotten him, and in 1492 recommended him to Isabella as her confessor. Jiménez accepted the position on condition that he might still live in his community and follow the religious life, only appearing at court when sent for. The post was politically important, for Isabella took counsel from her confessor not only in religious affairs but also matters of state. Isabella's Alhambra Decree, which expelled the Jews from Spain, followed almost immediately upon Cisneros' appointment as her confessor.[5] Cisneros' severe sanctity soon won him considerable influence over Isabella, and in 1494 he was appointed Minister Provincial of the order for Spain.

Cardinal Mendoza died in 1495, and Isabella had secretly procured a papal bull nominating Cisneros to Mendoza's Archdiocese of Toledo, the richest and most powerful in Spain. With this office was also given the office of chancellor of Castile. Isabella tried to surprise him by presenting the bull as a gift in person, but Cisneros did not react as she had hoped. Instead, he fled her presence, and ran away, only to be overtaken by Isabella's messengers several miles outside of Madrid and convinced to return to court for further discussion. Cisneros resisted the appointment for six months and reluctantly agreed only after a second papal bull ordered him to accept.[6] Despite his lavish new position, Cisneros personally still maintained a simple life; although a message from Rome required him to live in a style befitting his rank, the outward pomp only concealed his private asceticism.

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