Fiction tempers the funeral facts

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Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander VI


By our religious correspondent, Richard Rawlinson


TV mini-series The Borgias stars Jeremy Irons as Renaissance Pope Alexander VI, nee Roderigo Borgia. Created by Neil Jordan of The Tudors fame, is a lavish period piece (winning this year’s Emmy for Best Costume) and is packed with racy plotlines involving power struggles, sex, assassinations and sibling rivalries.

As the portraits above and below reveal, the casting of Irons involved a degree of artistic license. The Venetian ambassador reported that Rodrigo Borgia’s corpse was “the ugliest, most monstrous and horrible dead body that was ever seen, without any form or likeness of humanity.”

After a week of intestinal bleeding and convulsive fevers, he died in 1503 at the age of 72. The swollen body began to release sulfurous gasses from every orifice, according to reports, and someone had to jump on the body to jam it into the undersized coffin.

Master of Ceremonies Johann Burchard elaborated: ‘The face was very dark, the color of a dirty rag or a mulberry, and was covered all over with bruise-colored marks. The nose was swollen; the tongue had bent over in the mouth, completely double, and was pushing out the lips which were, themselves, swollen. The mouth was open and so ghastly that people who saw it said they had never seen anything like it before.’


                                     Pope Alexander VI

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