The Catholic Church and France have a rich and extensive history dating back throughout the ages. Called the “eldest daughter of the Church,” the Catholic Church in France was established in the second century and has had continuous communion with the Holy See and the Bishop of Rome.

However, there have been struggles and conflicts between the Church and the state of France, most notably during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. Quite possibly the most heinous of all was the kidnapping of the pope.

During the Italian campaigns of the French Revolutionary War, French Republican soldiers under the command of Napoleon invaded Italy. In 1796, they defeated the papal troops and took control of the Italian cities of Ancona and Loreto. In response, Pope Pius VI sued for a return to peace and was subsequently granted his request on February 19, 1797.

However, nearly a year later on December 28th, a popular general of the French Republican Army was killed during a riot in Rome. In response, General Louise Berthier marched into Rome, declared a Roman Republic, and demanded Pope Pius IV renounce his temporal power. The pope refused and was taken prisoner.

On February 20th, 1798, Pope Pius VI was escorted out of Vatican, first travelling to Sienna and then to Florence. He was them taken to France going through way of Parma, Piacenza, Turin and Grenoble to the fortress of Valence in Dauphiny, France. He died six weeks after his arrival on August 29th, 1799. Prior to his death, he had reigned for longer than any of his papal predecessors.

Pope Pius VI was embalmed, but not given a proper burial by the French. On the 30th of January in 1800, Napoleon had the late pope buried in efforts to bring the Catholic Church back into France. The Concordat of 1801 settled the dispute, resolving the conflict between French revolutionaries and Catholics and restoring the Church to the majority in France. Pope Pius VI’s body was taken from Valence on 24 December 1801, and buried in Rome on 19 February 1802. He was given a Catholic funeral with Pope Pius VII in attendance, his successor.

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