Skip to main content Accessibility help

Pope Gregory XVI's Chocolate Enterprise: How Some Italian Clerics Survived Financially During the Napoleonic Era

  • Christopher Korten


Chocolate has early associations in the West with Spanish Catholic missionaries to America. From the middle of the sixteenth century, chocolate was employed in many useful ways, including economic capacities. However, till now, there have been no associations with the liquid drink and financial survival during and after periods of war or revolution. Yet during the Napoleonic years (1798–1814), chocolate was employed to support certain impoverished Italian clerics during the leanest years of the period. Leading one of these initiatives was Mauro Cappellari, the future Pope Gregory XVI (r. 1831–1846), who, along with others in his Camaldolese order, produced and retailed the chocolate throughout Italian lands. This article draws on Italian archival materials in Rome and Camaldoli in order to piece together this hitherto overlooked food enterprise. In addition, this article will also reveal much about the chocolate trade and production in Italian lands in general.



Hide All

1 On health-related matters, see Grivetti, Louis Evan, “Medicinal Chocolate in New Spain, Western Europe, and North America,” in Chocolate: History, Culture and Heritage, ed. Grivetti, Louis Evan and Shapiro, Howard-Yana (Hoboken, N.J., 2009), 6788 .

2 See Grivetti, Louis Evan and Cabezon, Beatriz, “Ancient Gods and Christian Celebrations,” in, Chocolate: History, Culture and Heritage, ed. Grivetti, and Shapiro, , 2735 .

3 Technically, Columbus was first, but he felt the product was unimportant: Norton, Marcy, “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics,” The American Historical Review 111, no. 3 (2006): 675676 . There is some debate on Cortéz's role: compare Norton with Weinberg, Bennett Alan and Bealer, Bonnie K., The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug (New York: Taylor & Francis, 2001), 55.

4 Based on a key argument in Norton's article, “Tasting Empire,” 676–677, that acquiring a taste for chocolate was proof of the native Indian influence on the Spaniards, who initially found the drink unpalatable.

5 See, for example, Prinz, Deborah R., On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao (Woodstock, Vt.: Jewish Lights, 2013), 128130 ; and Cabezon, Beatriz, “Cacao, Haciendas, and the Jesuits: Letters from New Spain 1693–1751,” in Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage, ed. Grivetti, and Shapiro, , 609.

6 Weinberg and Bealer, The World of Caffeine, 55.

7 Norton, “Tasting Empire,” 680.

8 Ibid.

9 Weinberg and Bealer, The World of Caffeine, 56–57. One possible documented exception is the anecdote of Pope Paul V in the following paragraph.

10 Gage, Thomas, A New Survey of the West-Indies: Or the English American His Travel by Sea and Land (London: 1677), 17; also quoted in Norton, “Tasting Empire,” 680.

11 On sweetened chocolate not being a novelty of Europe, see Norton, “Tasting Empire,” 684n.

12 “Liquidum non frangit jejunum,” accessed February 1, 2015,

13 Forrest, Beth Marie and Najjaj, April L., “Is Sipping Sin Breaking Fast? The Catholic Chocolate Controversy and the Changing World of Early Modern Spain,” Food and Foodways 15, no. 1–2 (2007): 3132 .

14 Coe, Sophie D. and Coe, Michael D., The True History of Chocolate (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996), 214; in addition to chocolate, lemonade also became a popular breakfast drink. Hard chocolate did not become popular until much later.

15 Ibid., 213–214.

16 Ibid., 214.

17 See note 95.

18 On Dutch trade of Venezuelan cacao in the first half of the eighteenth century, see Klooster, Wim, Illicit Riches: Dutch Trade in the Caribbean, 1648–1795 (Leiden: KITLV 1998), 126, 207233 .

19 Weinberg and Bealer, The World of Caffeine, 57.

20 Boettcher, Jürgen, ed., Coffee Houses of Europe (London: Thames and Hudson, 1990), 131.

21 Weinberg and Bealer, The World of Caffeine, 89.

22 Clarence-Smith, William Gervase, Cocoa and Chocolate, 1765–1914 (London: Routledge, 2000), 10.

23 Gordon, Bertram M., “Chocolate in France: Evolution of a Luxury Product,” in Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage, ed. Grivetti, and Shapiro, , 576.

24 Consumption declined even earlier with the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773, see Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 210–211; and Clarence-Smith, Cocoa and Chocolate, 9.

25 The historiography is rich. See, for example, Menozzi, Daniele, “La rivoluzione francese e la Chiesa italiana,” Cristianesimo nella Storia, no. 2 (1989), 221225 ; Jedin, Hubert, ed., The Church between Revolution and Restoration, transl. Becker, Peter (London: Burns & Oates, 1981), 85104 ; Leflon, Jean, La crise révolutionnaire 1789–1846 (Paris: Bloud & Gay, 1949); Chadwick, Owen, Popes and European Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), 466471 , 484. On religious orders more specifically, see Naselli, Carmolo Amedeo, La soppressione napoleonica delle corporazioni religiose (Rome: Pontificia Università Gregorian, 1986); and most articles in Trolese, Francesco G. B., ed., Il Monachesimo Italiano dale Riforme Illuministiche all'unità nazionale (1768–1870) (Cesena: Badia de Santa Maria del Monte, 1992).

26 See previous footnote.

27 Giabbani, Anselmo, “L'Ambiente Monastico di Don Mauro Cappellari,” in Miscellanea Historiae Pontificiae 13 (1948): 188189 . They did not, however, have possession of material assets, preserving their vow of poverty: Michelangelo Fumè, Faenza, August 10, 1795, Sec. A, fol. 1, file 6, Archivio di Camaldoli (hereafter citations from Archivio di Camaldoli will use the following format: AC.A.1.6).

28 Misc. Cappellari financial writings, AC.F.1.1.

29 This would change later. See Mueller, Wolf, Bibliographie des Kaffee, des Kakao, der Schokolade, des Tee und deren Surrogate biz zum Jahre 1900 (Wien: Bad Bocklet, Kreig Verlag 1960), 37: Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Trappist monks at the abbey of Notre Dame d'Aiguebelle in France began producing chocolate.

30 Clarence-Smith, Cocoa and Chocolate, 3, provides a rather detailed historiography.

31 Chadwick, Popes and European Revolution, 517.

32 Key histories of the order include: Meneghin, Vittorino, S. Michele in Isola di Venezia, 2 vols. (Venezia: Stamperia di Venezia, 1962); Gibelli, Alberto, Monografia dell'antico monastero di S. Croce di Fonte Avellana. I suoi priori ed abati (Faenza: P. Conti, 1895); Croce, Giuseppe M., “Monaci Ed Eremiti Camaldolesi in Italia dal Settecento all'Ottocento. Tra soppressioni e restaurazioni (1769–1830),” in Il monachesimo italiano dalle riforme illuministiche all'Unità nazionale (1768–1870) (Cesena: Badia di Santa Maria del Monte, 1992), 199306 .

33 The return date is based on his earliest extant letter from Rome: March 17, 1800, AC.F.2.1.

34 The list of works about this period in the Roman State is long; examples include works by the following authors: Mario Battaglini, Antonio Cretoni, Fiorella Baroccini, Domenico Rocciolo, Maria Pia Donato, David Armado, Massimo Cattaneo, Maria Formica, and the collaborative effort of Boutry, Philippe, Travaglini, Carlo and Pitocco, Francesco, eds., Roma tra fine Settecento e inizi Ottocento (Rome: Archivo Guido Izzi, 1994).

35 Il Diario di Roma, November 6, 1799, 4.

36 Hales, Edward Elton Young, Revolution and Papacy (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1960), 116.

37 Chadwick, Popes and European Revolution, 467; see also Hales, Revolution and Papacy, 117.

38 For more on the economic situation at the time, see first Gross, Hanns, Rome in the Age of Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); then Pane, Luigi Dal, Lo stato pontificio e il movimento riformatore del Settecento (Milan: D. A. Giuffrè, 1959); as well as works by Alberto Caracciolo and Vittorio E. Giuntella.

39 No single source on this topic exists for the Napoleonic period. On the very confusing nature of interpreting relative value between different currencies in Rome at this time, see Nicassio, Susan Vendiver, Imperial City: Rome under Napoleon (London: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 151. See de Caro, Silvana Balbi, La Moneta a Roma e in Italia, vol. 1, Roma e la Moneta (Milan: Banca d'Italia, 1993), 197205 , for a basic introduction. There is a short but helpful discussion in Gross, Rome in the Age of Enlightenment, 144–151.

40 Chadwick, Popes and European Revolution, 467. During the Roman Republic (1798–1799), the French assignat lost its value.

41 Cappellari to Zurla, May 31, 1800, Manuscripts and Rare Books, sec. S. Gregorio (hereafter cited as S. Greg.), fol. 110, letter 35 (hereafter citations of letters in this collection will use the following format: 110/35), National Library, Rome (hereafter cited as BNR). See also de Caro, Silvana Balbi and Londei, Luigi, Moneta Pontificia da Innocenzo XI a Gregorio XVI (Rome: Quasar, 1984), 137163 .

42 Cappellari to Bianchi, May 9, 1800, AC.A.10.3. On July 9, 1800 four congregations were established to deal with the various economic issues. For more, see Congregazione Economica, busta 67, State Archives, Rome (hereafter cited as ASR).

43 Silvagni, David, Rome: its Princes, Priests and People, trans. McLaughlin, Fanny (Rome: E. Stock, 1885–1887), 1:337.

44 Chadwick, Popes and European Revolution, 469, 525.

45 “D. Michael Angelus Fumè Abbas Generalis . . . ,” May 18, 1800, AC.A.1.6.

46 Gardini to Zurla, July 4, 1800, 110/168, S. Greg., BNR. It is possible that his commercial dealings with Gardini began much earlier, as there is a reference to 175 lire to be paid into Cappellari's account in 1798 in Cappellari to Zurla, May 12, 1798, 110/31, S. Greg., BNR.

47 Clarence-Smith, Cocoa and Chocolate, 3.

48 Cappellari to Zurla, August 16, 1800, 110/39, S. Greg., BNR.

49 Piñero, Eugenio, “The Cacao Economy of the Eighteenth-Century Province of Caracas and the Spanish Cacao Market,” The Hispanic American Historical Review 68, no. 1 (1988): 85.

50 S. Romualdo was subsequently demolished (in the twentieth century) to make way for building projects at Venice Plaza.

51 Zanenga letter, August 23, 1803, AC.G.22.1. Zanenga would later become a Benedictine abbot, see Croce, “Monaci Ed Eremiti Camaldolesi in Italia dal Settecento all'Ottocento,” 256n.

52 “Camerlengo,” New Advent, accessed December 10, 2014,

53 As of 1795, 9 paoli Romani was equivalent to 10 Venetian lire, for a total of 2 Roman scudi, see Cappellari to Zurla, 110/9, S. Greg., BNR;  Mariangela Allaria to Cappellari, January 1809, AC.G.65.3.

54 Allaria to Cappellari, January 28, 1809, AC.G.65.3.

55 Allaria to Cappellari, February 10, 1809, AC.G.65.3.

56 Cappellari to Zurla, November 5, 1795, 110/9, S. Greg., BNR.

57 Cappellari to Zurla, January 22, 1803, 80/4, S. Greg., BNR.

58 His depiction in the historiography is of a supposedly sheltered existence prior to his election as Pope in 1831. See, for example, Chadwick, Owen, A History of the Popes, 1830–1914 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 14 .

59 Cappellari to Federico Mandelli, September 19, 1795, 55/134, S. Greg., BNR.

60 Cappellari to Zurla, November 5, 1795, 110/9, S. Greg., BNR.

61 AC.F.1.2, many letters in this folder.

62 Cappellari to Zurla, November 26, 1803, 110/99, S. Greg., BNR.

63 Cappellari to Zurla, March 13, 1802,110/68, S. Greg., BNR.

64 Cappellari to Zurla, April 10, 1802, 110/7, S. Greg., BNR.

65 Cappellari to Zurla, August 16, 1800, 110/39, S. Greg., BNR.

66 Cappellari to Zurla, May 2, 1801, 110/55, S. Greg., BNR. 105 Venetian lire was equal to about 10 Roman scudi. The pound in Venice and Lombardy for articles like chocolate or coffee was 12 ounces, see Vaussard, Maurice, Daily Life in Eighteenth-century Italy (London: Macmillan, 1962), 194.

67 Allaria to Cappellari, January 1809, AC.G.65, 3.

68 Li 8 Agosto 1821: Memorie per il Sig.r Ercolani, Congr. Deputata ripristinato dei Monasteri Marche, busta 1, ASR.

69 Cappellari to Zurla, May 2, 1801, 110/55, S. Greg., BNR.

70 Ibid.

71 Ibid.

72 Cappellari to Zurla, March 13, 1802, 110/68, S. Greg., BNR.

73 Cappellari to Zurla, n.d. [1800], 110/41, S. Greg., BNR.

74 For more on this concept and the difficulties in defining “gift-giving,” begin with Mauss, Marcel, Essai sur le don: forme et raison de l’échange dans les sociétés archaïques, in Sociologie et anthropologie (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1950), 143279 . Also Davis, Natalie Zemon, The Gift in Sixteenth-Century France (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2010), in a French context, and how the gift could be variously interpreted, depending on the setting.

75 Jemolo, Arturo, “L'abate L. Cuccagni e due polemiche ecclesiastiche nel primo decennio del pontificato di Pio VI,” in Atti della Reale Accademia delle Scienze di Torino, classe di scienze morali, storiche e filosogiche 67 (1932), 38n.

76 Donato, Maria Pia, “Lampredi, Urbano,” Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani 63 (2004), His inaugural issue was on February 21, 1798.

77 Jemolo, “L'abate Luigi Cuccagni,” 38n.

78 According to Clark, Eleanor, “G. G. Belli: Roman Poet,” The Kenyon Review 14, no.1 (1952): 32.

79 Nico Valero, “Vizi capitali. I frati e la gola: il cioccolato come lasciapassare,” Il mondo del Belli (blog), accessed November 4, 2014,

80 Nor was it the only reason to give chocolates: religious feasts and ceremonies were popular occasions. See note 54 about the feast of S. Romualdo and note 15 on a conclave.

81 Cabezon, Beatriz, Barriga, Patricia, and Grivetti, Louis Evan, “Chocolate and Sinful Behaviors: Inquisition Testimonies,” in Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage, ed. Grivetti, and Shapiro, , 3748 .

82 Schivelbusch, Wolfgang, Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants (New York: Vintage, 1993), 8592 .

83 Ibid. See also Cabezon, Barriga, and Grivetti, “Chocolate and Sinful Behaviors,” in Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage, ed. Grivetti and Shapiro, 39–43. See also Few, Martha, “Chocolate, Sex, and Disorderly Women in Late-Seventeenth- and Early-Eighteenth-Century Guatemala,” Ethnohistory 52, no. 4 (2005): 673687 , which also reveals associations with poisoning and witchcraft.

84 Schnepel, Ellen M., “Chocolate,” in Entertaining: from Ancient Rome to the Super Bowl, ed. Adamson, Melitta Weiss and Segan, Francine (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2008), 137, the painting is housed at the Museo Correr, Venice.

85 Coe and Coe, Chocolate, 205.

86 Chadwick, Popes and European Revolution, 468, 516–520.

87 Gardini to Zurla, July 4, 1800, 110/168, S. Greg., BNR.

88 Becciani, Ugo Gabriele, Il Credenziere (Pistoia: Il Papyrus, 2011), 29n.

89 Ibid., and Piñero, “The Cacao Economy,” 84. Some believe Soconusco chocolate held that honor according to Coe and Coe, Chocolate, 190; MacLeod, Murdo J., Spanish Central America: A Socioeconomic History, 1520–1720 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), 440; and Coe, Sophie D., “Cacao: Gift of the New World,” in Chocolate: Food of the Gods, ed. Szogyi, Alex (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1997), 148.

90 Louis Evan Grivetti and Beatriz Cabezon, “Ancient Gods and Christian Celebrations,” in Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage, ed. Grivetti and Shapiro, 27. Also Lavedán, Antonio, Tratado de los usos, abusos, propiedades y virtudes del tabaco, café, té y chocolate (Madrid: Imprenta Real Biblioteca Virtual del Patrimonia Bibliográfico, 1796), 210211 on the regional attachments.

91 Lavedán, Tratado de los usos, 204.

92 Purcell, Mary and Troy, John Thomas, “The Way Back from Rome,” Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 68, no. 271 (1979): 200212 , passim.

93 Gardini to Zurla, July 4, 1800, 110/168, S. Greg., BNR.

94 On the monopoly enjoyed by Caracas with Old Spain see, Piñero, Eugenio, The Town of San Felipe and Colonial Cacao Economies (Philadelphia, Pa.: American Philosophical Society, 1994), 36; Fisher, John, Commercial Relations between Spain and Spanish America in the Era of Free Trade 1778–1796 (Liverpool: Centre for Latin-American Studies, University of Liverpool, 1985).

95 McKinley, P. Michael, Pre-Revolutionary Caracas: Politics, Economy, and Society 1777–1811 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 15 . Compare with Esteban, Javier Cuenca, “Statistics of Spain's Colonial Trade, 1792–1820: Consular Duties, Cargo Inventories, and Balances of Trade,” The Hispanic American Historical Review 61, no. 3 (1981): 416, on dwindling amounts of trade from Cadiz to La Guaira.

96 For a general overview, see Clarence-Smith, Cocoa and Chocolate, 28–29, 68–69; on Genoa, see Niephaus, Heinz-Theo, Genuas Seehandel von 1746–1848 (Vienna: Böhalu, 1975), 114116 ; on Amsterdam, see Oostindie, Gert, “Dutch Atlantic Decline during ‘The Age of Revolutions’,” in Dutch Atlantic Connections, 1680–1800: Linking empires, bridging borders, ed. Oostindie, Gert and Roitman, Jessica V. (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 309335 . For a general sketch of the growth of non-French and non-Dutch ports during the British blockades of the Atlantic, see Crouzet, François, “Wars, Blockade, and Economic Change in Europe, 1792–1815,” The Journal of Economic History 24, no. 4 (1964): 569.

97 McKinley, Pre-Revolutionary Caracas, 43–44.

98 Lynch, John, Simón Bolivar: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2007), 43.

99 Figueroa, Federico Brito, La Estructura Economica de Venezuela Colonial (Caracas: Revista de Historia, 1963), 243244 . Niephaus, Genuas Seehandel, 112, implies this.

100 Figueroa, La Estructura Economica de Venezuela Colonial, 243–244.

101 Lynch, Simón Bolivar, 43.

102 Alden, Dauril, “The Significance of Cacao Production in the Amazon Region during the Late Colonial Period: An Essay in Comparative Economic History,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 120, no. 2 (April 15, 1976): 131132 .

103 McKinley, Pre-Revolutionary Caracas, 42.

104 Ibid., 44.

105 Salmoral, Manuel Lucena, Características Del Comercio Exterior de la Provincia de Caracas Durante el Sexenio Revolucionario (1807–1812) (Madrid: Sociedad Estatal Quinto Centenario, Instituto de Cooperación Iberoamericana, Instituto de Estudios Fiscales, 1990), 329330 .

106 Salmoral, Características Del Comercio, 100, 329–330.

107 Cappellari to Zurla, August 29, 1795, 110/4, S. Greg., BNR.

108 Information taken from “Cappellari,” Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, accessed July 15, 2015,

109 Moroni, Gaetano, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica da S. Pietro sino ai nostril giorni (Venezia: Emiliana, 1843), 19:90.

110 Ibid.

111 Maggioni, Giorgio, ed., Il Conclave di Gregorio XVI nel diario di Gaetano Moroni (Belluno: Archivo storico de Belluno, Feltre e Cadore, 1995), 44.

112 Pastori, Maurizio, La famiglia Vergelli: tre secoli di musica a Tivoli (Tivoli: Edizioni La Musica da Tivoli, 2007), 16.

113 Moroni, Dizionario (1844), 28:43.

114 Flir, Alois, Die Manharter: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte Tirols im 19. Jahrhundert (Innsbruck: Wagner'sche Buchhandlung, 1988), 264265 .

115 “Tuscia in Tavola,” Provincia di Viterbo, accessed February 1, 2015,

116 Massimo, Vittorio, Relazione del viaggio fatto da N.S.PP. Gregorio XVI (Rome: Monaldi, 1843), 34.

117 della Gattina, Ferdinando Petruccelli, Rome and the Papacy, trans. Peterson, Robert E (Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson, 1872), 55.

118 Cited by many, including Sir Horace Mann, in Maxwell, Kenneth, Naked Tropics: Essays on Empire and Other Rogues (New York: Routledge, 2003), 42.

119 Forrest, Beth M. and Glick, Thomas F.. “Introduction: Cacao Culture: Case Studies in History.” Food and Foodways, 15, no. 1–2 (2007): 15, 4.

120 Chadwick, A History of the Popes, 3. The great exception to this was his work on the Latin American church (pp. 3, 48).

121 “Cioccolato,” Prodotti monastici, accessed January 18, 2015,

122 Although this is established as fact, details of the slave arrangement can be found in Lynch, Simón Bolivar, 8; and McKinley, Pre-Revolutionary Caracas, 47–48.

123 His papal encyclical is given unanimous approbation in the historiography.

124 Lynch, Simón Bolivar, 10. Although unlikely—there were 1,144 plantations in Caracas at this time, according to McKinley, Pre-Revolutionary Caracas, 49.

125 Morganelli, Adrianna, The Biography of Chocolate (New York: Crabtree, 2006), 14.

126 Carmelo Sáenz de Santa María Ortiz de Uriarte, Bolivar y Pio VIII (Mexico: Cultura, 1960), 161168 .

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
  • URL: /core/journals/church-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed