Pope Pius IX dies

Pius IX lived long enough to witness the death of his old adversary, Victor Emmanuel II of Italy in January 1878.

As soon as he learned about the seriousness of the situation of the king, he absolved him of all excommunications and other ecclesiastical punishments. Pius IX died one month later on 7 February 1878 at 5.40 PM, of epilepsy which led to a seizure and a sudden heart attack, while praying the rosary with his staff.
Since 1868, the Pope was plagued first by facial erysipelas and then by open sores on his legs. Nevertheless, he insisted on celebrating his daily mass and made fun of himself because of his slow movements. The extraordinary heat of the summer of 1877 worsened the sores to the effect that he had to be carried. He underwent several painful medical procedures, which he undertook with great stoicism. He spent most of his last few weeks in his library, where he received cardinals and held audiences. On 8 December the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which he had dogmatized in 1854, his situation improved markedly to the point that he could walk again. By February he could say mass again on his own in standing position, enjoying the popular celebration of the 75th anniversary of his first communion throughout Rome. He joked that Pope Pius IX borrowed the legs from Signore Mastai. Bronchitis, a fall to the floor, and rising temperature worsened his situation after 4 February 1878. He continued joking about himself, when the Cardinal Vicar of Rome ordered bell-ringing and non-stop prayers for his recuperation. Why do you want to stop me from going to heaven?, he asked with a smile. But he told his doctor, that his time had come. Pope Pius IX died on 7 February 1878 aged eighty-five, concluding the longest pontificate in papal history. His last words were "Guard the church I loved so well and sacredly" as recorded by the Cardinals kneeling beside his bedside. His body was originally buried in St. Peter's grotto, but was moved in a night procession on 13 July 1881 to the Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls. The event was disrupted when a mob of Italian nationalists tried to seize the body and throw it into the Tiber River. When his tomb was opened in 2000 to verify his remains in the Rite of Recognition, an important step in the process of beatification, his body was found to be perfectly preserved.

In these later years the dark days of his "captivity" were amply compensated by the proofs of reverence displayed by Roman Catholic Christianity, which accorded him magnificent ovations as his period of jubilee began to fall due. The twenty-fifth anniversary of his pontificate was celebrated with great splendor on the 16th of June 1871; for he was the first pope who had thus reached the traditional "years of Peter." In 1872 his 80th birthday gave occasion for new demonstrations; and 1875 was a so-called "year of Jubilee." Finally, in 1877, the fifty years of his priesthood were completed: an event which brought him innumerable expressions of loyalty and led to a great manifestation of devotion to the Holy See from all the Roman Catholic world. On the 7th of February 1878 Pius IX died. His successor was Pope Leo XIII.