Even religious figures needed to blow off steam, especially during the indulgent period of 16th century Rome. But when it comes to excess, nothing compares to the orgy known as “The Banquet of Chestnuts.” During the early 1500s, the great Renaissance city of Rome was ruled by Pope Alexander VI and his son Cesare, both members of the powerful Borgia family. The influential clan epitomized the corruption and debauchery of the era with their entertainment. Every Borgia party and banquet was a lavish affair catered especially to a privileged social set.
One such occasion arose the night of October 30, 1501, when a huge banquet was organized in the Papal Palace. The guest list of this Borgia banquet included nobility and senior officials of the Catholic Church – but courtesans and prostitutes as well. What began as a carefully choreographed ballet of manners soon devolved into a wild orgy with nude entertainment and all-night sex games.
The infamous “Banquet of the Chestnuts” has gone down in history as one of the raciest nights in history. Although historians doubt whether the event actually occurred, there is a first-hand written account of the night. That document shows how the scandalous feast shed light on the morality of the papal office, particularly the negativity surrounding the Borgia rule. Salacious though it was, the orgy illuminated the duplicitous and flawed nature of religious authority and reminded the masses that even highly moral men need to get down sometimes.
Prostitutes Picked Up Chestnuts With Their Lady Parts
The Banquet of Chestnuts was hosted by Pope Alexander VI and his son Cesare Borgia. Held in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope himself, the invitation was extended only to his inner circle. The banquet table overflowed with roasted meats, dried fruit, and all sorts of sweet delicacies, and the wine was plentiful. Besides the sparkling nobles in attendance, though, fifty of Rome’s finest prostitutes had been included on the guest list.
After dinner, the servants removed the candelabras from the table and placed them on the floor. The prostitutes began to dance seductively and undress while chestnuts were strewn about. Then, the women began crawling around on all fours, picking up the chestnuts – according to some stories, with their nether regions.
The Polite Dinner Party Turned Into An All-Night Orgy
It wasn’t long before the dinner guests got involved with the prostitutes’ floor show, throwing down barrettes, brooches, and even gloves for the dancers to pick up. Those with less inhibition decided to burn off dinner by getting down and dirty with their choice of courtesan. Prizes were soon announced for any man who had the most sexual partners. Cloaks, boots, and other gifts were handed out to the winners by the Pope himself.
It Set The Tone For One Hell Of A Season
Perhaps the attendants of the feast-turned-orgy felt they could indulge due to the time of year. The late October date was near All Saints Day, a sanctified church holiday with ties to the dead and the season of plenty. It was an otherworldly time when charnel houses were opened, corpses were dressed up and displayed, and farmers celebrated the end of a productive year.
As the seasons turned, Rome was filled with masquerades, performances, and processions. The success of this holiday time depended greatly on the actions of the aristocrats and papal authorities, who were expected to set the tone for upcoming festivities. Although a church festival would have worked just fine, with their banquet Borgias offered up an evening that went above and beyond expectations.
The Banquet Is Too Sexy To Be Verified
Because of its salacious details, historians question whether the Banquet of Chestnuts even happened. But there is a first-hand account of the feast preserved in the personal diary Johann Burchard, a Master of Ceremonies. Burchard’s passage on the feast describes a Pope that’s more in touch with his virility than a typical man of the cloth.
But did the orgy really happen? Some say absolutely not. While it is agreed Cesare Borgia likely did hold a feast in the Vatican with some colorful characters, evidence suggesting it morphed into an all-night orgy is sparse and conflicting.
Religious Historians Deny The Story
Some religious historians argue that the Banquet of Chestnuts was invented as a way to embarrass the Catholic Church.
In 1925, Vatican researcher Peter de Roo wrote a piece entitled Material for a History of Pope Alexander VI, his Relatives and his Time in which he painted the Pope as a devoted Italian patriot and a “tireless upholder of the best traditions of the papacy.” His research found nothing scandalous about the Banquet of Chestnuts, and he believed that first-hand diary account by Johann Burchard was probably written by someone else who had made assumptions about the evening.
The Borgias Epitomized Rome’s Excess
The House of Borgia rose to prominence in the Catholic Church when Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI in 1492. He didn’t stop there. He used his daughter Lucrezia’s several marriages as a way to form alliances, and conspired with his son Cesare to pay off any rivals who dared oppose him. His reign was characterized by opulent living and outsized appetites.
But it wasn’t all bad. Pope Alexander’s love of magnificence led him to encourage advances in architecture and art as well.
Pope Alexander VI Was A Player
For those who dispute whether the Banquet of the Chestnuts ever happened, it’s helpful to consider Pope Alexander VI‘s personal life. Although supposedly dedicated to the Catholic Church, he fathered at least five children out of wedlock with two different women – and the second abandoned her husband to move into a room in the Papal Palace.
It certainly seemed like Pope Alexander had healthy sexual appetites. He weathered scandals as well – including rumors that he slept with his own daughter – and was accused of nepotism on many occasions. When the Florentine friar Girolamo Savonarola denounced the Pope for his sinful way of life, Pope Alexander was said to have laughed outright.
Cesare Borgia Was Brutal And Greedy
Cesare Borgia took after his father, the Pope. Born around 1475, the young man’s noble parentage assured his social standing. Although Cesare was ordained as a bishop at the age of 15 and became a cardinal at 18, his penchant for women and violence led him to resign and pursue a military career.
Cesare eventually became his father’s chief protector and strategist. In this role, he started a number of military conflicts in the name of papal authority and gathered the riches that would fund the Borgia regime.
His brutality and amoral attitude were feared by many, and it was widely believed he had killed his older brother Giovanni and slept with his sister Lucrezia. In short, he seems like the ideal person to plan a night of debauchery.
The Party Took Place In One Of The Most Sacred Buildings On Earth
The setting of the Banquet of Chestnuts only adds to its scandalous nature. It was supposedly hosted at The Apostolic Palace in Vatican City, Rome, the official residence of the Pope. It contains the Papal Apartments, offices for the sovereign entity of the Catholic Church, the Raphael Rooms, the Borgia Apartment, and the famous Sistine Chapel.
It takes a particularly debauched mind to plan an orgy among religious paintings and artifacts.