A virtuous man that was elected in the midst of political chaos,very little is remembered about Pope Romanus. Besides having an awesome Pope name,he was the nephew of Pope Marinus I and was the Cardinal of St. Peter ad Vincula before he was elected to the Papacy. During his four months as Pope,the most lasting thing Romanus did was to void all the actions of his insane predecessor,Pope Stephen VI,who if you’ll remember,dug up the dead body of Pope Formosus and proceeded to scream at it.
Political pressure from the King and vocal supporters of crazy Pope Stephen managed to get Pope Romanus disposed. He “retired” to a monastery and died shortly afterwards. Probably murdered.
Pope Stephen VI is always included in the lists of worst Popes ever,for the simple reason that digging up the corpse of a Pope and desecrating his body will nearly always get you included on any “worst of anything” list. All of this mess started when Holy Roman Emperor Guy of Spoleto demanded that Pope Formosus crown Guy’s son Lambert co-emperor and King of Italy. Formosus reluctantly obeyed him but quickly went to work secretly raising up an army to overthrow the new King. Pope Formosus passed away before King Lambert could be overthrown but Lambert would never forget how close the Pope came to running him out of Italy,or maybe even killing him. Stephen VI was a bitter enemy of Pope Formosus,and a loyal supporter of King Lambert,which is why this relatively unknown Bishop was elected to the Papacy in 896. Oh,and he may have been legitimately insane. The King now had his partner in revenge to enact his horrible retribution to the dead Formosus. Pope Stephen VI ordered that the dead Pope be dug up,dressed in Papal vestments and placed on the stand for his “trial”. For the next few hours,under the watchful devious glare of the King,Pope Stephen VI ranted,raved and screamed at Formosus’ dead body. A deacon cowered behind Formosus and answered(for Formosus)to Stephen’s charges of crimes against the Church. When the trial was over,Stephen ruled that all of Formosus’ actions as Pope were void,he had the blessing hand of Formosus dismembered and then his body was thrown into the Tiber river(a monk secretly recovered the body and hid it away). All of these hysterics were just too much for the Romans and Stephen himself was removed from office and imprisoned,where he was he was later found strangled. King Lambert was assassinated soon afterwards. The next Pope,Romanus,overrulled the findings of this sham trial and the Pope after him,Theodore II,had the body of Pope Formosus reburied with full honors in St Peter’s Basilica.
Pope Boniface VI had the second shortest Papacy in history and he’s also kind of technically sorta not a valid Pope according to Pope John IX. Boniface had a checkered history with the Church. When he was a young priest he was defrocked twice(twice!?!)due to immoral behavior. Whatever this behavior was,it’s not known to us. When Pope Formosus died,it was rumored that Holy emperor Arnulf would impose a Pope of his choosing on Rome and this caused the Romans to completely freak out and start rioting…..even though Romans never needed a good excuse to riot since they were inherently a “rioty” people anyway. In all of the confusion Deacon Boniface was somehow elected to the Papacy. This violated Canon Law that stated that it was illegal to elect a non-priest to the Papacy. By the time anyone noticed this mistake,Pope Boniface VI was all but dead only 15 days later. Whether this was by the “extreme gout” that he was said to suffer from,or if it was murder,it is not known. In 898 Pope John IX declared the election of Boniface invalid however he’s still counted among the Popes to this day.
Pope Formosus was a brilliant diplomat,a gifted missionary and a Pope beloved by his people,but sadly,his legacy is forever tarnished by the vicious and morbid actions of one of his successors and a vindictive emperor. Holy Roman Emperor Guy III of Spoleto demanded that his son,Lambert,be crowned by the Pope to be King of Italy and co-emperor. Pope Formosus did not trust Lambert and secretly plotted to have him overthrown,which he nearly succeeded in doing before passing away due to a stroke. King Lambert and his mother were nearly driven out of Italy by the Pope’s actions and now that he was dead,they decided to take their revenge,whether he was alive or not. The King plotted with Pope Stephen VI(who may have actually been insane)to dig up the corpse of Formosus and humiliate his memory by putting his dead body on trial for supposed “crimes” against The Holy Church. The rotting body of Formosus(he had been dead for a year)was dressed in Papal vestments and placed on his throne while Pope Stephen screamed questions and vulgarities at his body. To “defend” himself against the charges,a Deacon crouched behind Formosus and answered for him. This disturbing scene played out by Formosus being found guilty(Shocking verdict….)The dead Pope’s vestments were then stripped from him and then three fingers of his blessing hand were cut off. His dismembered body was then dragged outside and thrown into the Tiber River. A monk secretly fished his body out of the river and hid it until this insanity calmed down. Lay Romans and clergy were horrified at all of this and rebelled against Pope Stephen VI. He was thrown into prison where he was later strangled. King Lambert was assassinated two years later. It helps to know that Romans were as disgusted by all of this then, just as much as I was when I first read about this. When the dust cleared and saner heads returned to power,Pope Theodore II had Pope Formosus buried in St Peter’s Basilica with full honors due to this fine Pope.