116. Pope John IX 898-900

Pope John IX

Look out,we’ve got a Pope that actually lasted more than a few weeks! Pope John IX was Pope for two whole years,which at this point in history,was a minor miracle,especially considering the reign of the four Popes in front of him barely amounted to an entire year combined. Before John was elected,supporters of a Bishop named Sergius stormed the Lateran Palace and installed their man into office. Holy Roman Emperor Lambert would have none of that so he had imperial guards forcefully removed Sergius before he could be officially sworn in. Sergius was a patient man though,and he would hide away in exile,biding his time(he will eventually reach the Papacy in six years)
The imperial guard made sure that a Bishop favorable to the Emperor was elected and once elected,John made sure to do his best to try and bring stability to Rome and the Church which had been lacking since Pope Formosus. John achieved this by calling various synods that both helped in strengthening ties with the Empire and by further cleaning up the messes caused by insane Pope Stephen VI.

115. Pope Theodore II 897

Pope Theodore II

Theodore II was only Pope for twenty days but managed to get a great deal done in such a short time. Not much is known about Theodore before he became the Pope except that he was a supporter of Pope Formosus. Formosus,if you recall,had his rotting dead body dug up by insane Pope Stephen VI. The corpse was then placed on trial for supposed crimes against the Church,this was later known as the Cadaver Synod. Crazy Pope Stephen VI ruled that Formosus was guilty and was declared an invalid Pope,meaning that all the clergy or Bishops that he appointed were now null. These Holy men remained in a clerical limbo until Pope Theodore took office and undid all the damage that Stephen had wrought. In record time(for Rome)Theodore called a new synod to undo Stephen’s cadaver synod. Formosus was declared a valid Pope and all appointments and declarations that he had made were now ruled legal. When Formosus had been found guilty in his sham trial,his body was mutilated,dragged outside and then thrown into the Tiber river. A monk later secretly fished out the body and had been keeping it safe this entire time. Pope Theodore recovered the body and after a grand funeral,entombed Formosus in St.Peter’s Basilica where he could finally rest in peace. Pope Theodore II passed away virtually days afterwards.

114. Pope Romanus 897

Pope Romanus

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.

113. Pope Stephen VI 896-897

Pope Stephen VI

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.

112. Pope Boniface VI 896

Pope Boniface VI

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.

111. Pope Formosus 891-896

pope-formosus

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.

110. Pope Stephen V 885-891

pope-stephen-v

The son of a wealthy Roman aristocrat,Stephen V was groomed from a young age to go far in the Church. His family paid for the finest education and he was known to be an intelligent,kind and very Holy man. When a famine,caused by both a drought and locusts,devastated Rome,Stephen tried to use the Papal treasury to ease the burden of the people but found it was bone dry. The Pope decided to use his own wealth inherited from his family to feed and care for his people. Stephen also used his money to free slaves and restore Churches throughout Italy. He also bargained with local nobles to provide military defense against invading Muslims in southern Italy. Pope Stephen V was a good example of not being a slave to the mammon. Instead of living his life in service to money,he put his own money in service to his fellow man. Stephen is buried in the portico of St.Peter’s Basilica.

109. Pope St.Adrian III 884-885

pope-adrian-iii

Saint Adrian III was a mysterious Pope. Mysterious because not much is known about him….like how exactly he was elected or how exactly he died or why exactly he was declared a Saint by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. The little we do know is that Adrian was involved in dealing out severe punishments for those nobles in the Papal States that were plotting against each other(and the Papacy). These punishments included the blinding and exile of a high ranking official and having a woman from a prominent family dragged through the streets naked while being whipped. Adrian also sent several letters to Christians in Spain and other countries instructing them not to get too chummy with their local Jewish people. Again,why he was declared a Saint is a total mystery….
In 885 King of Italy Charles the Fat(unfortunate nickname)summoned a council in Modena to discuss imperial succession. Pope Adrian died(mysteriously)on the journey there. Many think he was poisoned. I’m sadly entering in the Roger Moore-era of Popes. These guys aren’t the best examples of what it means to be the Holy Father and their stories also tend to be more murderish than I prefer.
Pope Saint Adrian III is buried in the Nonantola Abbey in Modena.

108. Pope Marinus I 882-884

pope-marinus

The son of a priest,Marinus was groomed from very early for big things in the Church. Moving to Rome and entering into the Papal court when he was only 12,he worked his way up to be a trusted legate to several Popes. When he became Pope he pardoned several priests and Bishops that had been excommunicated by his predecessor Pope John VIII. One of those Bishops was named Formosus,who will become Pope in 891 and will be a part of the most bizarre scene in Papal history…..but we’ll get to that in three more weeks. (oh boy is it weird…..)
When researching the history of the Papacy,historians often mixed up the names of Pope Marinus and Pope Martinus(or Martin). Popes Marinus II and III were listed as Martins by mistake and so when French Bishop Simon de Brion became Pope in 1281 he took the name Martin IV when he should have been Martin II. File this under useless Papal trivia.

107. Pope John VIII 872-882

pope-john-viii

In the early days of the Church,over thirty Popes were put to death by the Roman government,martyrs for their faith,the last being Pope Martin in 655. Pope John VIII has the dubious achievement of being the first Pope to ever be murdered. The details of the assassination of John VIII are clouded in murky details. John excommunicated disloyal clergy,mediated between feuding Kings,tried in vain to organize leaders of southern Italy against Muslim invasions and also asserted his authority in matters of liturgy abuses in Germany. Any one of these situations made John many enemies but it’s actually rumored that one of his own family members was behind his death. Supposedly a relative of the Pope wanted to seize some treasures of the Vatican so he poisoned John,and when the poison acted too slowly,struck the Pope in the head with a hammer. John VIII is buried in St Peter’s Basilica.