In 1012,a war broke out in the Papal States,with many noble families fighting for control. The emerging victor was Alberic,the head of the powerful Tusculum family. His brother,Theophylact,soon became Pope Benedict VIII. Benedict was one the rare instances where a Church layman became Pope(he was ordained after his election). While being more a politician than spiritual man,Benedict was nonetheless a great reformer and while his brother handled government,Benedict took care of the Church. He also was a Pope of action,as he took part and even led forces to suppress in-fighting in the Papal States and personally helped liberate Sardinia(by land and by sea!)from Muslim rule. In 1014,Benedict crowned King Henry II(future Saint)of Germany as the new Holy Roman emperor. Being a reformer,Benedict argued against marriage for the clergy,his reasons being more practical than religious as he was worried Church territories(or property)could be claimed by wives or offspring of clergy. Benedict VIII would be succeeded by his younger brother,who was also a layman,John XIX. Their nephew would go on to follow them both as Pope Benedict IX. Pope Benedict VIII seems like he would have been an imposing figure so I based his look on Sean Connery.
Pope Gregory V was our first German Pope(of which there will be 8 total). Holy Roman emperor Otto III of Germany had been notified of the death of Pope John XV and he knew of just the right replacement,which was his cousin,Bruno of Saxony. Aside from the obvious nepotism and the fact that Bruno was only 24 years old,he actually turned out to be an above average Pontiff during his short reign. Once again though,those pesky Roman nobles took to causing trouble for the new “foreigner” Pope. As soon as the emperor left Rome after the coronation,the nobles ran Gregory out of town and placed their own pope(lower case p) in his place(again!). Gregory kept running the Church in exile while waiting for Otto to return to Rome. He banned the buying of Church offices and also banned clergy for campaigning for the office of the Pope while the current Pope was still alive. Gregory also promoted Gerbert of Aurillac(future Pope Sylvester II)to be Archbishop of Ravenna. Emperor Otto marched back into Rome and after violently putting down the anti-pope and his cronies(violently!Many beheadings and many tongues removed),he restored the Pope back to his rightful place…just in time for Gregory to get terribly ill and pass away unexpectedly.
A monk that was put into the Papacy by Holy Roman emperor Otto I,Pope Benedict would have a short and tragic reign. The nearly year long gap between Popes was because Otto I needed to sign off on Benedict before he could begin his term. Pope Benedict enjoyed the protection of the German emperor against the plotting of Roman nobles,but when Otto I passed away,it left Benedict vulnerable to his enemies. Resentful of German interference of Rome,various noble families seized the opportunity to take power. A militia took the Pope prisoner and locked him away in the fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo. The new emperor,Otto II,was busy with his own uprising in Germany,so he was of no help to poor Benedict. The rebels in Rome had elected their own Pope(or anti-pope),Boniface VII,so as to have the Church in Roman control again. When Otto II was finally able to send an army to free Benedict,anti-pope Boniface ordered the imprisoned Pontiff to be strangled in his cell while he himself stuffed as much Vatican loot into his pants before he fled for the hills(by hills I mean Constantinople). We have not heard the last of anti-pope Boniface VII,as his sorry tail will make more appearances during the reigns of the next two Popes(one of which ends terribly because of him)
Pope Benedict V is often listed as an anti-pope due to the mess that was Rome during the time of his Papacy. Rotten Pope John XII had been run out of Rome by Holy Roman emperor Otto I and had been replaced(by the emperor)with Pope Leo VIII. When the emperor went home to Germany,former Pope John raised an army and marched on Rome,causing Leo to flee for the hills. This left the Papacy back in the hands of John,but when he died suddenly,the Romans elected a deacon in high standing who became Benedict V(they had no use for the absent Pope Leo). Emperor Otto had not been notified of Benedict’s election and he was furious that Rome would elect a Pope without his consent(especially since he still considered his Leo to be Pope). Otto and Pope Leo returned to the Vatican with an army in tow to take back the chair of Peter. The Romans hid behind the city walls,refusing to budge and Pope Benedict himself even appeared at the walls to threaten excommunication of Otto and his soldiers,but it was no use. Otto and Leo finally broke through and the displaced Pope Leo resumed his place at the head of the Church. It’s to Benedict’s sterling reputation(and the fact that he had not wanted to be Pope)that he was not put to death immediately. Instead he had his Papal vestments stripped and his staff broken over his head. After pledging his loyalty to the emperor and the Pope,he was allowed to remain a deacon and relocated to Germany. Benedict is said to have died a “happy death”,which is a blessing onto itself during this very cruel and bloody time of the Papacy.
Pope John XII was a scoundrel,to put it best,and at worst he was said to have “soiled the Chair of Peter for 9 years”. When the ruler of all of Rome,Alberic II,was on his deathbed,he forced all of the clergy to promise to elect his son Prince Octavianus to the Papacy(once the current Pope passed away). Octavianus was all of 18 when he became the Holy Father and if you were to wonder how a spoiled rich child of the most powerful man in Rome would act as Pope,you would not be disappointed.
Whoring,gambling,hunting,drinking,fighting(check,check check..) During his reign,Pope John would be accused of rape,of incest,of blinding his confessor and castrating a Cardinal,basically a demon from Hell. Oddly enough,when he did care about actual Catholic business,he was strangely very serious and dedicated to the growth of the Church in Spain,England and Germany. He appointed many great men to be Bishops in these countries(I guess so they could do the hard work while he played)
Pope John’s downfall came when he personally led armies into northern Italy to reclaim Papal lands stolen by the King of Italy. When his men stumbled he requested aid from King Otto of Germany. King Otto smashed the Italian forces and helped to assure Papal control of the region. All he requested in return of his services was for Pope John to crown him Holy Emperor,which John did. Once this took place Pope John immediately started to plot King Otto’s demise(swell guy!) The offended King Otto promptly marched back into Rome and ran John out of the country. Otto elected a new Pope(Leo VIII)to replace John but the disposed Pope soon gathered reinforcements and set his eyes on reclaiming the Vatican. All out war was brewing between John and Otto when our devious Pope met his end in a most demeaning way. He was having…..let’s say “relations” when he was brutally beaten to death by a jealous husband. Credit due to the Catholic Church in that they never shy away from the darker parts of their history. If we were to somehow ask Pope Francis what his thoughts are on Pope John XIII,he’d for sure acknowledge that yes,that guy was a pain in the ass.
“The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine — but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.” – Hilaire Belloc
Pope Leo VII was either a Cardinal or a Benedictine monk,according to various sources. Leo was handpicked by the ruler of Rome,Alberic II of Spoleto. Alberic was running all things in Rome,including the Papacy,and he needed someone he could both boss around and someone knowledgeable enough about the Church that could answer any questions that Alberic needed answered. Being the Pope was the last thing Leo wanted but it’s assumed that he was forced into the position. Leo was mostly concerned with keeping the peace between various rulers in the area and with monastery reforms in France. A huge negative during his time as Pope was his signing off on allowing the Archbishop of Mainz,Germany to run Jews out of the city if they would not convert to Christianity. Pope Leo did not want them forced into conversion though soooo……still not great.
Pope Saint Nicholas the Great is the perfect symbol of what a Pope should be to our world. He is our final arbiter in matters of faith and morals. The spiritual buck stops with the Holy Father and Nicholas was more than ready to fulfill these duties even against the threat of death. King Lothair II of Lotharingia(basically what is now parts of Germany,France and Belgium)wanted to abandon his queen and marry some new tramp he picked up at a renaissance fair somewhere. Local councils were called to address the legality of this and the indifferent Bishops of the region signed off on the divorce and sent the new couple on their way. When the Bishops reported what they had done to Pope Nicholas,he excommunicated them on the spot for supporting bigamy. He excommunicated the bishops,he excommunicated all who took part in the council and he excommunicated the King and his new “wife”. What God has joined together,let no one separate and it’s the Pope’s job to make sure that this commandment holds strong. King Lothair was furious and he pleaded with his brother,Holy Royal emperor Louis II,to march into Rome and make the Pope heel. Nicholas barricaded himself behind Vatican defenses as imperial troops stormed Rome. He would not wavier in his decision and Louis knew he would have to kill the Pope in order for his brother to remarry,which was just not an option(nor was his brother worth the trouble). The emperor stood down and ordered his brother to honor his commitment before God and stay married to his queen. Pope Nicholas was adamant that no secular ruler,no matter who he was,had any authority over the Church or her doctrines and he was prepared for whatever came his way in defense of this position.
Pope Nicholas I is also famous for wanting an image of a rooster placed on every church,whether as a weather vane or on a steeple. The rooster serves as a reminder of Peter’s betrayal of Jesus and to remind the clergy to stay vigilant at all times in their faith.
After the death of St.Fabian there wasn’t a Pope for over a year as Emperor Decius made it impossible for Christians to elect a new leader. In 251 the Emperor went to war with the Goths,and as they say; when the cat’s away….ummm….the Christians will elect a new Pope. Unwillingly elected,Cornelius had to deal with a new schism of the Church that brought a new Anti-Pope named Novatian. Cornelius wrote a great deal of letters,many of which still survive. In one letter he gives a census of Christians in Rome at that time(around 50,000,out of over 800,000 Romans),and in another letter he mentions the office of Exorcist(the first time this word is mentioned in Catholic history). Emperor Decius was killed in battle,and replaced with the equally jerky Emperor Trebonianus Gallus. The new Emperor blamed a plague on those pesky Christians and exiled Cornelius in 253,and the Pope succumbed to the plague soon after.
St. Cornelius somehow has a huge following in Germany and during the middle ages he was one of the four Holy Marshals of God to pray to during illness and disease. His is also the patron saint of German lovers,the patron saint of cows and the patron saint of ear aches so yeah,he is all over the map for patron saints of the strangest variety of things. His head(!)is on display in the town of Kornelimünster,Germany.