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.
The former Abbot of St.Stephen’s Monastery,Paschal quickly rose through the ranks of Roman bureaucracy to become Pope. One of his first acts was to crown the new king of Italy,Lothair. King Lothair would act as an arbiter in a tax and land dispute between the Roman Curia and the Abbey of Farfa. Against the wishes of Paschal,Lothair ruled against the Papal States in the dispute. Land that was once owned by the Pope was awarded back to the Abbey. This led to revolts which then led to many suspicious murders of many of the key players in the court case. The Holy Roman emperor had to send officials to investigate what role the Pope may have played in the revolts or if the murders were some sort of cover-up,but Paschal took an oath of silence,preventing any chance of clearing any of this up. Once the investigators left Rome,Pope Paschal suddenly died. The death of Paschal was another suspicious death on top of all the others. What role Paschal actually played in any of this is not clear,but the one telling fact is that he was refused burial in St.Peter’s Basilica. Paschal was buried in the Basilica of Santa Prassede,which he himself built while he was Pope. The seemingly shady legacy of Paschal is appropriate since all art depicting the Pope includes a villainous moustache,which is a first for my Popes!
Following the death of Pope Zachary,a priest named Stephen was elected to the Papacy in 752. Not this Stephen. This is Pope Stephen II. The Stephen elected died of a stroke a couple of days later and he is not considered an official Pope since he died before he was ordained a Bishop. THAT Stephen would have been Stpehen II but that Stephen died and THIS Stephen,who was officially elected after THAT Stephen died is now considered Stephen II. Now hold on,in 1975,a new Canon Law stated that a man is considered Pope the moment he is elected,so the ORIGINAL Stephen II was now officially Stephen II and our Pope Stephen II is now renumbered Pope Stephen III. Maybe. Depending on who you ask. We’re going with the traditional numbering for today(as most everyone does anyway). Whew. I typed “Stephen” a lot just now……Stephen.
Pope Stephen II continued Pope Zachary’s allegiance with the Franks(French people basically). King Pepin of the Franks ran all of the Lombards out of Italy and gifted the Lombard lands to the Pope,making him the largest landowner in Italy. With his little part of the world(most of central Italy,including Rome)now free of Lombards,the Pope did not need the help of Constantinople to maintain order and could now tell the eastern emperor to beat it(they didn’t like each other anyway). The newly independent Pope Stephen II was now basically a Pope/King,and his Papal States would be with the Papacy for over a thousand years until it was taken away from them by the King of Italy in 1871. Vatican City is all that is left of the Papal States and its sovereignty,and the Pope’s authority over it,was recognized by Mussolini in 1929. Pope Stephen II(or the III…..)would be succeeded by Pope Paul I,which was his brother. The Pope brothers! Sounds like a construction company……
Pope John’s papacy started off stressful and never let up during his four year term. The new emperor of Constantinople,Tiberius III,sent his Exarch of Italy into Rome to “cause trouble for the Pontiff”(for some reason not specified). Native Italians,who were very protective of their Holy Father,went to provide military support for the Vatican and keep our Pope from harm. Pope John VI tried to keep the peace and mediated between the angry groups,desperate to keep any bloodshed from happening. While this was going on,the marauding Lombards seized on the disharmony in Italy and sensing weakness,started to attack the Italian countryside. Again,Pope John to the rescue. He sent priests into the Lombard camp and on the Pope’s authority they were able to both bribe and persuade the Lombards to retreat back to their regions. Pope John VI finished out his short reign by settling Church conflicts in England. Whew. So he basically spent all of his time keeping Italians from killing Italians,Lombards from killing Italians and English clergy from……throwing things at each other(I guess)