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.
Benedict III was a native Roman and Cardinal unanimously voted into the Papacy following the death of Pope Leo IV. Holy Roman emperor Louis II did not like this choice and instead wanted an excommunicated priest named Anastasius to be the new Pope. He decided to install his man by force. Imperial troops marched into Rome,arrested Benedict and had him imprisoned while Anastasius took his position on the chair of Peter. The Roman people,who all favored Benedict,reacted immediately by attacking the troops and instigating bloody riots throughout the city. Roman Bishops even bravely refused to consecrate Anastasius as their new Pope. All of this mess forced Louis II to concede his attempt to steal the Papacy. Benedict was released on the condition that he be merciful on Anastastius and any others who plotted against him. This whole incident further weakened the hold the Holy emperor had on the Pope and the elections that choose him.
Pope Benedict III had a busy three years as Pope. He mediated between squabbling Kings,restored damaged Churches and reasserted his primacy over the Churches in Constantinople. Benedict even hosted the young prince of England and gave the boy a grand tour of the Vatican. The young prince went on to be King Alfred the Great,who put down two Viking invasions of England and was instrumental in keeping the British isles Christian against that pagan menace.
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!
Pope Stephen IV marked a return of Roman nobility to the Papal ranks,a change from previous Pope Leo’s more pedestrian roots. Stephen immediately went right to work sweetening diplomatic relations with the new king of the Franks and Holy Roman emperor,Louis the Pious. Louis was the son of emperor Charlemagne,and once his father passed,Louis crowned himself new Holy Roman emperor. The Pope heard this and sent word that the office of the Papacy should be the one to crown the emperor,in keeping with Leo crowning Charlemagne. Pope Stephen crossed the Alps to France and during an incredibly lavish ceremony,crowned Louis. Stephen even dug out the actual crown of Constantine the Great for the occasion! Constantine legalized Christianity 500 years earlier and joined the Church with the State. Stephen hoped this symbolic call back to the past would not be lost on Louis(it wasn’t).The crowning cemented the new tradition of emperors needing Papal approval before their reign could officially begin. This was a direct 180 from just a few years prior,when a Pope needed an emperor’s approval(from Constantinople)before he start acting as the official Holy Father. 3 more Popes to go before I get to Pope 100! I don’t know why,but I’m particularly proud of how Stephen’s ear turned out. This is by far the best ear I’ve drawn in 97 Popes…….
Pope Adrian I was 95 years old when he passed away. That makes him the oldest Pope we’ve ever had. Runner up goes to Pope Leo XIII,who was 93 when he died in 1903. Pope Adrian reigned for 23 years,which was the longest time in office until Pope Pius VI reigned for 24 years from 1775 to 1799. Popes Pius IX,Leo XIII,and John Paul II would go on to be the only other Popes who served longer. Pope Adrian busied his time with diplomatic relations with both the Lombards and the Franks,mostly favoring the Franks. King Charlemagne of the Franks was particularly close to the Pope and considered Adrian to be like a father to him. In fact,Charlemagne openly wept at Adrian’s funeral and later lovingly dedicated a epitaph to him which can still be seen at the door to St.Peter’s basilica.
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……
BARBARIANS AT THE GATES!! Literally. There were barbarians at the gates of Rome as the city was invaded by Visigoths led by King Alaric I in the year 408. This was the first time in 800 years that Rome had been defeated by a foreign enemy and this was the beginning of the end of the Roman empire. The fall of Rome correlated with the rise of the Papacy in status and power and Pope Innocent was just the man to take the reins and assert his authority over his city and his fellow Christians. A seemingly energetic man with a love of being Pope(and the prestige that came with it),he had a solid papacy where he successfully combated heresies and settled Church matters from Africa to Greece. Innocent was in the new Roman capital of Ravenna to help with talks of peace with the Visigoths when talks fell through and the invasion commenced. He wasn’t able to safely return to Rome for nearly two years. Miraculously,most Christian sites such as St. Peter’s were left undisturbed during the horrible sack of Rome. Innocent died of natural causes and he was buried above the catacomb of Pontianus. His feast day is on March 12th.