Pope Benedict IV had a relatively quiet time in office compared to previous Pontiffs. In his first year he crowned a new Holy Roman Emperor,Louis of Provence. Benedict also had to step in and excommunicate Count Baldwin of Flanders(modern day Netherlands). The Count was having a property dispute with the local Archbishop over the ownership of an Abbey in Flanders. When the matter couldn’t be resolved to anyone’s liking,the Count had the Archbishop murdered,which is always a surefire way to earn an excommunication. The Count was himself murdered shortly after that. Pope Benedict was buried in front of the old St Peter’s Basilica when he passed away in 903.
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.
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.
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!
Pope Saint Agapetus was elected to the Papacy just days after the death of Pope John II. Agapetus was from a wealthy and prominent Roman family and was one of the most highly educated men to hold the office. One of his first acts as Pontiff was to create a library that featured Latin translations of works from Greek writers like Homer and Aristotle. His time in office was very short and was mostly consumed by keeping Italy from being invaded by Constantinople. Italian Queen Amalasuntha was murdered by her cousin Theodahad,who quickly assumed the throne. This in turn infuriated Eastern emperor Justin I who favored the now deceased Queen. A massive army was dispatched with Rome in their sights. King Theodahad wanted no part of this and begged the Pope to travel east and talk Justin down. Pope Agapetus wanted no part of this either and agreed to try to talk some sense into the angry Emperor. First he needed money for the journey and he actually pawned off some property of St.Peter’s for the ummm….gas money to make the long trip. Unfortunately,this would all turn out to be a waste of time because Justin could not be persuaded.
The trip was a success in a different way though,because while there,the Pope took offense at the leader of the Eastern Church,a heretical Monophysite named Anthimus. A Monophysite was a person who believed Jesus was ONLY of divine nature,which really misses the whole point of the whole deal. The Pope told Justin that if he wouldn’t call off his troops,he could at least throw out the heretic that was running his Churches. Justin instead threatened the Pope with banishment or worse. Pope Agapetus replied “With eager longing have I come to gaze upon the Most Christian Emperor Justinian. In his place I find a Diocletian, whose threats, however, terrify me not”. A Diocletian,by the way,refers to a past Roman Emperor that persecuted Christians. The fearless Pope stared down the barrel of torture and death and didn’t blink and Justin,with his Christianity challenged,was then persuaded that the heretic named Anthimus had to go. For this reason,Agapetus is not only celebrated as a Saint in the Roman Church,he is also recognized as a Saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The two sister Churches may not agree on a lot of things,but they both know a Holy man when they see one. Our Poor Pope,however,had worked himself to the point of extreme exhaustion,and passed away suddenly as Emperor Justin’s troops marched to Rome. Pope Agapetus’ feast day is celebrated on September 20th and he is buried in St.Peter’s basilica.
Pope Eusebius took over for Pope Marcellus in the midst of Christian in-fighting that had led to riots and bloodshed. The apostates that wanted back into the Church without serving proper penance now had a leader in a priest named Heraclius. The new Pope held the line on the penance that needed to be paid,so the fighting between Christians continued unabated.The constant turmoil was really annoying Emperor Maxentius and so once again he exiled the Pope outside of Rome,but this time he threw out Heraclius for extra measure. Eusebius and Heraclius died that same year from “unknown causes”(murder. Probably murder). Poor guy had only been Pope for four months. Years later Eusebius’s body was brought back to Rome and was given a proper burial in the Catacombs of Callixtus. Pope Damasus I placed an epitaph on Eusebius’s tomb that spoke of his stern but short lived defense of the Catholic Church,and his banishment because of it. His feast day is celebrated on September 26th.