Pope Stephen VII was another stop-gap elected by Marozia,the ruler of the Papal States. Marozia had previously appointed Leo VI to the Papacy and now she’s chosen another elderly Pope to buy time until her son(by Pope Sergius III!)was old enough to fill the chair of St Peter(scandal!). Although he was not properly elected,Stephen was nonetheless a superstar in his own right,having belonged to one of the oldest,most prominent families in Rome,descended from great soldiers,statesmen and one emperor. Barely anything is known about Stephen other than his strict moral code and his wrath when his priests did not follow it. One Greek writer stated that this Pope was the first to not have a beard. I’ve drawn several beardless Popes already so this is information that could’ve been useful YESTERDAY(to quote Adam Sandler)
War Pope! Muslim invaders had overrun Sicily and were now running wild throughout southern Italy. In a sort of crusade prequel,Pope John X personally supervised a coalition of Christian armies from Italy and Constantinople in destroying all of the invaders and securing the Italian countryside. The victorious Pope was riding high and used his new clout to appoint his brother Peter the new Duke of Spoleto and also made gestures towards a pact with the King of Italy. Marozia,leading noblewoman of Rome and basically the ruler of the Papal States,felt threatened over this Pope’s continuing quest for power. She waited until the Pope was without his bodyguards and then marched a military force into the Lateran Palace,taking John and his brother hostage. Marozia had the Pope’s brother murdered in front of him and then exiled John to a monastery while she installed a puppet Pope that could be more easily controlled. Marozia was buying time until her own son,by earlier Pope Sergius III,was old enough to take the chair of Peter,which would happen in 931 with the “election” of John XI. Poor Pope John X was eventually smothered in his sleep with a pillow. 10 Popes to go until I reach the half-way point of my Pope countdown! Two and a half years to go until I reach Pope Francis(I’ll have a paid off Honda when I’m finished!)
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…….
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……
Iconoclasm was the main conflict that occupied the Papacy of Saint Gregory II. Gregory was a Roman noble who became a deacon,and later became the Papal secretary under Pope Constantine. Once in office,he almost immediately butted heads with the new emperor of Constantinople,Leo III. Leo wanted to exert his authority over the west by raising their taxes. This was met with angry Roman protests(led by the Pope!)driving eastern prefects out of the city. Relations were basically soured at this point so Leo went in for the kill by proclaiming that all religious icons,statues,pictures or relics of Jesus,Mary,or the Saints were to be destroyed. Leo’s reasoning for this was that a Islamic invasion of the east on top of various natural disasters meant that God was angry with his people. Why was God angry? Leo believed God thought that we were worshipping false gods with all our statues and pictures. Leo forbid even having any images in your private possession. Pope Gregory II was enraged. First,he excommunicated Leo(take that!),and then he sent him a letter,where he pretty much insulted Leo’s intelligence and told him that even children would think he was stupid. In this letter he says….
”You say: ‘We worship stones and walls and boards.’ But it is not so, O Emperor; but they serve us for remembrance and encouragement, lifting our slow spirits upwards, by those whose names the pictures bear and whose representations they are. And we worship them not as God, as you maintain, God forbid!… Even the little children mock at you. Go into one of their schools, say that you are the enemy of images, and straightway they will throw their little tablets at your head….”
Emperor Leo didn’t particularly like being called an imbecile by the Holy Father so he sent an army of Lombards into Italy to murder the Pope. Gregory II went on the offensive and bravely entered the Lombard camp to confront the king of the Lombards,Liutprand. The Pope laid the mother of all Catholic guilt trips on the Catholic Liutprand and this shaming caused the humbled king to enter Rome on foot,lay his arms on the tomb of St.Peter and pull his armies out of Italy. All of this back and forth is setting the table for the independence of the Pope from the eastern emperor. This is the beginning of the Papal States and the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire,which will come during the rest of the 8th century.
Iconoclasm will still be fought by the next Pope,Gregory III,and it will be fought again during the Protestant Reformation and even now by Islamic extremists in the middle east.