Following the death of Pope Leo VIII,there was much confusion as to who would be the next Pope. Banished Pope Benedict V was still technically Pope and the Romans wanted him back,but Holy Roman emperor Otto I nixed that idea. After several months of arguing about who the next Pope would be,Bishop John Crescentius was put forward as a compromise to keep both the Romans and the emperor happy. Pope John XIII went to work immediately in curbing the power of Roman nobility,which was exactly the wrong move to make. The indignant nobles raised a militia that soon captured the Pope and imprisoned him in different castles to keep people guessing as to where he was. He soon escaped(!!)and made his way to southern Italy where he was kept safe by a prince named Pandulf Ironhead(which has to be one of the great names of all time. Plus it sounds like a Harley Davidson model…). Emperor Otto I had to march an army back into Rome(again!)to restore Pope John XIII back to his place as head of the Church. Most of the nobles who had plotted against the Pope were executed and the grateful John XIII named emperor Otto a “Liberator and restorer of the Church”. During this time,Pope John met a brilliant man named Gerbert of Aurillac. The Pope was so fascinated by Gerbert that he encouraged the emperor to employ this man as a tutor to his son(future emperor Otto II). Gerbert would one day go on to be Pope Sylvester II,our first French Pope and a genuine genius(I’m looking forward to talking about him!)
Pope John XIII is the 133rd Pope and I am officially at the half-way point of my Pope blog!! I am two years and 8 months into weekly doses of Popes and the Papacy has proven to be far more complicated,challenging,and at times more inspiring than I had ever dreamed of when I started this little art project.
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