139. Pope Sylvester II 999-1003

pope sylvester ii

Yes,I see that I’ve drawn a robot Pope,but we’ll get to that in a moment. Pope Sylvester II was basically the most brilliant man that has ever occupied the Chair of Peter,and that’s saying a lot considering Popes like Pius XII or Benedict XVI. Gerbert of Aurillac was a superstar in the Church before being elected to the Papacy(again,like Benedict XVI). A gifted child,he was raised in a monastery in Spain,where he was taught by the greatest Christian and Arab scientists and scholars. Gerbert became prolific in mathematics,grammar,philosophy,music,astronomy(even astrology)…..you name it,Gerbert not only knew it but he could teach it and probably improve on it. Accompanying the Count of Barcelona to Rome in 969,Gerbert was noticed by Pope John XIII,who soon set the young priest up as a tutor to the future Holy Roman emperor Otto II. Moving up through the ranks of the government and the Church,Gerbert was elected Pope in 999. To set the agenda of his reign and to imitate the close ties of Pope Sylvester I and Emperor Constantine 700 years earlier,Gerbert took the name Sylvester as a symbol of the unity of the Church and the State(now under Otto III). Being our first French Pope,with close ties to a German emperor,He,like his predecessors,ran afoul of Roman nobles,which tied up most of his time. While Pope,he fought against corruption and promoted celibacy amongst the clergy,which,on top of being a foreigner,earned him many enemies.
While his Papacy was anti-climatic,Sylvester’s contribution to the world cannot be overstated. He gave Europe the Abacus and promoted the use of Hindu numerals(1,2,3…..),which made calculating much easier over those clunky Roman numerals. He even built a giant Abacus in the floor of a church and had servants move the balls around while he made calculations looking down from the balcony. Sylvester built an astrolabe and a armillary sphere(a type of fancy globe),which helped him chart the stars and the planets(his measurements of where the equator was were exact and he was nearly exact on the location of the Artic circle). Being a musical genius,he constructed a new type of organ that used mathematics to harmonize notes and on top of that he gave Europe a clock of his own making(a clock!!He invented a clock!)
Due to the fact that he was a genius,he was probably aloof and probably weird and probably over everyone’s head. Making enemies and being weird is where the odd part of his legend comes in. Not knowing what to make of this pious oddball,people started making up stuff to explain how he could be so incredibly smart(never mind hard work..).So apparently he stole secret knowledge from a Islamic wizard(false). He made a deal with a devil(false) He won at a game of dice with the devil to get to be Pope(false)He fell in love with a female demon(false)He could turn invisible(false). My personal favorite legend was that he built a giant brass robotic head that could answer yes or no questions about the future(Kind of like Jim Carrey’s Riddler head in Batman Forever). Oh oh,not to mention that the bones in his crypt will rattle whenever a Pope is about to die(False…and what tha..)
I usually try to keep these things at a paragraph or two,but with Sylvester I could go on for days,he(and his weird legends),are just that fascinating…

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138. Pope Gregory V 996-999

Pope Gregory v

Pope Gregory V was our first German Pope(of which there will be 8 total). Holy Roman emperor Otto III of Germany had been notified of the death of Pope John XV and he knew of just the right replacement,which was his cousin,Bruno of Saxony. Aside from the obvious nepotism and the fact that Bruno was only 24 years old,he actually turned out to be an above average Pontiff during his short reign. Once again though,those pesky Roman nobles took to causing trouble for the new “foreigner” Pope. As soon as the emperor left Rome after the coronation,the nobles ran Gregory out of town and placed their own pope(lower case p) in his place(again!). Gregory kept running the Church in exile while waiting for Otto to return to Rome. He banned the buying of Church offices and also banned clergy for campaigning for the office of the Pope while the current Pope was still alive. Gregory also promoted Gerbert of Aurillac(future Pope Sylvester II)to be Archbishop of Ravenna. Emperor Otto marched back into Rome and after violently putting down the anti-pope and his cronies(violently!Many beheadings and many tongues removed),he restored the Pope back to his rightful place…just in time for Gregory to get terribly ill and pass away unexpectedly.

133. Pope John XIII 965-972

Pope John xiii

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.