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.
Theodore II was only Pope for twenty days but managed to get a great deal done in such a short time. Not much is known about Theodore before he became the Pope except that he was a supporter of Pope Formosus. Formosus,if you recall,had his rotting dead body dug up by insane Pope Stephen VI. The corpse was then placed on trial for supposed crimes against the Church,this was later known as the Cadaver Synod. Crazy Pope Stephen VI ruled that Formosus was guilty and was declared an invalid Pope,meaning that all the clergy or Bishops that he appointed were now null. These Holy men remained in a clerical limbo until Pope Theodore took office and undid all the damage that Stephen had wrought. In record time(for Rome)Theodore called a new synod to undo Stephen’s cadaver synod. Formosus was declared a valid Pope and all appointments and declarations that he had made were now ruled legal. When Formosus had been found guilty in his sham trial,his body was mutilated,dragged outside and then thrown into the Tiber river. A monk later secretly fished out the body and had been keeping it safe this entire time. Pope Theodore recovered the body and after a grand funeral,entombed Formosus in St.Peter’s Basilica where he could finally rest in peace. Pope Theodore II passed away virtually days afterwards.
The son of a wealthy Roman aristocrat,Stephen V was groomed from a young age to go far in the Church. His family paid for the finest education and he was known to be an intelligent,kind and very Holy man. When a famine,caused by both a drought and locusts,devastated Rome,Stephen tried to use the Papal treasury to ease the burden of the people but found it was bone dry. The Pope decided to use his own wealth inherited from his family to feed and care for his people. Stephen also used his money to free slaves and restore Churches throughout Italy. He also bargained with local nobles to provide military defense against invading Muslims in southern Italy. Pope Stephen V was a good example of not being a slave to the mammon. Instead of living his life in service to money,he put his own money in service to his fellow man. Stephen is buried in the portico of St.Peter’s Basilica.
Battle Pope!! Rome was besieged by Muslim sea invaders,and while previous Pope Sergius II hid while the pirates pillaged St.Peter’s and terrorized Italians,Pope Leo IV was not about to take things lying down. A new Pope was in charge and he wasted no time putting a stop to this ongoing threat. Leo quickly organized the mariner towns of Naples, Gaeta and Amalfi and together they forged a league to destroy the Saracen invaders. An awesome fleet was pulled together and Pope Leo put Cesarius of Naples in command. Leo charged him with the task of complete and utter annihilation of the marauders and the ensuing Battle of Ostia completely destroyed the invading fleet in one of the most one sided naval fights in history. Leo further fortified the walls of the Vatican and of Rome and restored the damage done to St.Peter’s and St.Paul’s. The Battle of Ostia was one of the major events of the middle ages and it helped drive invading Muslims out of the area for good. The blessing of the fleet by Pope Leo IV was later painted by Raphael on the walls of the Vatican palace.
Pope Sergius II was a terrible Pope. He came to the chair of Peter through violent intimidation from his supporters and then spent the entirety of his term basically crippled with gout. Sergius was so indisposed that his brother Benedict actually took over running things most of the time,much to the dismay of the clergy. Benedict loved money and was not opposed to accepting bribes in exchange for high ranking jobs within the Church. Terrible. Things came to a head in 846 when an army of Muslim invaders attacked and looted St.Peter’s basilica while Sergius hid behind the walls of Rome. The Roman people looked on the Muslim invasion and subsequent destruction caused by it as Divine retribution from God for all of the Pope’s crimes. Sergius passed away shortly afterwards,but I could find no mention of what became of his sleazy brother. I hate writing about bad Popes,but these guys were still human and for all the good and even great Popes we’ve had,we still had some duds in the bunch.
The only real interesting thing about Pope Sergius II was that he was played by John Goodman in a awful sounding movie called “Pope Joan”. This movie concerns the legend of a woman who disguised herself as a man and worked her way unrecognized up through the Church and to the Papacy. This is nonsense. The elections of Popes at this time were highly contested affairs that almost always provoked riots and almost always needed intervention from kings or emperors to settle. This reason alone is enough to dispute this myth,as I doubt someone could simply sail past all of these contentious obstacles without being found out. The lack of legitimate documentation from history or even the Church’s enemies and the lack of a specific actual time frame when this all would have taken place are more reasons to dispel “Pope Joan”.
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 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.
Pope John VII was a Greek from a prominent Byzatine family which included a senator(his grandfather)and his father,Plato,who was the viceroy of Palatine Hill. Palatine Hill was one of the oldest parts of Rome and was the site of the cave where Romulus and Remus were raised by Wolves according to Roman mythology. This supposedly was where Rome got its name when Romulus killed his brother and founded the city on the banks of the Tiber river. John stayed close to home at Palatine Hill because of his parents and later on used it’s Church,The Church of St. Maria Antiqua(Ancient Church of St Mary)as the seat of the Bishop of Rome. He commissioned many frescoes and mosaics to decorate the Church and dedicated it “with a broken heart to a most loving and incomparable mother, and to the kindest of fathers”. The Church was abandoned after an Earthquake in the 8th century. A new Church was built on top of its ruins later on. The buried Church and all of it’s art treasures were rediscovered in the early 20th century and much has been salvaged and restored. The most interesting piece of art was an image of a crucified Jesus that doesn’t look like the Jesus that we’ve all known and loved for nearly 2000 years. This Jesus actually has short hair and barely a hint of a beard. No descriptions of Jesus actually exist so it’s always interesting when someone goes against the norm and suggests a different look. Apparently this was Pope approved at the time.
Pope John VII had a short Papacy and he,like his Papal predecessors,butted heads with the emperor of Constantinople,but nothing of consequence happened during his term. When he passed away he was buried in the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the old St.Peter’s. This is appropriate since when his Church was unearthed they found an engraving of his signature and it was signed “John,Servant of Mary”
Syrian born Pope John V only ruled for a year but his contributions to the faith before becoming Pope were immeasurable. In 680 John was the leading Roman delegate at the Third Council of Constantinople. This council was called to finally put to rest the leading heresy of the day,monothelitism. This heresy believed that Jesus had only a Divine will,and not both human and Divine as the Church teaches. It was popular with various emperors and even some clergy of the eastern Church,but Rome had always held the line on the nature of Jesus for nearly two hundred years at this point(and seemingly forever when writing this blog).John and the other Roman delegate’s defense of the nature of Jesus finally helped put to rest this long standing debate and monothelitism was officially declared a heresy recognized by both west and east Churches. This work on behalf of the Catholic faith helped to elect him to the Papacy in 685. John mostly used his short time clearing up debates about the appointing of bishops and restoring older Churches. He was buried in St Peter’s basilica(the old one)and unfortunately his tomb was destroyed by an Arab invasion of Rome in 846.
Pope Donus’s…..Donus’…?….Papacy lasted one year,five months and ten days. Nothing of much consequence happened during his reign. Donus was active in renovating St.Peter’s basilica and other Roman Churches. The only exciting thing that appears to have happened to him is that a group of Syrian Nestorian monks were discovered secretly living in a Roman monastery. Nestorians believed,and still believe,that Jesus had dueling natures,like he was either human or either divine at any given time,but not both at the same time. This is not what the Catholic Church teaches us about his nature and so Pope Donus sent these monks on their way to wherever and gave the monastery to Roman monks. “Donus” is a unique name for a Pope,and the only one to date. We’ve settled into a pattern of various Popes named Benedict,Leo and Pius,but I doubt we’ll ever see another Donus.