Pope Sergius III was technically elected to the Papacy in 898,but the Holy Roman Emperor despised him and drove him into exile in favor of Pope John IX. Once the people involved in his exile were out of the picture,Sergius came roaring back into Rome,assisted by the military might of Duke Alberic of Spoleto. The Papacy was already in turmoil with the imprisonment of current Pope Leo V and with Anti-Pope Christopher running the show. Sergius promptly had them both strangled,just to tie up lose ends and avoid confusion as to who exactly was Pope(what a swell gesture). The government of Rome was now mostly run by the husband and wife team of Theophylact and Theodora. These two pulled the strings of Sergius,mostly by use of their equally scheming daughter,Marozia,who is reported to have given birth to the bastard son of Pope Sergius,(he would later go on to be Pope John XI….Good Lord)
Pope Benedict XVI once remarked that the Catholic Church can’t be anything but Divine,because how else could the Church have survived 2000 years in spite of attacks from the outside,and in spite of terrible behavior of Catholics(like Sergius III)
I based his image on Telly Savalas,because this Pope seems like a character that Savalas would have played in a Biblical movie from the 1960s (Also,Pope Sergius was bald…)
Saeculum obscurum. That’s Latin for “The Dark Age” and it’s the name historians have given to the time of the 10th century Papacy. Pope Leo V marks the beginning of the dark age,but it is through no fault of his own. Leo was in office for maybe 30 days when Cardinal Christopher declared a Holy coup and took the Chair of Peter for his own. Pope Christopher tossed Leo into prison,but Leo never relinquished his position so Christoper would be forever relegated to Anti-Pope status. This was all for naught anyway because Sergius III arrived back on the scene soon and had Anti-Pope Christopher thrown into prison along with poor Pope Leo V. Sergius was elected Pope back in 898 but was driven out of Rome by Emperor Lambert in favor of Pope John IX. Sergius laid in wait for his moment and with the help of the new Roman military commander,Theophylact I,Count of Tusculum,took back the Vatican with force. Pope Sergius’ first order of business was having Anti-Pope Christopher and Pope Leo V strangled in their prison cells,and with that,the reign of one of the worst Popes ever would begin. I can tell already that these Dark Age Popes are going to give me a headache…..(you can never say that Catholic history is boring though)
Pope Stephen VI is always included in the lists of worst Popes ever,for the simple reason that digging up the corpse of a Pope and desecrating his body will nearly always get you included on any “worst of anything” list. All of this mess started when Holy Roman Emperor Guy of Spoleto demanded that Pope Formosus crown Guy’s son Lambert co-emperor and King of Italy. Formosus reluctantly obeyed him but quickly went to work secretly raising up an army to overthrow the new King. Pope Formosus passed away before King Lambert could be overthrown but Lambert would never forget how close the Pope came to running him out of Italy,or maybe even killing him. Stephen VI was a bitter enemy of Pope Formosus,and a loyal supporter of King Lambert,which is why this relatively unknown Bishop was elected to the Papacy in 896. Oh,and he may have been legitimately insane. The King now had his partner in revenge to enact his horrible retribution to the dead Formosus. Pope Stephen VI ordered that the dead Pope be dug up,dressed in Papal vestments and placed on the stand for his “trial”. For the next few hours,under the watchful devious glare of the King,Pope Stephen VI ranted,raved and screamed at Formosus’ dead body. A deacon cowered behind Formosus and answered(for Formosus)to Stephen’s charges of crimes against the Church. When the trial was over,Stephen ruled that all of Formosus’ actions as Pope were void,he had the blessing hand of Formosus dismembered and then his body was thrown into the Tiber river(a monk secretly recovered the body and hid it away). All of these hysterics were just too much for the Romans and Stephen himself was removed from office and imprisoned,where he was he was later found strangled. King Lambert was assassinated soon afterwards. The next Pope,Romanus,overrulled the findings of this sham trial and the Pope after him,Theodore II,had the body of Pope Formosus reburied with full honors in St Peter’s Basilica.
Pope Formosus was a brilliant diplomat,a gifted missionary and a Pope beloved by his people,but sadly,his legacy is forever tarnished by the vicious and morbid actions of one of his successors and a vindictive emperor. Holy Roman Emperor Guy III of Spoleto demanded that his son,Lambert,be crowned by the Pope to be King of Italy and co-emperor. Pope Formosus did not trust Lambert and secretly plotted to have him overthrown,which he nearly succeeded in doing before passing away due to a stroke. King Lambert and his mother were nearly driven out of Italy by the Pope’s actions and now that he was dead,they decided to take their revenge,whether he was alive or not. The King plotted with Pope Stephen VI(who may have actually been insane)to dig up the corpse of Formosus and humiliate his memory by putting his dead body on trial for supposed “crimes” against The Holy Church. The rotting body of Formosus(he had been dead for a year)was dressed in Papal vestments and placed on his throne while Pope Stephen screamed questions and vulgarities at his body. To “defend” himself against the charges,a Deacon crouched behind Formosus and answered for him. This disturbing scene played out by Formosus being found guilty(Shocking verdict….)The dead Pope’s vestments were then stripped from him and then three fingers of his blessing hand were cut off. His dismembered body was then dragged outside and thrown into the Tiber River. A monk secretly fished his body out of the river and hid it until this insanity calmed down. Lay Romans and clergy were horrified at all of this and rebelled against Pope Stephen VI. He was thrown into prison where he was later strangled. King Lambert was assassinated two years later. It helps to know that Romans were as disgusted by all of this then, just as much as I was when I first read about this. When the dust cleared and saner heads returned to power,Pope Theodore II had Pope Formosus buried in St Peter’s Basilica with full honors due to this fine Pope.