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Formosus elected Pope (891)

Submitted by Ludwig von Rege... on October 6, 2014 - 12:00am

And now for one of my very favourite stories.  Pope Formosus was elected on this day in 891. Formosus' ecclesiastical career had enjoyed mixed fortune.  Made Cardinal Bishop of Portus in 864 he was denounced for treachery in 872 and excommunicated.  Nevertheless, Formosus is connected to today's other story, for it was he who persuaded Karl the Bald to be crowned as emperor by John VIII in 875.

Swearing never to perform priestly functions or to return to Rome, Formosus' excommunication was lifted in 878, and he was restored to his diocese in 883.  On 6 October 891 he was elected Pope.

Formosus' papacy was occupied by intrigue with Constantinople, where the Patriarch Photius had been expelled, intrigue with France, where a faction was trying to install Karl the Simple as King (those Carolings were still limping on) and intrigue in Italy, where people wanted someone else to be Emperor (that was a stable condition).

Formosus died on the fourth of April 896.  That's when things got weird.

Formosus was succeed very briefly by Boniface VI and then only slightly less briefly by Stephen VI. Stephen was friendly with one of those guys who wanted to be Emperor but nobody else wanted to be Emperor, and his mother.  Stephen had Formosus dug up, clothed in papal regalia, and put on trial for everything he'd been accused of back in the days of John VIII.  Propped-up on a throne, the former Formosus' defence was provided by a deacon who probably did not uphold the finest traditions of the bar.  After a full and thorough trial at which the deceased was given every opportunity to defend himself, he was found guilty and stripped of his papal vestments.  Three fingers were cut from his right hand -- so he couldn't go around illegally blessing people -- and his body thrown in the Tiber.  Finally, Formosus' decisions were declared null-and-void, so everyone he had invested had to re-apply for their jobs.

The body of the dead and condemned Formosus was fished from the river by a monk, who faithfully stored it in hope of a a friendlier regime.  Popes came thick and fast in those days, so he didn't have to wait too long.  Formosus was buried in St Peter's Basilica, and his decisions re-instated, so people could stop re-applying for their jobs.

Until, that is, Pope Sergius III.  As a consequence of the thick-and-fast cycle of popes, it was likely that one day one of the clergy involved in "The Cadaver Trial" would get to be pope himself; that day was the 29th of January 904.  Sergius re-revoked Formosus' appointments, sending all those bishops back to the "consecration here" line.  A final story has Sergius digging up Formosus again, but this seems not to have historical support.  That's OK: the middle-ages were weird enough.

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