ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Crazy History: Pope Formosus and the Cadaver Synod

Updated on April 1, 2018

History IS Stranger than Fiction

People often wonder why history is required in school. Isn't it just a bunch of dates and dead people, they think? To some degree, this could be an accurate statement. However, history is interesting. At times, the truth is stranger than fiction. I will confess that I'm a church history nut. I love learning about the history of Christianity. I'm not a Catholic, but I find medieval Catholicism very interesting.

One of the most interesting accounts from medieval church history is the sad tale of Pope Formosus.

The Cadaver Synod

Pope Formosus and Stephen VII by Jean Paul Laurens
Pope Formosus and Stephen VII by Jean Paul Laurens | Source

Formosus: The Early Years

Pope Formosus was the only Pope Formosus ever. Hence, there is no I, II, V, or XIV after his name. The year of Formosus' birth is not certain, but it is estimated around 816. He served as a Cardinal Bishop as early as 864 and first became a candidate for the papacy in 872.

Political machinations in Rome frequently determined who would become pope in these days, so Formosus was passed over. After leaving Rome, John VIII placed an excommunication on the head of the Cardinal. In 878, John removed the excommunication after Formosus reportedly agreed never to return to Rome or perform his priestly duties (although the documents are questionable). In 891, Formosus was elected to succeed Stephen V as pope.


Formosus, Before Being on Trial while Dead

Pope Formosus from Cavallieri, 1588
Pope Formosus from Cavallieri, 1588 | Source

Pope Formosus: The Papal Years

Pope Formosus actually became Pope Formosus on October 6, 891. His pontificate was not terribly memorable. Political wranglings dominated this period in European history. Not much on the ecclesiastical side happened of major note. Therefore, it could be argued that the papacy of Pope Formosus was rather inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

Pope Formosus: The Dead Years

Although being a pope who was elected pope after previously being excommunicated puts Formosus into a pretty rare category, this is not what truly set him apart in history. Formosus is most interesting because of what happened after his death.

Boniface VI immediately succeeded Formosus, but he only lasted 15 days as pope. 15 days is not a long enough time for most people to accomplish much, so we must move to the successor of Boniface VI. In 897, Pope Stephen VI (or VII, depending upon the date of the record being read) brought Formosus to trial. Stephen was influenced by a man named Lambert and his mother Agiltrude, who were apparently mad that Formosus crowned a rival named Arnulf, who invaded Rome. After Lambert and Agiltrude regained power, Agiltrude wanted to get revenge on Formosus, who was already dead.

Stephen convened a gruesome trial now known widely as the Cadaver Synod in early 897. Formosus had been dead for months, but that did not stop the exhumation of his decaying corpse. The trial was held in the Basilica of St. John Lateran with Formosus dressed in all of the papal finery. After some questioning and arguments, Formosus unsurprisingly sat silent. A deacon was appointed to answer for the dead corpse. The court deemed Formosus guilty and his papacy was basically declared null and void. The poor corpse of Pope Formosus was stripped of the papal vestments, three fingers used for giving blessings were cut off, and the body was chucked into the Tiber River (only to be retrieved).

However, the ordeal of Formosus was not quite over at this point. After the death of Stephen VI, Formosus' body was re-buried in St. Peter's. Pope Sergius III, re-affirmed the judgment against Formosus and demanded that all bishops consecrated by him be re-consecrated, after two popes had reinstated the standing of Formosus. Later rulings found in favor of Formosus because of the political nature of the trial.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)