This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

May 19 -- Feast of Pope Saint Celestine V

A brace of emeriti: Pope Benedict XVI visits the relics of Pope Celestine V
Wikipedia lists eleven popes who have resigned, and as a rule, I trust wikipedia.  Of those, six are historical certainties and five are considered apocryphal, a fancy word meaning that nobody knows for sure.  There are also some folks who were elbowed out during the pope/anti-pope crises, but it's tough to claim that those were resignations.  Prior to Pope Benedict XVI's renuntiatio last February, no one had voluntarily stepped down since Gregory XII in 1415.  Before Greg, more than a century had passed since a pontiff walked away from St. Peter's Chair; the man who quit in 1294 was today's saint, Pope Celestine V.  Perhaps it was because he was so spectacularly poor at poping that no pontiff since has taken the name Celestine.

Starting out as Pietro Angelerio, the future ex-pope moved from his mom's farm to a Benedictine monastery, and from there to a cave on Mount Morrone.  When his cave proved insufficiently remote for a really ascetic lifestyle, he found a dank little hole on Mount Maiella in the Abruzzi region of Italy.  Like all the best hermits, he began to attract disciples -- lots of paradoxical young men wanted to live in isolation with him. He set up a monastic order -- later called the Celestines -- and gave them an exceptionally rigorous Rule to live by.

Pope Nicholas IV died in 1292.  Cardinals debated for two years without settling on a new pontiff.  Disgusted, Pietro sent a letter warning that divine justice would fall on them if they could  not reach agreement.  The only one who couldn't see that this letter would result in Pietro's immediate election was of course Pietro himself. When news of his election reached him, he tried to run away, but a delegation of cardinals eventually managed to get him to Rome, where he took the name Celestine V.

Old portrait and new mask based on skull analysis
As it turned out, the cardinals should have listened to him when he declined.  The poor fella had no idea what to do.  He didn't even move into the Vatican, preferring instead to stay in the Kingdom of Naples and rely on King Charles II to help him with everything.  I can't say I blame him, given what a disagreeable gaggle of cardinals lived in Rome, but his problems didn't go away just because he ignored them.  Moreover, he screwed up appointments, sometimes giving several folks the nod for the same job.  He also tried to hand off administration of the Holy See to some cardinals while he fasted for Lent, but they of course weren't having it.

Lest anyone think that his papacy was a total bust, it is worth noting that he had two big accomplishments.  First, he renewed a decree to set strict rules for conclaves so that they wouldn't run on for two years.  Although he himself was proclaimed pope by the Dean of the College of Cardinals rather than being elected by a conclave, every subsequent pope has been properly elected.  Second, he created a formal process for papal resignations.  Sadly, that process didn't include protections for papae emeriti

The Monk Formerly Known as Celestine quietly walked out of Naples, thinking to retire into the wilderness where he could commune with the Lord.  The Gaetani Family (one of those big Italian dynasties that were always trying to be bigger) managed to elect one of their own as the next pope -- Benedetto Gaetani became Pope Boniface VIII in 1294.  Boniface VIII is notable for having been confined by Dante to the eighth circle of Hell.

Boniface VIII
Boniface is not canonized as he was no saint, but neither did he abuse his predecessor, as the legends would have it.  True, he did confine Pietro (formerly Celestine) to a castle near Ferentino, but that was to prevent the rival Colonna Family from grabbing him and setting him up as a puppet anti-pope somewhere.  Pietro would have happily jumped on a slow boat to Croatia, but the Holy Father thought it would be better for everyone if he just settled into a modest apartment located conveniently within two days march from Rome.  Rumors that he was murdered by Boniface, fueled by a hole in Pietro's skull, have finally been debunked.  Scientists working on his relics confirmed that the hole was made after death.  Additionally, the remains tested negative for heavy metal poisoning.  Read more about the reconstruction here

[The picture at left plainly shows the Boniface does not mean "good face."  I imagine his mother loved him though.]

Folks might debate the cause of death, but picture a 79 year old man experiencing five months of disastrous papacy followed by nine months on the lam, and then ten months confinement in a castle.  The question's not what killed him but rather, how did he live so long? 

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