A Dead Pope’s Body Is Put On Trial


The Cadaver Synod (also called the Cadaver Trial) is the name commonly given to the posthumous ecclesiastical trial of Catholic Pope Formosus, held in the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome during January of 897.

The trial was conducted by Formosus’s successor, Pope Stephen (VI) VII. Stephen accused Formosus of perjury and of having acceded to the papacy illegally. At the end of the trial, Formosus was pronounced guilty and his papacy retroactively declared null. The Cadaver Synod is remembered as one of the most bizarre episodes in the history of the medieval papacy.

The famous painting by Jean-Paul Laurens

Probably around January 897, Stephen (VI) VII ordered that the corpse of his predecessor Formosus be removed from its tomb and brought to the papal court for judgement. With the corpse propped up on a throne, a deacon was actually appointed to answer for the deceased pontiff. 

Formosus was accused of transmigrating sees in violation of canon law, of perjury, and of serving as a bishop while actually a layman. Eventually, the corpse was found guilty. Liutprand and other sources say that Stephen had the corpse stripped of its papal vestments, cut off the three fingers of his right hand used for consecrations, and declared all of his acts and ordinations (including his ordination of Stephen (VI) VII as bishop of Anagni) invalid. The body was finally interred in a graveyard for foreigners, only to be dug up once again, tied to weights, and cast into the Tiber River.

According to Liutprand’s version of the story, Stephen (VI) VII said:

“When you were bishop of Porto, why did you usurp the universal Roman See in such a spirit of ambition?”

The macabre spectacle turned public opinion in Rome against Stephen. Rumors circulated that Formosus’ body, after washing up on the banks of the Tiber, had begun to perform miracles. A public uprising led to Stephen being deposed and imprisoned. While in prison, in July or August 897, he was strangled.

Sources

Top 10 Worst Popes in History. Toptenz.net. http://www.toptenz.net/top-10-worst-popes-in-history.php

Wikipedia

Answers.com. http://www.answers.com/topic/formosus-italian-pope

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