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Celestine V, Pope


Pontificate: July 5 to Dec. 13, 1294. Peter of Morrone, Born 1209/10 most probably in the village of S. Angelo Limosano (county of Molise, Kingdom of Naples-Sicily) to a family of peasants. He became a Benedictine monk in the nearby monastery of S. Maria di Faifula before 1230, then a hermit in the Morrone mountains near Sulmona (about 123540) where he founded his principle abbey of S. Spirito del Morrone living in his cell of S. Onofrio in the mountains above. About 1240 he moved eastward to found another abbey, S. Spirito a Maiella. There he organized a community of hermits that Pope gregory x recognized as a congregation within the Order of St. Benedict. He structured his Celestinians according to the cistercians and, although without theological education, he proved to be an efficient head of his monks. He encouraged donors so that his community soon spread from the Abruzzi to Rome and Apulia attracting the attention of the Papal Curia and the kings Charles I and Charles II of Anjou, rulers of the Kingdom of Naples-Sicily. He was said to heal the sick and work miracles. After the death of Pope nicholas iv (1291), due to divisions within the college of cardinals who were unable to elect a new pope, the Holy See remained vacant for almost three years. King Charles II when visiting Perugia where the cardinals then were in residence mentioned Peter of Morrone's name as a candidate which led to his election by inspiration (i.e. without a formal scrutiny) on July 5, 1294. He was annointed and crowned at L'Aquila August 29, choosing the name of Celestine ('the heavenly one'). King Charles II prevented him from moving to Rome and organized his transfer to Naples to keep him under his control. Apparently inspired by the eschatological speculations of Joachim of Fiore about the forthcoming Age of the Holy Spirit which was to be the Age of the Monks, on September 18 he created twelve new cardinals, the number of the apostles, among them five monks.

In October, accompanied by the king, he traveled to Naples where he requested a small wooden cell to be built for him in the residence of Catelnuovo. By then it was evident that he was incapable of governing the Church. Some cardinals and others abused his ignorance for their own profit, and soon there was widespread corruption at the Curia. All this clearly disturbed Celestine, who began seriously to consider abdicating. Cardinal Benedict Caetani and canonists of his entourage such as Guido of Baisio and Johannes Monachus correctly informed him that canon law permitted a pope to renounce his office even without the participation of the college of cardinals who, however, were afraid that such an act without precedence might endanger the Church, and King Charles would also have regretted such a step that would have deprived him of his influence. After Cardinal Matteo Rosso Orsini had drafted a pertinent constitution, Celestine abdicated in a consistory on Dec. 13, 1294, in a touching ceremony taking off his papal garments and putting on the rough and simple gray habit of his monks. The cardinals swiftly elected his successor, Benedict Caetani (boniface viii), on December 24.

On his way back to Rome, the former pope, now again Peter of Morrone, fled to his hermitage at S. Onofrio and from there, pursued by papal envoys, to Apulia. There he unsuccessfully tried to escape to Greece following the example of some Franciscan Spirituals whom he had protected from the persecutions by the majority of their order permitting them to live in a community bearing his name. When his boat stranded at Vieste near the Gargano mountains he was arrested by the Anjou authorities in May 1295 and brought back to Anagni where Boniface was then in residence and who held him in light custody in the nearby castle of Fumone. There Peter-Celestine died of natural causes on May 19, 1296 (ever since his feast), aged about 86. He found his final rest in the Celestinian church of S. Maria di Collemaggio at L'Aquila. Soon his personality was instrumentalized in the struggle between Boniface VIII and King Phillip the Fair of France, and through the efforts of his brethren, some Spirituals and the French enemies of Boniface VIII who was accused of having forced the hermit-pope to resign, he was canonized on May 5, 1313, by Pope Clement V at Avignon. (In 1969 his name was canceled from the official calendar of saints since he had been venerated only locally in his Abruzzi-Molise homelands). Peter-Celestine, who had occasionally shown some harsh traits of character, e.g. by banishing monks of Montecassino who had been unwilling to become members of his congregation, soon became the object of eschatological speculations as the "angelic pope" figuring in prophecies as late as Pseudo-Malachias. In reality, he had been unable to reform and even adequately to govern the Church, and his resignation, an act of responsibility, had prevented the papacy from being afflicted by further harm.

Bibliography: h. k. mann, The Lives of the Popes in the Middle Ages (London 1931). Dizionario biografico delgi Italiani (Rome 1979) 27: 402415. Dictionnaire historique de la papauté (Paris 1994) 319323. Enciclopeida dei papi (Rome 2000) 2:460472. p. herde, Cöestin V. 1294. Peter vom Morrone. Der Engelpapst (Stuttgart 1981); Storia della Chiesa, ed. d. quaglioni (Milan 1994) 11:93127.

[p. herde]

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