Skip to main content

Sylvester III, Pope


Pontificate: Jan. 10 to March 1045; b. John of Sabina, birthdate unknown; d. before 1063. In September 1044, an opposition party drove the last Tusculan pope, benedict ix, from Rome. With Benedict gone and after what appears to have been some bitter infighting, the Stephanian branch of the Crescentian family managed to have their local bishop, John of Sabina, elected pope. John took the title of Sylvester III, but his reign was short lived. After a little more than one month had elapsed, Benedict returned to Rome and reclaimed his throne. Never having been deposed officially, Benedict worked quickly to undermine Sylvester's authority and was able to excommunicate him. Yet Benedict himself did not remain pope for long. Perhaps realizing that his own position was untenable, Benedict IX sold the papal office by May 1045 for an inordinate sum of money to John Gratian, who assumed the title Pope Gregory VI. His action may not have constituted simony in the strict sense. He may have been trying to induce Benedict's abdication rather than buying the office outright. But whatever the truth may be, John was permitted to assume the name Gregory VI only after Benedict received a pension.

Sylvester III did not bother to challenge the validity of the new pope. Rather, he appears to have recognized Gregory's legitimacy and returned to his bishopric in Sabina, where his Crescentian ties enabled him to carry out his episcopal duties. Emperor Henry III, however, was not convinced of Gregory's right to the papacy, and in 1046 he ordered Benedict, Sylvester, and Gregory to appear before a synod that was held at Sutri, where all three were deposed. Sylvester himself was condemned as an invader of the Holy See and was sentenced to confinement in a monastery. But since records indicate that he continued to serve as the Bishop of Sabina until at least 1062, the sentence against him was probably never enforced. Most likely Sylvester III died sometime before 1063, and his right to be recognized as a pope is questionable, although he is listed as one in the Annuario Pontificio 2001.

Bibliography: g. barraclough, The Medieval Papacy (New York 1968) 71. j. n. d. kelly, Oxford Dictionary of Popes (Oxford 1986) 144; f. x. seppelt, Geschichte der Päpste, 2 (Munich 1955) 414417.

[j. a. sheppard]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Sylvester III, Pope." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . 20 Feb. 2019 <>.

"Sylvester III, Pope." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . (February 20, 2019).

"Sylvester III, Pope." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved February 20, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.