jesus wants me for a sunbeam

Earlier this month I read John Julius Norwich’s history of The Popes. It’s rather dry but this passage about two cardinals battling it out for the papal tiara made me laugh.

papal tiara found here

“Cardinal Roland Bandinelli was elected by a large majority. He made the usual display of reluctance then bent to receive the mantle. Cardinal Octavian dived forward, snatched the mantle and tried to don it himself. A scuffle followed, the mantle was lost and the chaplain produced another (presumably for just such an eventuality), which Octavian managed to put on back to front before anyone could stop him.

There followed a scene of scarcely believable confusion. Wrenching himself free from furious supporters of Roland who were trying to tear the mantle forcibly from his back, Octavian – whose frantic efforts to turn it the right way round had only resulted in getting the fringes tangled round his neck – made a dash for the papal throne, sat on it, and proclaimed himself Pope Victor IV.

papal throne found here

That was in 1159. Several pages later I read that in 1292 when Pope Nicholas died, it took 27 months to elect his successor.

Pietro del Morrone was an 85 year old hermit whose only qualification was that once, appearing briefly at the court of Gregory X, he had hung up his outer cloak on a sunbeam. He lasted as Pope Celestine V for five months, then wisely announced his abdication, the only one in papal history to do so. 

adopt a hermit from here

The architect of this abdication was Benedetto Gaetani who is said to have introduced a secret speaking tube into Celestine’s cell through which, in the small hours of the night, he would simulate the voice of God, warning him of the flames of hell if he were to continue in office.

(click to enlarge) lifted from tetherdcow.com

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38 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. A lot of very queer behaviour in the quest to become queen, hey?

  2. So which one of these guys started the dictum of papal infallibility…?

    Just askin’…

    • Healing Magic Hands (below) has the answer

  3. Ah, the Catholic Church, as charming as ever.

    • Which is why I lapsed at 15

      • Damn it took m until I was 16!

  4. Marvelous. Rumour has it, the same approach still goes on.

    • diving, snatching and scuffling?

  5. I fully expected an expose about the Borgia pope Alexander VI citing the 4 or 5 children he had by his longtime mistress. . .

    The antics of the clergy are always . . . I’ll say “amusing” for lack of a better term. ( Which might actually be “appalling”. )

    BTW, papal infallibility was defined and promulgated as dogma in 1870, by the First Vatican Council of 1870. The first Pope to refer to the Church as never being in error was Pope Gregory VII in 1075, but he did not use the term “infallible”. It wasn’t until 1330 that the word was used, and then it was by a Bishop.

    No wonder you found that book dry.

    • I thought Borgia might have made the cut as well esp since he bribed the other cardinals to win the papacy. Just starting to watch the series on him.

      • I think his antics are pretty well known. I was looking for something less publicised

  6. Man, I had no idea it came with a tiara.

    Now I want to be Pope.

    • Me, too!
      I’ll ‘scuffle’ you for it, Megan! :)

    • Not anymore sadly Paul VI was the last to get crowned

  7. Oh dear …. let’s just cut to the balcony scene shall we … *sigh*

  8. From an indispensable reference tome I had in the 1970s–and which is still available–Fenton and Fowler’s “The Best, The Worst and The Most Unusual”…Worst Pope:
    “Boniface VIII may have been the most impious pope. He once said that a man has about as much chance of enjoying life after death as “a roast fowl on the dining table.” If his metaphysics were in error, Boniface is surely occupying the position deep in hell that Dante assigned him.
    For wickedness and incompetence, however, no pope can quite compare with John XII, a man who Church scholar E. R. Chamberlin called “the Christian Caligula.” A member of the outrageous Theophylact line, John served as both religious leader of the Western Church and temporal ruler of Rome. To maintain his power, he recruited armed gangs from among the Roman mob and terrorized the honest citizenry. He was an avid gambler who constantly invoked the names of foul demons to bring him luck…
    “His sexual hunger was insatiable.” He depleted the wealth of the papacy by giving away Church lands an relics to his favorite mistresses, and it is not an exaggeration to say he turned the Lateran into a brothel…
    He was no better at politics. He enlisted the support of Otto I, king of Germany against Italy’s Berengar II, soon, however, he double-crossed Otto, and the Germans promptly conquered Rome, called a synod to depose John and installed the antipope Leo VIII. IN 964, John regained power only to be murdered within the year.”

    Just in case Norwich didn’t cover that. ;-)

    • He did, but thanks anyway :-)

  9. Papal history is probably dirtier and murkier than any “royal” line. Definitely worth dipping into there’s something for everyone!

  10. Just goes to show that men are men, regardless of presumed holiness. :)

  11. “WOOHOO WOOHOO…you’re going burn in hellll…WOOHOO WOOHOO.”
    That chap Gaetani sounds like quite the japester. Spooking popes sounds like a lot of fun.

    • It does doesn’t it?

  12. where’s the part about the altar boys? i want to hear that part of the story.

    • Oh sorry Gnukid, no altar boys in this book

  13. Someone just wrote a history of the Popes and, apparently, surprisingly few could be considered to have successful papacy. Most were either incompetent or greedy or worse! They’re just regular guys with a lot of power. You can almost predict what happens.

    • I think that would be the Norwich book I just read. It’s a fairly new release.

  14. *Laughing* – silly old coots

    • Silly old coots but with way too much power

      • that’s for sure

  15. Them fighting for the tiara sounds like something from a movie featuring beauty queens. Ha ha.

    • That’s what I thought.

  16. Of course, JJ Norwich himself is not averse to a bit of the old wrong-side-of-the-blanket rumpy-pumpy – with one daughter as a result, Allegra Huston. And JJ’s dad, Duff Cooper, was a bit of a lad too….which is perhaps where JJ learned it!

    • Thanks Affer, I didn’t know that

  17. sounds to me like the “Running of the Brides” at the annual sale at Filene’s Basement in NYC… i wonder if anyone on the sidelines was wagering?

  18. ah the goyem, so kooky!

  19. Ahh Catholicism, it makes a man proud to become an atheist.

  20. I keep forgetting to lend you Norwich’s Christmas Crackers. Much more fun.

  21. I don’t buy the tiara story. Popes don’t snatch.


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