February 7, 2008

A.D. 897: Cadaver Synod

So I'll be the first to admit that the delightful design scheme of this blog is a stock template—I'm no html whiz, and I liked the colors. Plus I'm a sucker for the five-pointed star, as readers of my previous post can attest.

The one irksome feature is the unexplained use of the number 897 worked into the design. What on Earth it means to the coder, we may never know. But on a whim, I popped the figure into Google and hit upon a couple interesting results.

There's a Pennsylvania Route 897, which ends in the county seat of Lebanon, not too far from where I went to school.


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But even better than that, in the winter of A.D. 897 the medieval Catholic papacy held what has been described as "the strangest trial in history"—the Cadaver Synod.

A synod is a type of administrative council of bishops held by the church. This particular synod focused on Pope Formosus, who during his five-year reign in Rome had made some powerful political enemies.

One of these was Pope Stephen VI (or VII, depending on who you talk to), who took on the papal robes a few months after Formosus died. The enraged (deranged?) new pope ordered the rotting corpse of Formosus to be exhumed, propped up on a chair in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, and put on trial for treasonous crimes.


Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921)
Concile cadavérique de 897 (The Cadaver Synod)
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes


Stephen VI, who apparently subscribed to the Gospel according to St. Bastard, had a teenage deacon answer in place of the dead man as he threw wild accusations at the body before finding it posthumously guilty. He then proceeded to strip the cadaver of its ceremonial vestments, cut off some of its fingers, bury it again, re-dig it up, and throw it in the Tiber River.

And I thought office politics could get gruesome.

Of course there's always repercussions when you decide to be the mayor of Crazy Town. Stephen VI's performance so outraged the Romans—the people who brought you gladiatorial combat and public crucifictions—that he was soon after stripped of his pope-ness and imprisoned.

The deposed Stephen VI was strangled in jail in the summer of A.D. 897.

1 comment:

Elisa said...

Popcorn anyone???