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Pope Boniface VIII (c. 1235 – October 11, 1303), born Benedetto Caetani, was Pope of the Roman Catholic Church from 1294 to 1303. Today, Boniface VIII is probably best remembered for his feuds with Dante, who placed him in a circle of Hell in his Commedia, and King Philip IV of France.


Caetani was born in 1235 in Anagnimarker, c. 50 kilometers southeast of Romemarker. He was the younger son of a minor noble family, the Caetani Family, and became a canon of the cathedral in Anagni in his teens. In 1252, when his uncle Peter Caetani became bishop of Todi, in Umbria, Benedetto went with him and began his legal studies there. Benedetto never forgot his roots in Todimarker, later describing the city as "the dwelling place of his early youth," the city which "nourished him while still of tender years," and as a place where he "held lasting memories". In 1260, Benedetto acquired a canonry in Todi, as well as the small nearby castle of Sismano. Later in life he repeatedly expressed his gratitude to Anagni, Todi, and his family.

In 1264, Benedetto became part of the Roman Curia where he served as secretary to Cardinal Simon of Brie on a mission to France. Similarly, he accompanied Cardinal Ottobono Fieschi to England (1265–1268) in order to suppress a rebellion by a group of barons against Henry III, the King of England. Upon Benedetto's return from England, there is an eight year period in which nothing is known about what occurred in his life. After this eight year period of uncertainty, Benedetto was sent to France to supervise the collection of a tithe in 1276 and then became a papal notary in the late 1270s. During this time, Benedetto accumulated seventeen benefices which he was permitted to keep when he was promoted, first to cardinal deacon in 1281 and then 10 years later as cardinal priest. As cardinal, he often served as papal legate in diplomatic negotiations with Francemarker, Naplesmarker, Sicily, and Aragonmarker.

He was elected in December 24, 1294 after Pope Celestine V abdicated in December 13. There is a legend that it was Boniface VIII's doing that Celestine V renounced the papacy—for Boniface, previously Benedetto, convinced Celestine V that no person on the earth could go through life without sin. However, in later times, it is a more common understanding that Celestine V resigned by his own designs and Benedetto merely showed that it was allowed by Church law. Either way, Celestine V vacated the throne and Boniface VIII took his place as pope. One of his first acts as pontiff was to imprison his predecessor in the Castle of Fumone in Ferentinomarker, where he died at the age of 81, attended by two monks of his order. In 1300, Boniface VIII formalized the jubilees, which afterwards became a source of both profit and scandal to the church. Boniface VIII founded the University of Rome La Sapienzamarker in 1303.

Boniface VIII put forward some of the strongest claims to temporal, as well as spiritual, supremacy of any Pope and constantly involved himself with foreign affairs. In his Bull of 1302, Unam Sanctam, Boniface VIII proclaimed that it "is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman pontiff", pushing papal supremacy to its historical extreme. These views and his intervention in "temporal" affairs led to many bitter quarrels with the Emperor Albert I of Habsburg (1291–1298), the powerful family of the Colonnas, with Philip IV of France (1285–1314) and with Dante Alighieri (who wrote De Monarchia to argue against it).

In the field of canon law Boniface VIII continues to have great influence. He published his 88 legal dicta known as the "Regulae Iuris" in 1298. This material must be well known and understood by canon lawyers or canonists today in order to interpret and analyze the canons and other forms of ecclesiastical law properly. The "Regulae Iuris" appear at the end of the so-called Liber Sextus (in VI°), promulgated by Boniface VIII and now published as one of the five Decretals in the Corpus Iuris Canonici. Other systems of law also have their own "Regulae Iuris" even by the same name or something serving a similar function.

Conflicts with Philip IV

The conflict between Boniface VIII and Philip IV of France came at a time of expanding nation states and the desire for the consolidation of power by the increasingly powerful monarchs. The increase in monarchical power in the rising nation states and its conflicts with the Church of Rome were only exacerbated by the rise to power of Philip IV. In France, the process of centralizing royal power and developing a genuine national state began with the Capetian kings. During his reign, Philip surrounded himself with the best civil lawyers, and decidedly expelled the clergy from all participation in the administration of the law. With the clergy beginning to be taxed in Theri and England in order to finance their ongoing wars against each other, Boniface took a hard stand against it. He saw the taxation as an assault on traditional clerical rights, and ordered the bull Clericis laicos in February 1296, forbidding lay taxation of the clergy without prior papal approval. In the bull, Boniface states "they exact and demand from the same the half, tithe, or twentieth, or any other portion or proportion of their revenues or goods; and in many ways they try to bring them into slavery, and subject them to their authority. And also whatsoever emperors, kings, or princes, dukes, earls or barons...presume to take possession of things anywhere deposited in holy buildings...should incur sentence of excommunication." It was during the issuing of Clericis Laicos that hostilities between Boniface and Philip began. Philip retaliated against the bull by denying the exportation of money from France to Rome, funds that the Church required to operate. Boniface had no choice but to meet Philip's demands quickly by allowing taxation only "during an emergency".

After complications involving the capture of Bernard Saisset by Philip, the conflict was re-ignited. In December of 1301, Philip was sent the Papal Bull Ausculta fili ("Listen, My Son"), informing Philip that "God has set popes over kings and kingdoms."

The feud between the two reached its peak in the early 14th century when Philip began to launch a strong anti-papal campaign against Boniface. On November 18, 1302, Boniface issued one of the most important papal bulls of Catholic history: Unam sanctam. It declared that both spiritual and temporal power were under the pope's jurisdiction, and that kings were subordinate to the power of the Church.

The slap

In response, Guillaume de Nogaret, Philip's chief minister, denounced Boniface as a heretical criminal to the French clergy. In 1303, Philip and Nogaret were excommunicated. However, on September 7, 1303 an army led by Nogaret and Sciarra Colonna of the Colonna family surprised Boniface at his retreat in Anagnimarker. The King and the Colonnas demanded that he resign, to which Boniface VIII responded that he would "sooner die". In response, Colonna hit Boniface, a "slap" that is still remembered in the local lore of Anagni.

Boniface was beaten badly and nearly executed but was released from captivity after three days. He died of Kidney stones and humiliation on October 11, 1303. There were rumors he had died of suicide from "gnawing through his own arm" and bashing his skull into a wall.

Posthumous trial

After the papacy had been removed to Avignon during the time of Pope Clement V in 1309, he consented to a post-mortem trial by an ecclesiastical consistory at Groseau, near Avignon, which held preliminary examinations in August and September of 1310.

A process (judicial investigation) against the memory of Boniface was held and collected testimonies that alleged many heretical opinions of Boniface VIII. This included the offence of sodomy, although there is little substantive evidence for this and it is more likely that this was the standard accusation Philip made against enemies.

Before the actual trial could be held, Clement persuaded Philip to leave the question of Boniface's guilt to the Council of Vienne, which met in 1311. When the council met, three cardinals appeared before it and testified to the orthodoxy and morality of the dead pope. Two knights, as challengers, threw down their gauntlets to maintain his innocence by wager of battle. No one accepted the challenge, and the Council declared the matter closed.

Burial and Exhumation

Boniface was buried in 1303 in a special chapel that also housed the remains for Pope Boniface IV. He chose to do this because of the fact that his predecessor was still alive and he was worried his own papacy would be thrown in doubt. In doing so he was trying to illustrate he was a legitimate pope and the "backing" of the popular Boniface IV. In 1606 he was exhumed and the results were recorded by Giacomo Grimaldi. He was buried within 3 coffins. The outermost was wood, the next was lead and the innermost was pine. His remains were described as being "Unusually tall" measuring at 7 palms when examined by doctors. He was wearing vestments common for his time. Long stockings covered his legs and thighs. He was also garbed with the maniple, soutain and pontifical habit made of black silk. A stole and chasuble along with rings and bejeweled gloves were also present. It was at the time his body was exhumed for examination that he was moved to the Chapels of Pope Gregory and Andrew. It is now located in the grottoes.


  • In his Inferno, Dante portrayed Boniface VIII as destined for hell, where simony is punished, although Boniface was still alive at the fictional date of the poem's story. Boniface's eventual destiny is revealed to Dante by Pope Nicholas III, whom he meets. A bit later in the Inferno, we are reminded of the pontiff's feud with the Colonnesi, which led him to demolish the city of Palestrinamarker, killing 6,000 citizens and destroying both the home of Julius Caesar and a shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Boniface's ultimate fate is confirmed by Beatrice when Dante visits Heaven.

  • The great mathematician and astronomer Giovanni Campano served as personal physician to Pope Boniface VIII.


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