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Pope Saint Celestine V (c. 1215 – 19 May 1296), born Pietro Angelerio (according to some sources Angelario, Angelieri, Angelliero, or Angeleri), also known as Pietro da Morrone, was elected pope in the year 1294, by the Papal election, 1292–1294, the last non-conclave in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. Celestine V is recognized by the Church as a saint. No subsequent Pope has taken the name "Celestine".

Biography

According to a tradition, he was born in 1215 in the village of Sant'Angelo Limosanomarker, in Molise, the son of Angelo Angelerio and Maria Leone. Recently, the towns of Iserniamarker and Sant'Angelo in Grottemarker, have been mentioned as his possible birthplaces. His date of birth has been also assigned to 1209.

After his father's untimely death he started to work in the fields. His mother Maria was a key figure in Pietro's spiritual development: she imagined a different future for her deeply beloved son than just becoming a farmer or a shepherd. From the time he was a child, he showed great intelligence, and love for his fellow beings. He became a Benedictine monk at Faifoli in the diocese of Benevento when he was seventeen. He showed an extraordinary disposition toward asceticism and solitude, and in 1239 retired to a solitary cavern on the mountain Morrone, whence his name. Five years later he left this retreat, and betook himself, with two companions, to a similar cave on the Mountain of Maiella in the Abruzzi region of south Italymarker, where he lived as strictly as was possible according to the example of St. John the Baptist. Terrible accounts are given of the severity of his penitential practices. While living in this manner he founded, in 1244, the order subsequently called after him, the Celestines.

The cardinals assembled at Perugiamarker after the death of Pope Nicholas IV (1288–92) in April of 1292. Morrone, well known to the cardinals as a Benedictine hermit, sent the cardinals a letter warning them that divine vengeance would fall upon them if they did not quickly elect a Pope. Latino Malabranca, the aged and ill dean of the College of Cardinals cried out, "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, I elect brother Pietro di Morrone." The cardinals promptly ratified Malabranca's desperate decision. When sent for, Morrone obstinately refused to accept the Papacy, and even, as Petrarch says, attempted flight, until he was at length persuaded by a deputation of cardinals accompanied by the Kings of Naples and Hungary. Elected July 7, 1294, he was crowned at S.marker Maria di Collemaggiomarker in the city of Aquilamarker (now called L'Aquila) in the Abruzzi, August 29, taking the name of Celestine V.

His notable acts as pope include (in what seems to be the only instance of such an act in the history of the Church) empowering one Francis of Apt, a Franciscan friar, to confer the clerical tonsure and minor orders on Lodovico (who would later become Bishop of Toulouse), the son of the King of Sicily. However, this decree seems not to have been carried out. He issued two other decrees—one confirming that of Pope Gregory X (1271–76), which orders the shutting of the cardinals in conclave; the second declaring the right of any Pope to abdicate the Papacy—a right that he himself exercised, at the end of five months and eight days, at Naples on December 13, 1294. In the formal instrument of his renunciation he recites as the causes moving him to the step, "the desire for humility, for a purer life, for a stainless conscience, the deficiencies of his own physical strength, his ignorance, the perverseness of the people, his longing for the tranquility of his former life"; and having divested himself of every outward symbol of dignity, he retired to his old solitude.

Celestine V was not allowed to remain in solitude, however. His successor, Pope Boniface VIII (1294–1303), sent for him, and finally, despite the former Pope's desperate attempts to escape, captured him and imprisoned him in the castle of Fumone near Ferentinomarker in Campagnamarker, where, after languishing for ten months in that infected air, he died on May 19, 1296. Some historians believe Boniface might have had him murdered, and indeed his skull does have a suspicious hole. He was buried at Ferentino, but his body was subsequently removed to the Basilica di Collemaggio in Aquilamarker (where his bones survived the 2009 L'Aquila earthquakemarker, with one Italian spokesman saying it was another great miracle by the pope, and were then recovered from the basilica shortly after the earthquake.).

Assessment

Although generally deemed a saintly man Celestine V has received some criticism. As mentioned below, in the Divine Comedy Dante might have placed him near the gates of Hell, but not in Hell precisely, because he deemed him indecisive, and also because his resignation led to the reign of Pope Boniface VIII. Others felt that his austere hermit-like life made him naïve and unsuited for the job as Pope. This criticism may be more fair as he himself wished to retire due to the pressure. Others argue the opposite: his abdication of such immense power, wealth, and material comfort, in pursuit of austere, humble surroundings, was a most pious and admirable sacrifice demonstrating Celestine V's profound and rare degree of spiritual fortitude and virtue.

In literature

Pope Celestine V is referenced in Chapter 88 of Dan Brown's Angels & Demons. He is referenced as an example of a murdered pope. Celestine V is also mentioned in the film version.

Many early commentators and scholars of Dante have thought that the poet stigmatized Celestine V in the enigmatical verse Colui che fece per viltade il gran rifiuto, Who made by his cowardice the grand refusal (Inferno, III, 59). Most later commentators, however, refute such an identification and believe Dante might have intended the verse to refer to Pontius Pilate or someone else.

The life of Pope Celestine V is dramatised in the plays L'avventura di un povero cristiano (The Story of a Humble Christian) by Ignazio Silone in 1968 and Sunsets and Glories by Peter Barnes in 1990.

Pope Celestine V's story is also told in Russell Chamberlin's The Bad Popes.

References

  1. http://www.archelaos.com/popes/details.aspx?id=225
  2. Pope's bones survive earthquake


External links




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