Pope Saint Celestine V: The "Angel Pope"
With the death of the first Franciscan Pope Nicholas IV the College of Cardinals went into a delay mode because of the split between the twelve cardinals left who were divided down the middle by family ties and the political nemesis of Guelph (pro papacy) and Ghibelline (pro Frederick II) factions, thus stalemated for 27 months before they chose a Benedictine pontiff in Pietro di Murrone at the conclave in Perugia on July 5, 1294. One reason he had been selected was because a prophecy had been written by a mystic monk which, in effect, foretold that the conclave would be dealt with by Divine Retribution if they didn't get their act together and elect someone. When the cardinals discovered the messenger was Morrone, they quickly selected Morrone out of a belief in the prophecies - both Murrone's own and the one that predicted there would be an "angel Pope" who would usher in the age of the Spirit. Murrone had been born in Naples in 1210 and became entered the Benedictine abbey while in his teens but opted to live the live of a hermit in 1231 and retired to the wilderness of Abruzzi in Italy. After being ordained, Pietro withdrew to a cave on what is now called Mount Morrone. But the public kept seeking him out and he retired farther into the mountains, yet the people still found him. They begged him to teach them and thus like-minded men joined him and in 1263 Pope Urban IV gave approval for Pietro's order which would come to be known as Celestines, patterned after the rule of Saint Benedict. He received the solemn privilege of incorporation into the Benedictine Order for his congregation by Pope Blessed Gregory X in 1274. Two years later he was unanimously chosen abbot of Saint Mary of the Faithful and prior of Holy Spirit abbey. In 1278 the Angevin king of Sicily Charles I placed Saint Mary's under royal protection. From that time on Pietro became famous for his mysticism and tales of healing and he once again fled to Mount Morone at Holy Spirit (San Spirito) monastery, living in a small grotto high in the San Onofrio mountains. It was there he was notified of his election, but he protested. When the cardinals insisted Charles I himself escorted Pietro on a donkey to Naples where, along with his son Charles Martel, King of Hungary, he consecrated Pietro in the church of Santa Maria di Colmaggio on August 29 taking the name Pope Celestine V. Only three cardinals were able to make the first coronation and a few days later, after more cardinals had arrived, the king repeated the coronation - the first time in history such a procedure was performed twice.
One of Celestine's first acts was to appoint twelve new cardinals which, because of Charles' influence was heavily in the king's favor and this alienated some of the Roman families. Celestine also asserted, because of the long delay in electing the past two pontiffs, that Gregory X's strict conclave rules would be reinstated and placed guardianship under the king who some say was using Celestine as a puppet pope for his own gains. However Celestine was not a political pope and realized he was being used as a mere instrument in the hands of Charles and other lords during these troubled medieval times. Thus, while bestowing privileges on his own order and taking steps to incorporate the Benedictine abbey, he chose the season of Advent to declare a radical move. Longing for the quietude and spirituality of Mount Morrone, he released a papal bull that assured Gregory X's conclave rules would be in effect if a current pontiff resigns. Celestine intended to hand over the governing of the Church to a quorum of three cardinals while he spent time fasting and praying, but the full body of cardinals objected. Celestine sought out the guidance and advice from Cardinal Benedetto Caetani who cautioned him, then gave him a loophole affirming it was okay and even penning an abdication statement for him. Thus, on December 13, 1294 in the same year he had been elected, he announced his abdication and had the papal insignia removed from any references to him, longing to once again become "Brother Pietro" and the simple, holy life of solitude and prayer.
On December 24, 1294 it was Caetani who was elected as Celestine's successor but, because of political reasons, he overturned most of Celestine's decrees and sent out troops to capture Pietro, who was able to evade them for a while but was captured at the base of Mount Gargano and taken in chains back to Caetani who imprisoned him within the tower of Castel Fumone near Naples. Though he was not treated harshly, he was not treated with the honor of a holy Pope and died alone suffering from an infection that spread to staph in the cold, dank tower. He died there on May 19, 1296 after two years of neglect. Caetani's reasoning for preventing Pietro from returning was not based on cruelty or denial but rather because of the political clout of the Franciscan Spirituals who promoted strict adherence to the rule of Saint Francis of Assisi and were more closely associated with the Celestines. Both had been extended special privileges by Pope Celestine V and Caetani as Pope Boniface VIII was afraid the people would rally behind Pietro if he were allowed to return to his abbey. This angered many and left a black mark on Boniface's papacy as we shall see in the next installment. Celestine was canonized by Pope Clement V on May 5, 1313 under tremendous pressure by King Philip IV of France in retaliation for Boniface's actions. Though Philip wanted him canonized as a martyr, Clement resisted that title since there was no proof Celestine was murdered. Instead Clement made him a saint and confessor. Celestine V's remains were transferred from Ferentino to the church where he was consecrated.