The Cadaver Synod: Unearthing and Trying a Dead Pope

An 1870 painting of the scene by Jean-Paul LaurencIn 897, Pope Formosus—seven months dead and not pristine, therefore—was dug up by his successor and put into a chair, given an advocate in the form of a trembling teenage deacon, and placed on trial for crimes against the papacy. His accuser? Why, his recent successor, Pope Stephen VI, who eventually convicted the corpse, having three fingers of the cadaver's blessing hand removed after reportedly raving and yelling at the body, um, the accused, for hours. Hard to believe some thought Stephen was mad.

During the trial, an earthquake hit, which may have struck some bystanders as ominous. Nevertheless, the decommissioned Formosus's body was thrown into the Tiber like a pauper's (but retrieved by a monk, and later reburied). Stephen VI didn't last long in the red shoes either, being carried to prison by a mob and strangled in his cell. And you thought the O.J. case took turns for the weird and grim. Much more at Atlas Obscura, where you can read how lethal an occupation popery was during the 9th and 10th centuries.


  1. Albert Tucher

    I love papal history in this period. If a little BSP is not out of place, I treat the Formosus trial and the subsequent secular reign of the Senatrix Marozia in a story called The City of Ropes (Historical Lovecraft, Innsmouth Free Press).

  2. Terrie Farley Moran

    Al, thanks for the info.

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