Pope Formosus was succeeded by Pope Boniface VI, who died of gout after 15 days. He was succeeded by Pope Stephen VI (VII) (all "Stephen" popes had a dual number because it is uncertain exactly how many of them there were), who staged the infamous Cadaver Synod in January of 897 (9 months after Formosus had died).

In this disgusting spectacle, the corpse of Formosus was dressed up in full Papal gear, sat upon a throne, and subjected to a mock trial. The dead pope was found guilty of perjury, coveting the papacy, and having violated canon law by transferring from one diocese to another (before becoming the Pope (the bishop of Rome), he had been bishop of Porto).

All of Formosus' acts as Pope were declared null and void, and the three fingers on his right hand with which he had given blessings and swore oaths were cut off. He was reburied in a common grave, and then exhumed a second time, and thrown into the Tiber River.

A hermit found the body and gave it a proper burial, and Pope Theodore II ended up exhuming the body once again and giving it a proper Papal burial at St. Peter's (the original).

Stephen VI (VII), after the trail, required all clergy appointed by Formosus to turn in letters declaring their ordinations invalid. The people rebelled against him, and he was stripped of the papacy, jailed, and then strangled to death for his actions.

Why did Stephen feel he needed to hold the Cadaver Synod? 1) Formosus had already been bishop of one diocese, so it was technically illegal for him to become Pope. But Stephen, too, had become Pope after being Bishop of Anagni. But he was appointed as such by Formosus. If Formosus was never really Pope, then Stephen was never really a bishop, and thus his papacy couldn't be challenged on those grounds. 2) He was crazy and full of hate in a time of intense rivalry, and he took his opportunity for revenge too far, not realizing how drastically it would backfire.

Notice that there has never been a Pope Formosus II.

A further note on Gamaliel's information re: the number of pope Stephens. Unconsecrated popes have never been considered popes, and they still aren't. The original Stephen II died after election to pope, but before consecration. The official Vatican directory of the Popes, Annuario Pontificio, listed him as a pope anyway until 1961. Then they took him off the list.

The Cadaver Synod, no doubt the most bizarre episode amidst a papal history studded with strange events, was a product of political hardball, not a question of arcane rules of papal succession. That, and Pope Stephen VI must have been a nutjob.

It all starts with the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire under Charles the Fat in 887. That meant the Vatican had to fend for itself just like any other European fiefdom. What made the Vatican a sought-after prize was that the Pope traditionally crowned the Holy Roman Emperor, starting with Charlemagne's crowning by Pope Leo III in 800. Sure, there was essentially no more empire, but who wouldn't want the title of Holy Roman Emperor, especially when it was conferred by God's spokesman on earth?

Pope Stephen V's first choice was the Frankish King Arnulf, but he apparently had a prior engagement, so Pope Stephen V enlisted the help of Guido III of Spoleto to defend Rome from pagans and such. Guido was paid off by being crowned emperor. Upon Stephen's death, Formosus was named Pope, but Guido had doubts about a famous troublemaker like Formosus, and demanded he be crowned emperor again and his son Lambert be named heir apparent and co-emperor. Formosus consented.

But when Guido died in 894, Formosus made a deal with King Arnulf. Arnulf kicked the Spoletans out of Rome and was crowned emperor, and Lambert was sent packing. But the emperor's reign didn't last because Arnulf was paralyzed and soon died. When Formosus died in 896, the new pope, Boniface VI, lasted only fifteen days before dying. Either it was gout or he was murdered to make way for Formosus' rival, the new Pope Stephen VI. Hearing the news, Lambert and his troops marched back into town and Stephen crowned him emperor.

Why the repulsive extravagance of the Cadaver Synod? Perhaps Stephen was trying to impress Lambert, or he may have been under orders from Lambert and his mother, Ageltruda. Either way, Stephen didn't last long. During the Synod, an earthquake struck Rome and destroyed the basilica, a very bad omen for him. Also, Rome was rife with rumors that the corpse of Formosus was performing miracles. Formosus' posse seized the opportunity and arrested Stephen, and he was later strangled in prison.

BTW, the multiple Stephen problem does not stem from missing popes. Stephen II died three days after he was elected in 752, before he was consecrated. Back then, unconsecrated popes were not considered popes, but in the 16th century the Church reversed this decision and returned Stephen to the official list of popes, which screwed up the numbering for all the popes since 752 who had taken the name Stephen.

Sources: britannica.com; The Catholic Encyclopedia; John Dollison, Pope-Pourri

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