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Pope Celestine V

Celestine V was pope in the year 1294. Prior to his advancement to the papacy, he was known as Pietro di Morone. He was born in 1215, the son of a peasant in the Neapolitan province of Moline, named Angelario. He became a Benedictine monk at Faifoli in the diocese of Benevento when he was seventeen. He showed an extraordinary disposition to asceticism and solitude, and in 1239 retired to a solitary cavern on the mountain Morone, whence his name. Five years later he left this retreat, and betook himself, with two companions, to a similar cave on the Mountain of Majella in the Abruzzi region of south Italy, 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 Perugia after the death of Nicholas IV, and after long dissensions and difficulties agreed as a means of escaping from them to elect the hermit Pietro di Morone. When sent for he obstinately refused to accept the Papacy, and even, as Petrarch says, attempted flight, till he was at length persuaded by a deputation of cardinals accompanied by the kings of Naples and Hungary. Elected 7th July 1294, he was crowned in the city of Aquila in the Abruzzi, 29th August. He issued two decrees, -- one confirming that of Gregory X, which orders the shutting of the cardinals in conclave; the second declaring the right of any Pope to abdicate the Papacy -- a right he, at the end of five months and eight days, proceeded himself to exercise at Naples on the 13th December 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 tranquillity of his former life;" and having divested himself of every outward symbol of dignity, he retired to his old solitude.

He was not allowed to remain there, however. His successor, Boniface VIII, sent for him, and finally, despite desperate attempts of the late Pope to escape, got him into his hands, and imprisoned him in the castle of Fumone near Ferentino in Camupagna, where, after languishing for ten months in that infected air, he died on the 19th May 1296. He was buried at Ferentino, but his body was subsequently removed to Aquila. Many commentators and scholars of Dante have thought that the poet stigmatized Celestine V in the enigmatical verse which speaks of him Che fece per viltate il gran rifiuto, Who made by his cowardice the grand refusal. Celestine V, like the first of the name, is recognized by the church as a saint. No subsequent pope has taken the name 'Celestine.'

Another thing he did which may be noted (it seems to be the only instance in the history of the Church) is that he empowered one Francis of Apt, a Franciscan friar, to confer the clerical tonsure and minor orders on Lodovico (who would later become Bishop of Tolouse), son of the king of Sicily. However, this decree seems not to have been carried out.

The life of Celestine V is dramatised in the play Sunsets and Glories by Peter Barnes.

Preceded by:
Pope Nicholas IV
List of popes Succeeded by:
Pope Boniface VIII