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.
Pope Nicholas IV
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Pope Boniface VIII