• That Was Genius Team

Episode 35 - Watch Where You Waggle That Broomstick (Pope Week)

Updated: Apr 18

Sam's Episode Notes: Pope Formosus and the Cadaver Synod


Pope Formosus was born some time around 816 AD in the papal states – that is the territory directly controlled by the pope. He was born at a really bloody difficult time for the church. Up until just a few years before his birth, Rome and a large slice of Northern Italy were still loosely controlled by the Byzantine empire, and so whilst the pope had essentially ruled much of Northern Italy, there had been a huge amount of infighting as successive popes called on European support to either attack or defend against their masters in Constantinople, as well as meddling in European affairs. Charlemagne had been crowned Emperor and formed the Holy Roman Empire in 800 AD, and so there was a lot of politics and backstabbing at the heart of the Catholic church as various factions jostled for position.


Interestingly, the Papal States lasted all the way up until 1870, when the states fell along with Rome as one of the last acts of Italian unification. So well over 1000 years.


Born in Rome, Formosus rose up through the ranks of the church, becoming a cardinal in 864, and then the legate or papal ambassador to Bulgaria in 866.


And poor old Formosus, he didn't half get himself involved in some bother by just doing his job. In 875, Holy Roman Emperor Louis the II died, and his uncle Charles the Bald, king of the Franks, was elected as his replacement. We've gone through medieval royal names before and how they were either cruel or ironic. Charles the Bald is shown in artwork from the time with a full head of hair, so...


Anyway, Formosus was sent to invite him to Rome to formalise the deal and give papal blessing to the ascention. Great. Except old Baldy wasn't a particularly popular choice – many in the Holy Roman Emperor and in Rome sided with Louis' widow Engelberga or his brother, Louis the German, who was clearly Dutch (he wasn't).


Among these was Formosus himself, who feared political retribution for having favoured Louis, despite having been the one who went to offer papal support to Charles the Bald. So he fled to Tours in France after, quote unquote, despoiling the cloisters in Rome. Probably by stealing something when he fled - It probably doesn't mean he took a shit in it. Although, you know, medieval sanitation.


Anyway, when he refused to return to Rome, he was excommunicated on charges of fleeing his diocese, shitting on the pews of the Vatican, aspiring to be the archbishop of Bulgaria since apparently he'd quite liked it there and the crown prince had asked if he could stay. I'm not sure why that's a crime. He also apparently conspired to destroy the Papacy. It's quite likely that the Pope at the time, John 8th, saw Formosus as a rival, as for a few years Formosus' name had been bandied about as a potential pope himself.


Anyway, in 878 he was de-ex-communicated, or re-communicated – whatever – on condition that he never again did anything priestly, lived life as a layman, and stayed away from Rome. An oath he swore. Yet just five years later in 882 John 8ths successor Marinus 1st made him a Cardinal again. Because, you know, papal infallability. Two more popes passed, because popes tended not to live very long before God came knocking, and in October 891 Formosus was unanimously elected Pope himself. And, true to form, he only lasted five years before dying in April 896.

In his five years though, ooh he did some meddling. There was a fight going on for the French crown in which he sided with Charles the Simple over Odo, the count of Paris. Charles the Simple, by the way, due to medeival naming conventions actually founded Mensa, worked out the universal constant E=mc2 a thousand years before Einstein, and won the great British Bake Off twice with his giant meringue Jesus and a lifesize Genoese Sponge Charlemagne with a chocolate finger beard.


He also hated the then Holy Roman Emperor, Guy III of Spoleto, who was causing trouble in Italy, and forced him to elect his son as co-emperor. And then encouraged everyone else to invade him anyway. Oddly, that also involved encouraging everyone to invade Rome because of the confusing way the Papal States and Holy Roman Empire interlocked – the papal states were often considered part of the Holy Roman empire, but the Emperor was a priest subordinate to the Pope, but then the papal states often existed only in name and were ruled by local nobles with no religious connections, and the emperor and the pope hated each other. It's all very confusing. But anyway, Formosus hated the Holy Roman Emperor, and so encouraged everyone to come and invade Rome. Where the pope lives.


Anyway, following Formosus' death there was a lot of rioting and infighting between these different papal and imperial factions, and a guy called Boniface VI was made pope. God must have REALLY liked him because he died of gout 15 days later. Must have been a hell of a coronation party, and he was replaced by Stephen VI.


And here's where poor Formosus' trouble really starts. See, Stephen was the choice of the Spoletan Holy Roman Emperial dynasty Formosus had hated. And so it was decided there needed to be a show trial to demonstrate that the family and the papacy were best friends again.

And so In January 897, less than a year after he died, Formosus was put on trial. And I mean, literally, Formosus was put on trial in the so-called Cadaver Synod. His corpse was hauled out of the crypt, dressed up in full papal regalia, and questioned about his actions as pope. He was given a lawyer to speak for him whilst he sat, propped up in a chair, gently rotting and stinking out the courtroom.


I don't know if they asked him to raise his hand a swear on the bible, maybe they had him on strings. Maybe the lawyer was a ventriloquist. Who can say. The charges were severe. Firstly, he was accused once again of being the archbishop of Bulgaria despite having another job as a cardinal in Rome. I don't know why this was seen as so much of a crime but it was illegal for a bishop to up sticks and move – it really was a job for life. It was even argued he'd used some dark powers of almost mind control to sway the people of Bulgaria to demand him as their archbishop and refuse to accept any one else.


He was also accused of faking it as a bishop and pope – since he'd promised he would always be a layman in exchange for having his excommunication lifted, anything he'd done after 882 was illegal. Including all that encouraging people to invade the Holy Roman Empire and meddling in France stuff.


Unsurprisingly he was found guilty. Shock horror! And in punishment, all the papal vestments were torn from his body, which must have been a pretty grim job. The three fingers on his right hand which had been used to carry out all his blessings were chopped off so he couldn't bless anyone any more – which was unlikely anyway – and then nullified all of his acts as pope. The body was then buried in a graveyard for dirty foreigners in Rome, before being dug up again, having weights tied to it, and chucked into the river Tiber.


And did everyone live happily ever after? Fuck no! That's only the start, because now we get Formosus' revenge! The locals, already predisposed to rioting what with all the political intrigue and vying factions at the time, were horrified by what had happened. Apparently, rumours started to spread in Rome that Formosus' body had washed up and begun to perform miracles. Frankly, doing anything when having been dead for a year is a miracle. He could have been performing the Grease megamix and it would have counted as being a pretty bloody convincing act of God.

At any rate, there was a riot, Stephen himself was deposed and imprisoned, and was then strangled in his cell just a few months later. Presumable by Formosus' corpse whilst singing springtime for Hitler. It's a miracle!


So Stephen lasted as Pope for a year before being called upstairs to the big room in the clouds. I mean, God really liked collecting Popes around this time. Formosus' five years is starting to look pretty long-winded.


The next Pope, Theorode II, annulled the findings of the trial and reinstated Formosus, having his body re-interred in St Peter's Bascilica in full papal pomp and style.


Any idea how long Theorode II lasted as Pope, Tom? Nope? 20 days. And the next Pope, John 9th, banned any future trials of already dead popes, and excommunicated seven cardinals involved in the trial.


Unfortunately he only lasted in the job two years, and the next Pope, Sergius III, who actually lasted a whole seven years from 904 to 911, had been one of the judges in Formosus' trial. He re-excommunicated Formosus, and according to some contemporary sources, had him re-dug up, re-tried, re-found guilty, and this time beheaded his - by now really rather rotten - corpse. Yeah, try performing miracles now ya headless fingerless green bastard.


It should be noted that most experts don't think that last bit actually happened and it's just a bit of papal folklore.


Incidentally, in case you were wondering, there were 20 popes in the 9th century and 23 popes in the 10th century. So probably a more dangerous job than mining, fishing and lion taming combined.



Tom's notes: Malleus Maleficarum, The 'Hammer of Witches'


I’m going to discuss a document from the Middle Ages that was purportedly endorsed by the Pope Innocent VIII by means of a papal bull. This papal bull is included in the document that was first published 2 years after the bull in 1487.

· A bull is a decree

Malleus Maleficarum “Hammer of Witches”

· Strixological book written by 2 German clergymen; Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger

o Strixology is the study of witchcraft (non-fictional)

o Although the latter may not have been involved in the writing of the book, possibly even an active critic of the Kramer and the book.

o It has been viewed as an example of how the Catholic Church viewed and dealt with witchcraft during the inquisitions (an umbrella term for the Catholic Church’s attempts to subjugate and destroy heresies in Christendom).

§ More recent scholars have taken the view that this wasn’t actually as influential during the medieval inquisitions as thought a few decades ago.

§ It was certainly a very widespread book in late Medieval Europe and must have been very influential even if the Roman Catholic Church didn’t endorse the methods detailed within it

§ So it might not have influenced the inquisition directly through its suggested methods, but it almost certainly contributed to Medieval hysteria surrounding witchcraft and demonology

o Kramer seems to have written the book to highlight, in his opinion, the serious of witchcraft after he had overseen 7 women trialled for witchcraft in Innsbruck. These women had been either found not guilty or received light sentences much to the disgust of Kramer. Kramer’s behaviour during this trial was very controversial because of his brutal methods employed by Kramer and his obsession with the sex lives of the accused. This led to him being essentially thrown out of court a few times.

· 1928 translation by Rev. Augustus Montague Summers; a balmy English author and clergyman with a bit of an obsession with witches, werewolves and vampires.

o It seems odd to us that someone could believe so passionately about such bizarre, superstitious, illogical and unprovable things. But he indeed believed in the Christian god.

o Studied at Trinity College Oxford and received a fourth-class Batchelor of Arts degree

§ Was being educated beyond his level of intelligence

o His first book was about pederasty

§ He was accused of sexual impropriety with boys but not found guilty

o In his words:

§ “It has been recognised even from the earliest times, during the first gropings towards the essential conveniences of social decency and social order, that witchcraft is an evil thing, an enemy to light, an ally of the powers of darkness, disruption, and decay”

§ He does give a bit of background to the original work: “when in those dark days various errors had begun to penetrate Germany, and witches with their horrid craft, foul sorceries, and devilish commerce were increasing on every side, Pope Innocent VIII appointed Henry Kramer and James Sprenger, Professors of Sacred Theology, general inquisitors for all the dioceses of the five metropolitan churches of Germany”.

Book is split into 3 sections: the nature of witches, what they do, and what should be done with them.

Okay, let me refer to the source. It’s a large document so I chose to read but a few chapters to give us all an indication of what this wonderful document is like.

Part 2. Question 1. Chapter 3. How they are transported from place to place.

Here’s a quote about how it takes place:

Quote 1 – Men can fly too

Quote 2 – Another example of a women

A bit of an obsession with incubus and succubus

· Incubuses are male demons shagging females

· Succubuses are female demons shagging males

· Quote X

Part 2. Question 1. Chapter 4. Here follows the way whereby witches copulate with those devils known as incubi

An important questions (semen)

· 4

· 5

· He goes on at great length to discuss the nature of the semen used by the devil and how it is obtained

· 6

o Semen cocktail

o Shagarita

o Double screwdriver

o Pina cumlada

Another important question (visibility)

· 7

· 8

Part 2. Question 1. Chapter 5.

· The author explores, amongst other things

· 9

· 10

· Here’s a weird anecdote 11

Anyway, back to sex

· 12

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