Jean Paul Laurens: Pope Formosus and Stephen VI(I), The Cadaver Synod of 897 (1870)

(Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, Nantes, France)

This painting shows one of the most weirdest episodes in the history of the papacy. Shown here is the so-called 'cadaver synod'. In January 897 pope Stephen VI(I) order the ordered that the corpse of his predecessor Formosus be removed from its tomb and brought to the papal court for judgment. The corpse was put up a throne and a freighted young deacon was appointed to answer for the deceased pope. Stephen himself functioned as the accuser in the trial. Formosus was accused of transmigrating sees in violation of canon law, of perjury and of serving as a bishop while actually a layman. The corpse of the dead Formosus was found guilty and was stripped of its papal vestments, three fingers of his right hand used for blessings were cut off, and all of his acts and ordinations were declared invalid. the body was dumped into the Tiber river. When the people of Rome heard of the trial , Pope Stephen VI himself was arrested in a public uprising and was executed. Pope John IX (898-900) nullified the Cadaver Synod and forbade any future trial of a dead person. The exact reason for the trial is somewhat unclear but probably it was politically motivated. Pope Formosus was deeply distrustful of Guy III of Spoleto, the Holy Roman Emperor. Guy III forced Formosus to crown Lambert, the son of Guy, as co-emperor in April 892. Formosus however invited Arnulf of Carinthia, King of East Francia, to come to his aid and liberate Italy from the rule of Guy III. when Arnulf arrived in Italy, Formosus crowned him Holy Roman Emperor. when Arnulf moved against Guy III and his son Lambert, Arnulf was struck with paralysis and the entire campaign failed. Pope Stephen VI(I) was influenced by the Spoleto-family to take revenge on their former enemy, pope Formosus. this painting is from 1870.

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