Because of the abdication of Benedict XVI we had reason to turn the pages of our history books back to the resignation of Celestine V.
Who can forget that image of Benedict, then Pope, laying his pallium on the glass case which houses the body of the once-Pope Celestine?
Who can forget what Dante seems to do to Celestine?
In any event, at The History Blog, there is an article of a goodly length about Peter Celestine.
Here is how it begins:
Pope Celestine V was not killed by a nail in the skull
Celestine V’s papacy was doomed from the start. Born Pietro Angelerio in Sicily, from his early 20s until old age he was an ascetic hermit who lived in a succession of remote caves on top of mountains and modeled his life after John the Baptist. He founded the Celestine monastic order whose rule was based on his own strict practices of hair shirts and bread-and-water fasts, but left it to somebody else to run so he could retire to his beloved mountain-top cave. He was only dislodged from there very much against his will when the cardinals declared him Pope in 1294.
That was the last thing he wanted. The problem was the cardinals had been trying for two years to decide who should be pope after the death of Nicholas IV in 1292, but divisions between Guelph and Ghibelline factions and rivalries between the great Roman families of the Orsini and the Colonna (out of the 11 cardinals, three were Orsini, two Colonna and one, Benedetto Gaetani, Colonna-affiliated) had caused a seemingly unbreakable stalemate. At that time there was no conclave locking them in the Vatican until the decision was made, so two years of dithering were entirely comfortable. Pietro sent them a stern letter telling them God had told him that if they didn’t elect a Pope in four months, His wrathful vengeance would fall upon them. Much to his horror, their response was to elect him Pope.
At first he categorically refused and even tried to run away, but he was 79 years old and 200,000 people had flocked to his mountain after the news broke. Finally a finally a delegation of cardinals and two kings (the Angevin King Charles II of Naples and his son, King Charles I Martel of Hungary) convinced him to don the mitre. On August 29th, 1294, almost two months after his election, Pietro was crowned Pope in L’Aquila and became Celestine V.
He was awful at it.
The piece goes on to recount the historical circumstances, Celestine’s abdication and then how the poor old man was treated under Boniface VIII.
Pope Celestine is venerated as a saint in the region of L’Aquila, and he appears as “saint” on the calendar of the Holy See. His feast is coming up soon, on 19 May.