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Pope Boniface VIII

Pope Boniface VIII, 193rd Roman Catholic pontiff, 1294-1303

193rd Pope (1294-1303)

Charges of political ambition, treachery, idolatry, and even assassination identify the reign of Pope Boniface VIII

Benedetto Caetani was born in 1235 of a noble family in Anagni, Italy. It is believed that Cardinal Caetani, one of the greatest jurists of his age, pressured his predecessor, Pope Celestine V, a "simple-minded recluse," to abdicate and to simultaneously issue a papal resignation constitution legalizing a pope’s right to abdicate.

Cardinal Caetani was quickly elected by the conclave on Christmas Eve 1294, and amid much pomp and celebrity, Pope Boniface VIII was elevated and coronated on January 23, 1295. 

Fearing a schism if Pope Celestine V's supporters attempted to return him to the papacy, Pope Boniface VIII ordered Pope Celestine V's arrest; and when Pope Celestine V attempted to flee, he was imprisoned at the Fortress of Fumone in Italy where he died on May 19, 1296. Rumor spread that Pope Boniface VIII ordered Pope Celestine V's assassination.

Pope Boniface VIII's first priority was to move the papacy from Naples to Rome, and Pope Boniface VIII made a lasting (1917) contribution to the Code of Canon Law with his 1298, Liber sextus, a precursor to the Code of Canon Law. Pope Boniface VIII also restructured the Vatican archives and catalogued the papal library.

Pope Boniface VIII's papacy was embroiled in political turmoil. An embittered feud ensued between King Philip the Fair of France (Philip IV) and Pope Boniface VIII, as Pope Boniface VIII was fighting for recognition of temporal powers for the papacy in addition to his spiritual powers. Pope Boniface VIII gained the reputation of being prone to outbursts of impatience and was consumed by the acquisition of wealth and power for his family and for himself.

France and England were financing their wars by taxing the clergy. This practice was forbidden by Canon Law without papal consent. On February 25, 1296, Pope Boniface VIII issued a famous bull, Clericis laicos, to stop this practice. King Philip the Fair of France retaliated by prohibiting the export of gold, negotiable currency, and other valuables to France upon which revenues the pope depended. Pope Boniface VIII then backed down, and in 1297 empowered King Philip the Fair of France to impose the tax on clergy -  in case of need - without consulting the Holy See.

Meanwhile, struggles at home prevailed. The Colonna family, once Pope Boniface VIII's greatest supporters, now resented Pope Boniface VIII's autocratic style and questioned the validity of Pope Celestine V 's resignation and Pope Boniface VIII’s subsequent election to the papacy. Pope Boniface VIII ordered the two Colonna cardinals to hand over three family castles; and when they refused, Pope Boniface VIII excommunicated them.

Pope Boniface VIII proclaimed 1300 a year of Jubilee (the first Holy Year) and granted plenary indulgences (the remission of temporal punishment in Purgatory) to the tens of thousands of pilgrims to Rome. It was at this time that he began to occasionally dress in imperial regalia and exclaim, "I am Caesar, I am the Emperor." He commissioned so many statues of himself that he was accused of encouraging idolatry.

When King Philip the Fair of France imprisoned the bishop of Parmiers, France, Pope Boniface VIII believed that King Philip encroached upon his spiritual authority.  Pope Boniface VIII then summoned thirty-nine French bishops to a synod in Rome.  King Philip ordered the bishops not to attend. When they did attend the synod, King Philip of France promptly confiscated their property.

On November 18, 1302, Pope Boniface VIII issued his most famous bull, Unam sanctam. He declared sole power over all spiritual and temporal matters, " is altogether necessary to the salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff."

King Philip the Fair of France responded with personal attacks on Pope Boniface VIII - of illegitimacy, sexual misconduct, and usurping the papal office. Pope Boniface VIII then excommunicated King Philip and moved from Rome to his hometown, Anagni.

Mercenaries from the Colonna family stormed Pope Boniface VIII's Anagni palace and arrested him.  Within three days, the citizens of Anagni rescued Pope Boniface VIII and drove off his captors, the Colonna family.  Under the protection of his supporters, Pope Boniface VIII returned to Rome.

On October 11 or 12, 1303, Pope Boniface VIII, tired of the constant turmoil in his papacy, died a broken man and was buried in a crypt in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

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