In one of the most bizarre episodes in the history of the medieval papacy, Pope Stephen VII accused deceased Catholic Pope Formosus of perjury and of having acceded to the papacy illegally and placed his rotting corpse on trial. This trial is now commonly known as The Cadaver Synod, or the Cadaver Trial.

In January 897, Stephen VII ordered that the corpse of his predecessor Formosus be removed from its tomb and brought to the papal court for judgement. The corpse was ultimately found guilty of transmigrating sees in violation of canon law, perjury, and of serving as a bishop while actually a layman.

After having the corpse stripped of its papal vestments, Stephen then cruelly tortured the corpse by cutting off the three fingers of the right hand that it had used in life for blessings, next formally invalidating all of Formosus’s acts and ordinations (including, ironically, his ordination of Stephen VII as bishop of Anagni). The body was finally interred in a graveyard for foreigners, only to be dug up once again, tied to weights, and cast into the Tiber River. When the corpse washed up on shore people started saying that the remains started performing miracles.

A public uprising led to Stephen being deposed and imprisoned. While in prison, in July or August 897, he was strangled. The corpse was reburied in Saint Peter’s Basilica in pontifical vestments in 897 at the order of Pope Theodore II who also prohibited any future trial of a dead person

Read the full story here.


Written by Leif Andersen

I am a Designer, a Musician, and a lover of the weird.

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