Pope Boniface VIII

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Pope Boniface VIII (c. 1235 – October 11, 1303), born Benedetto Caetani, was Pope of the Roman Catholic Church from 1294 to 1303. Today, Boniface VIII is probably best remembered for his feuds with Dante, who placed him in a circle of Hell in his Divina Commedia, and with King Philip IV of France.



Caetani was born in 1235 in Anagni, c. 50 kilometers southeast of Rome. He was the younger son of a minor noble family, the Caetani. He took his first steps in the religious life when he was sent to the monastery of the Friars Minor in Velletri, where he was under the care of his uncle Fra Leonardo Patrasso [1]; he became a canon of the cathedral in Anagni in his teens. In 1252, when his uncle Peter Caetani became bishop of Todi, in Umbria, Benedetto went with him and began his legal studies there. Benedetto never forgot his roots in Todi, later describing the city as "the dwelling place of his early youth," the city which "nourished him while still of tender years," and as a place where he "held lasting memories". In 1260, Benedetto acquired a canonry in Todi, as well as the small nearby castle of Sismano. Later in life he repeatedly expressed his gratitude to Anagni, Todi, and his family.

In 1264, Benedetto became part of the Roman Curia where he served as secretary to Cardinal Simon de Brion on a mission to France. Similarly, he accompanied Cardinal Ottobono Fieschi to England (1265–1268) to suppress a rebellion by a group of barons against Henry III of England. Upon Benedetto's return from England, there is an eight-year period in which nothing is known about his life, after which Benedetto was sent to France to supervise the collection of a tithe in 1276 and then became a papal notary in the late 1270s. During this time, Benedetto accumulated seventeen benefices, which he was permitted to keep when he was promoted, first to cardinal deacon in 1281 and then ten years later as cardinal priest. As cardinal, he often served as papal legate in diplomatic negotiations with France, Naples, Sicily, and Aragon.

Pope Celestine V abdicated on December 13, 1294, at Naples, where he had established the papal court under the patronage of King Charles II of Sicily. There is a legend that it was Benedetto Caetani's doing that Celestine V renounced the papacy—convincing Celestine V that no person on the earth could go through life without sin. A contemporary, Ptolemy of Lucca, who was present in Naples in December of 1294 and witnessed many of the events of the abdication and election, says that Benedetto Caetani was only one of several cardinals who pressured Celestine to resign [2]. However, it is on record that Celestine V resigned by his own design after consultation with experts, and that Benedetto merely showed that it was allowed by Church law. Either way, Celestine V vacated the throne and Benedetto Caetani was elected in his place as pope, taking the name Boniface VIII. The Conclave began, in strict accordance with the rules established by Pope Gregory X at the Council of Lyons, on December 23, ten days after Celestine's resignation. Benedetto Caetani was elected pope the next day, Christmas Eve, December 24. On the first (secret) ballot, he had a majority of the votes, and at the accessio a sufficient number joined his majority to form the required two-thirds [3]. He immediately returned the Papal Curia to Rome, where he was crowned at the Vatican Basilica on Sunday, January 23, 1295. One of his first acts as pontiff was to imprison his predecessor in the Castle of Fumone in Ferentino, where he died the next year at the age of 81, attended by two monks of his order. In 1300, Boniface VIII formalized the jubilees, which afterwards became a source of both profit and scandal to the church. Boniface VIII founded the University of Rome La Sapienza in 1303.

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