Celestine V


Cause of Death:
Pietro del Morrone
1294.07.05 to 1294.12.13
Pope #192
Nicholas IV (1288-1292)
Boniface VIII (1294-1303)

Pietro Angelerio
c.1215 in Moline
1296.05.19 in Castle of Fumone

Pope Celestine V


Born in Sant'Angelo Limosano, Italy (~200 km South East of Rome), in 1215. He was a hermit for most of his life. The son of Angelo Angelerio, a peasant farmer.

Early Life

Medieval Hair Shirt
Hair Shirt
Celestine V was the eleventh of twelve children. His father died early and his mother raised him with an influence towards a religious vocation. At age seventeen, he became a Benedictine monk at the monastery of Santa Maria di Faifoli, near Montagano, Italy. There, he began to pursue a life of solitude. In 1240, he moved into a cave on Mt. Morrone, from which he received his surname. At age 30, he moved to Mt. Majella with two other companions where he began to live a life of strict mortification rules. He fasted six days a week, said long prayers and wore hair shirts and iron chains. As so many people flocked to hear him, he founded the Order of the Celestines, which he named after himself. He continued his life there for the next fifty years and became well-known throughout most of Italy.


Basilica di Collemaggio, built by Celestine V in 1288
Basilica where it is believed that Pietro del Morrone was crowned Pope in 1294
After the death of Pope Nicholas IV (1288-1292) in 1292, bitter rivalries between the factions of the Orsini and Colonna families prevented a new pope from being crowned for over two years. In 1294, Charles II of Naples, impatient from waiting to be properly crowned King, went to Rome to rectify the stalemate. Finally, Cardinal Latino Orsini, Dean of the College of Cardinals, reported that Pietro del Morrone sent him a letter warning the cardinals that God revealed to him that if they did not elect a new pope within four months, they would all suffer punishment from God. Malabranca then proclaimed that the neutral Pietro should be pope. On July 5, 1294, Pietro was unanimously elected but when sent for, Pietro vehemently refused and even attempted to flee. Several dignitaries, along with a multitude of monks and laymen, ascended the mountain where he lived and pressured Pietro to accept. He accepted and was proclaimed the first legitimate pope since Constantine's Donation.

Incompetent Reign

King Charles II of Naples 'the Lame'
King Charles II of Naples
The aged Celestine V quickly found himself to be no match for the corrupt individuals who surrounded him. Beginning even with his coronation on August 29th, all dignitaries had to travel to Aquila, in the Kingdom of Naples, by the influence of King Charles II. The cardinals later held a second ceremony in Rome to keep the tradition. He was the first pope to be consecrated twice.

Celestine handed out offices and favours to almost anyone who asked; sometimes he even handed out the same office to three or four rivals. He created twelve new cardinals, most of whome were French or from the Kingdom of Naples, which later helped to pave the way to Avignon and the "Great Schism" (1307-1377). Even the king's 21 year son Louis, who was only a layman, is reported in some accounts to have been made archbishop of Lyons.

Celestine also renewed the strict laws of Pope Gregory X (1271-1276) regarding the locking of cardinals in conclave. This was previously suspended by Pope Adrian V (1276).

Resigned as Pope

Abdication of Celestine V
Celestine V Resigns
The 80 year old Celestine V abdicated on December 13, 1294. Confronted by the Franciscan poet, Jacopone da Todi with his affairs, Celestine sought initially to hand over parts of his authority to three different cardinals but this was rejected. His request to abdicate was initially rejected as well. However, Cardinal Benedetto Gaetano, who sought the pontifacy, convinced the other cardinals that this unprecedented request was indeed legal.

Castello di Fumone
Castle of Fumone
Cardinal Benedetto immediately locked Celestine into a prison in the castle of Fumone, lest he should become the tool of schismatics. Benedetto likely didn't want the abdication as well as his own ascension to pope to be declared illegal. Hearing the news, King Charles II, along with a host of supporters, surrounded the prison and begged Celestine to reconsider. Nine days later, the resignation was declared irreversible, and the cardinals entered the conclave to elect a successor. The next day, Cardinal Benedetto Caetano was proclaimed Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303). Boniface cancelled most of the decrees of Celestine and wasted no time enriching himself and his family.


Skull of Celestine V showing murder point
With aid from his supporters, Celestine escaped prison but continued to be pursued for nine months by Boniface. Eventually, Celestine was captured and returned to prison where he died ten months later on May 19, 1296. Many scholars believe he was murdered by Boniface VIII as his skull was found with a nail-sized hole in it. Celestine was buried near the castle but his bones were later moved to the church of Aquila, where they remain venerated today. He was canonised a saint by Pope Clement V (1305-1314) in 1313 and his feast is celebrated on May 19th.

Dante's Reference

In Dante's Inferno, his line, "who made from cowardice the great refusal", has been ascribed by some scholars as a direct reference to Celestine's abdication.

Rulers & Events:

1282-1328: Eastern Roman Emperor, Andronicus II
1285-1314: King of France, Philip IV (the Fair)
1292-1298: King of Germany, Adolf of Nassau-Weilburg