Saint Pope Celestine V

This weeks Saint of the Week is Saint Pope Celestine V, (1215-1294).  Born in early 13th century Italy, Pietro di Murrone became a Benedictine monk at the age of 17.  As one source aptly stated it, “You know you have a truly Christian nature when you live the life of a Benedictine monk and still yearn for something more withdrawn, difficult and austere.”  So, at the ripe old age of 20, he moved to the wilderness to live in isolation as a hermit.

The futurePope modeled his life after John the Baptist. His practice of self mortification was renowned, including his wearing a knotted hair shirt, (for an extra level of discomfort), a heavy metal chain girdle, sleeping on bare rock in a cave and fasting daily, except Sunday.

Like John the Baptist, he attracted many followers who wanted to emulate his lifestyle.  This ultimately resulted in the creation of a new order of monks called the Celestines, an offshoot of the Benedictines.  They lived according to the rule of St. Benedict, but incorporated the stricter, more disciplined life he preferred.  He presided over 36 monasteries and over 600 monks before abdicating the leadership position to an underling and returning to the life of solitude he yearned for.

When Pietro was in his eighties, the Chair of Saint Peter had been vacant for nearly two years.   In the last, non-conclave papal election, the bickering Cardinals, under pressure to finally fill the chair, considered the holy hermit a safe choice due to his advanced age and reputation for holiness. By all accounts, Pope Celestine V’s papacy was a disaster from the start.  Overwhelmed by politics and manipulated by his Cardinals, after only five months he decided it was better for the Church and his own salvation for him to retire.  Hoping to return to the wilderness to live out his days, he was detained by his successor, Pope Boniface VIII and confined for the remaining 10 months of his life to prevent any challenges to the authenticity of the new Pope. 

Saint Pope Celestine V is the only Pope known to resign the papacy willingly, paving the way for Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation in 2012, and the election of our current pontiff, Pope Francis.  The move was not without controversy; however, in Saint Pope Celestine’s day any less than it is proving to be today.  Some believed he made the right choice understanding he was not the right person to lead the Church.  Others, most notably his contemporary, the renowned poet Dante, who thought his abdication of the papacy a cowardly act.  Saint Pope Celestine V is believed to be the unnamed person observed by Dante and his guide Virgil standing just inside the gates of Hell.  “I saw and recognized the shade of him who due to cowardice made the great refusal.” —Inferno III, 59–60. 

Saint Pope Celestine V’s short papacy remains among the most controversial and debated in history.  What is not debated is his holiness, regardless of Dante’s opinion of him.  He was canonized a mere 19 years after his death by Pope Clement V on the 5th of May, 1313.

This weeks cartoon is based upon the paining entitled Coronation of Pope Celestine V, dating to the 16th century, artist unknown. 

Feast day:  May 19th

Patron of: Aquila, Italy, bookbinders

Prayer to St. Pope Celestine V 

Almighty ever-living God, who chose blessed Celestine V to preside over your whole people and benefit them by word and example, keep safe, we pray, by his intercession, the shepherds of your Church along with the flocks entrusted to their care, and direct them in the way of eternal salvation. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saint Pope Celestine V, pray for us!

You Might Also Like