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Biography - Pope Celestine V - The Papal Library

by Catherine Frakas 17 Mar 2021

Celestine V1294-1294 Peter of Morroni born 1215 Saint Celestine V was originally called Peter of Morroni, from a mountain near Sulmona where he led a solitary life. He was born near the castle of Molisa in the territory of Lavoro, in the year 1215, and was the eleventh of twelve sons of Angelerio, a farmer. He was first a Benedictine monk in the monastery of Faifoli, in the diocese of Benevento, which he entered at the age of twenty. He left in 1239, with the permission of the abbot, to go and do penance in the caves of Morroni, where he spent five years. Thence he went to the mountain of Majella, in Apulia, where he founded the order of the Celestines. He was prior of the order when he was elected pope at Perugia, on the 5th of July, 1294, principally at the solicitation of the cardinal-bishop of Ostia, a Roman of Malabranca family. This cardinal, to put an end to the discords which rent the Sacred College, proposed that they should choose this hermit, well known for his sanctity, and who was then at Rome on a visit to a house of his order, which had just been founded there. Peter of Morroni, therefore, was unanimously elected, and the decree of his election was forwarded to him; but he firmly refused to accept. His refusal was only overcome by the entreaties of the cardinals and of King Charles II of Naples, and of Andrew, King of Hungary. Those princes went to him and entreated him to accept. They told him that was no other method of remedying the evils suffered by Christianity, and that it was his duty to accept the pontificate. Francis Petrarch writes that Peter had meditated escaping from their importunities by flight, but the people flocked about him, and he was obliged to yield to their cries and commands. Almost frenzied, Peter set out for Aquila, which he entered mounted on an ass, the bridle of which was held by King Charles and the King of Hungary. He had written to the cardinals that, on account of the heat, he could not proceed to Perugia, and they repaired to Aquila to take part in the ceremonies of his coronation, on the 29th of August, in the church of the Celestines of Collemaggio. Afterwards, mounted no longer on an ass, but upon a beautiful white horse, he made his entrance into the city amidst the acclamations of a multitude of people, who had gathered from all parts to see the first personage in the world, who so recently had been only a lowly hermit, poor, often suffering from hunger. Shortly after the coronation the Holy Father made a pro motion of twelve cardinals, seven of whom were French; and then he resolved upon going to Naples. Meanwhile Celestine, regretting his liberty, resolved to recover it. He showed that resolution more plainly after the death of Cardinal Latino, to whom he had intrusted the principal business of the pontificate. Celestine knew that the cardinals were ill pleased with him. The twelve new members of the Sacred College, seven French, as we have said, and five Italians, had been created without the former cardinals being consulted. He began to be spoken of as a man reared in the woods and unfit to wear the tiara. Impelled by such considerations, he first declared that the pope might freely renounce the pontificate, and then he soon desired to make that renunciation. He voluntarily resigned the pontificate at Naples, on the 13th of December, 1294, after governing five months and nine days. Chacon gives the formula of his renunciation: We, Celestine, Pope V, moved by legitimate reasons, that is to say, for the sake of humility, of a better life and an unspotted conscience, of weakness of body and of want of knowledge, the malignity of the people, and personal infirmity, to recover the tranquillity and consolation of our former life, do freely and voluntarily resign the pontificate, the place, the dignity, occupation, and honors of which we expressly renounce, and we give full and free faculty to the college of cardinals canonically to elect a pastor of the Universal Church. This done, in a consistory publicly held in the city of Naples, he laid aside all the pontifical insignia, and, with a noble and modest yet lofty bearing, seated himself at the feet of the cardinals. The Holy See was vacant ten days. For the first time the law of Gregory X, confirmed by Celestine V, was observed, which provided that a conclave should not be until nine days after the death or renunciation of a pope. Well pleased, he who had again become Peter of Morroni retired to his hermitage of Majella, to devote himself to perpetual prayer and uninterrupted mortification. His successor, Boniface, fearing some schism that was or speedily might be threatened, not from the will of the holy hermit, who was far from having such a thought, but because the simplicity of his heart might not be proof against the wiles of the enemies of the new pope-his successor, Boniface, we say, caused search to be made after Peter, that he might be carefully guarded against all danger. The saint was informed of this, and although he had no thought but to give himself entirely to God, he kept himself concealed during two months. Some time after, he determined to go to Dalmatia, but a storm drove him to Vieste, a city of the Capitanate, where he was recognized by the governor, who sent him to Anagni, where his successor was. Thence he was sent to the castle of Fumone, a short distance from Ferentino, where, for ten months, he languished in prison. Celestine, at the age of eighty-one years, bore this treatment with an apostolical resignation. He died on the 19th of March, 1296, and, by order of Boniface, his body was carried with pomp to Ferentino. His heart is preserved in the church of the Poor Clares. Subsequently his body was removed to the monastery of the Celestines, at Aquila. Clement V canonized Celestine at Avignon on the 5th of March, 1313, seventeen years after his death. Under this reign occurred the miracle of the removal of the Santa Casa, or Holy House, into Italy. Novaes thus relates it: In 1291, in the same year when the infidels got possession of Saint Jean d'Acre, on the ninth day of May, the Holy House, in which the divine Word was made flesh, was carried by angels into Dalmatia, between Tersate and Fiume, on the Adriatic. Three years. and seven months after, that is to say, on the 10th of December, 1294, the same Holy House was transported to a spot near Ancona, in a wood belonging to a woman named Lereto; and, eight months after, moved to another place, not far off-the same where the church now stands. It is the most celebrated sanctuary in the Christian world. Before it was despoiled of its riches, it had twenty gold lamps, given chiefly by the republic of Venice, and sixty other lamps of silver. The church which contains the Santa Casa, or Holy House, was commenced by Paul II, the two hundred and fifteenth pope, and finished in 1577, under Gregory XIII. France possesses, at Loretto, property established by an endowment of Cardinal de Joyeuse. Pious persons travelling in Italy never fail to make a holy pilgrimage to Our Lady of Loretto. This biographical data is from The Lives and Times of the Popes by The Chevalier Artaud De Montor. Published by The Catholic Publication Society of New York in ten volumes in 1911. The pictures, included in the volumes, were reproduced from Effigies Pontificum Romanorum Dominici Basae.

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