Chapter 15

CHAPTER XV: PETER OF MURRONE (AD 1294)

In that age the papacy was sometimes long vacant, because the
cardinals, who were the highest in rank of the Roman clergy, and to
whom the choice of a pope belonged, could not agree. In order to get
over this difficulty, rules were made for the purpose of forcing the
cardinals to make a speedy choice. Thus, at a council which was held
by Pope Gregory X at Lyons, in 1274 (chiefly for the sake of
restoring peace and fellowship between the Greek and Latin
Churches), a canon was made for the election of popes. This canon
directed that the cardinals should meet for the choice of a new pope
within ten days after the last pope's death; that they should all be
shut up in a large room, which, from their being locked in together,
was called the "conclave" ("Con" meaning "together" and "clave"
meaning "a key"); that they should have no means of speaking or
writing to any person outside, or of receiving any letters; that
their food should be supplied through a window; that, if they did
not make their choice within three days, their provisions should be
stinted, and if they delayed five days more, nothing should be given
them but bread and water. By such means it was thought that the
cardinals might be brought to settle the election of a pope as
quickly as possible.

We can well believe that the cardinals did not like to be put under
such rules. They contrived that later popes should make some changes
in them, and tried to go on as before, putting off the election so
long as seemed desirable for the sake of their own selfish objects.
At one time, when there had been no pope for six months, the people
of Viterbo confined the cardinals in the public hall of their city
until an election should be made. At another time, the cardinals
were shut up in a Roman monastery, where six of them died of the bad
air. But one cardinal, who was more knowing than the rest, drove off
the effect of the air by keeping up fires in all his rooms, even
through the hottest weather; and at length he was chosen pope.

On the death of this pope, Nicolas IV (AD 1292), his office was
vacant for two years and a quarter; and when the cardinals then met,
it seemed as if they could not fix on any successor. But one day one
of them told the rest that a holy man had had a vision, threatening
heavy judgments unless a pope were chosen within a certain time; and
he gave such an account of this holy man that all the cardinals were
struck at once with the idea of choosing him for pope. His name was
Peter of Murrone. He lived as a hermit in a narrow cell on a
mountain; and there he was found by certain bishops who were sent
by the cardinals to tell of his election. He was seventy-two years
of age; roughly dressed, with a long white beard, and thin from
fasting and hard living. He could speak no other tongue than the
common language of the country-folks around, and he was quite unused
to business of any kind, so that he allowed himself to be led by any
one who would take the trouble. The fame of Peter's holiness had
been widely spread, and he was even supposed to do miracles; so that
his election was welcomed by multitudes. Two hundred thousand
persons flocked to see his coronation, where the old man appeared in
the procession riding on an ass, with his reins held by the king of
Naples on one side and by the king's son on the other (AD 1294).

This king of Naples, Charles II, got the poor old pope completely
into his power. He made him take up his abode at Naples, where
Celestine V (as he was now called) tried to carry on his old way of
life by getting a cell built in his palace, just like his old
dwelling on the rock of Fumone; and into this little place he would
withdraw for days, leaving all the work of his office to be done by
some cardinals whom he trusted.

Other stories are told which show that Celestine was quite unfit for
his office. The cardinals soon came to think that they had made a
great mistake in choosing him; and at length the poor old man came
to think so too. One of the cardinals, Benedict Gaetani, who had
gained a great influence over his mind, persuaded him that the best
thing he could do was to resign; and, after having been pope about
five months, Celestine called the cardinals together and read to
them a paper, in which he said that he was too old and too weak to
bear the burden of his office; that he wished to return to his
former life of quiet and contemplation. He then put off his robes,
took once more the rough dress which he had worn as a hermit, and
withdrew to his old abode. But the jealousy of his successor did not
allow him to remain there in peace. It was feared that the reverence
in which the old hermit was held by the common people might lead to
some disturbance; and to prevent this he was shut up in close
confinement, where he lived only about ten months. The poorer people
had all manner of strange notions about his holiness and his
supposed miracles; and about twenty years after his death he was
admitted into the Roman list of saints.