The Most Horrible Consistory on Record

As we contemplate the approaching consistory to elect a successor to Benedict XVI, it is consoling to read about the one that elected Celestine IV in the thirteenth century. The Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick, was in fact besieging Rome, led by Pope Gregory, at the time, but could not penetrate its well-defended walls.

The Pope fulminated bulls and encyclicals, anathematizing Frederick as the monster of the Apocalypse and inducing some of his subject provinces to rebel, while the Emperor excoriated Pope Gregory as the Antichrist, and suborned whatever Cardinals he could. Thereupon Pope Gregory summoned a General Council for Easter 1241. All roads to Rome were blocked by Frederick, so he arranged for Genoa to transport the foreign churchmen by sea. However, Frederick had his Sicilian fleet intercept them and seized 100 of them as prisoners.

Exhausted by all these maneuvers, and weakened by kidney disease and the fearful heat of August in Rome, old Pope Gregory thereupon died.

As the Council assembled to elect a new Pope, only ten Cardinals were available. To force a quick decision the Senator of Rome herded them into one dilapidated room without proper food, servants, or doctors. Their guards grossly abused them, even shitting on them through holes in the ceiling. In such deplorable conditions, all the Cardinals fell ill, and one, English, died. Still, they stuck it out for two whole months before finally electing Godfrey, Cardinal of Sabina, as Celestine IV.

But after a reign of sixteen days, the new pope, exhausted, in turn died. The survivors scattered and for two years could not be coaxed back into session.