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Adrian III - Short-lived

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Except that he was a Roman, the son of Benedict, and that he was elected pope probably on May 17, 884, practically nothing is known about Hadrian before he became pope.

As pope, Hadrian had his troubles with the gang of evildoers broken up by Pope John VIII. After that strong pontiff died, they had drifted back to Rome. One of them, George of the Aventine, had a life which would make headline material for the yellow press. He had poisoned his brother for the sake of his mistress. He had solidified his position by marrying the niece of Pope Benedict III; but later on, wishing to marry the daughter of Gregory, a high official, he killed his wife almost in public. George had escaped punishment by his influence with the imperial officials and his father-in-law, Gregory. But now, for reasons that remain obscure, justice caught up with him. Pope Hadrian III had his eyes put out. Criminals often have little significance for the historian, but when, like George, they are part of the ruling class of Rome, the nobles who are coming to influence papal elections, then they have a sad significance. Hadrian sent a friendly letter to Photius. He took under his protection the Monastery of St. Giles in France and the Monastery of St. Sixtus in Piacenza. According to the medieval chronicler Martinus Polonus, the Italian nobility, seeing that the Carolingians could do little but fight among themselves, asked Pope Hadrian to do something for Italy. Hadrian then issued two decrees.

The first proclaimed that the pope-elect should be consecrated without waiting for any imperial confirmation. The second stated that if Emperor Charles the Fat died without heirs male the nobles of Italy should select one of their number to be Emperor and King of Italy. Since the only source for these decrees is an uncritical thirteenth-century chronicler, it is doubtful whether Hadrian actually did issue these decrees. Emperor Charles the Fat invited Pope Hadrian to a diet at Worms at which the question of the imperial succession would be discussed. Hadrian, after appointing John, bishop of Pavia, to rule Rome in his absence, left for Germany. But he did not get out of Italy. Sickness struck him down, and he died near Nonantula probably in September 885. He was buried in the Church of the Monastery of St. Silvester. Except for the exiled Pope St. Martin I, Hadrian III is the first pope since Gregory the Great not to be buried in St. Peter's.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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