Benedict I - Pontifical Misery

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That Benedict was a Roman, the son of Boniface, is all that is known of the early life of this first of a long line of popes to bear the name. Benedict seems to have been called Bonosus by the Greeks. After John III died, there was an interval of over ten months before Benedict was consecrated. By now the emperors were claiming the right to confirm papal elections, and with Lombard bands on the prowl, the difficulty of communicating with Constantinople was great.

Benedict's pontificate was filled with misery. The Lombard problem had landed with a thud on the doorstep of the papacy. After the death of Alboin, the chief who had led them into Italy, the Lombards soon broke up into bands led by dukes. While this lack of unity saved several cities for the empire, it increased the sufferings of the people. Without any central control, Lombard war parties ravaged up and down the peninsula. This ten- year period from 574 to 584, the decade of the dukes, was the most miserable period of the Lombard invasions. Nor was the Eastern Empire able to help. When in 577, the Patrician Pamphronius brought from Rome to Constantinople three hundred pounds of gold to persuade the Emperor to send help, he was told that the armed forces of the empire had their hands full fighting Persians. The best use he could make of the money was to offer it as a bribe to the Franks or to the Lombards themselves.

Famine too threatened Rome, but Benedict had the satisfaction of seeing an imperial grain fleet from Egypt sail up the Tiber to relieve his distressed Romans.

It is quite probable that Benedict was the pope who received the famous cross donated by Emperor Justin II to the shrine of the Apostles. At any rate, in an inscription on the cross, Emperor Justin piously hopes that in consideration of his gift, Heaven will send help to the city.

This cross, over a foot high, is covered with silver gilt and adorned with jewels. It still may be seen in St. Peter's.

Benedict I died July 30, 579, as the Lombards were besieging Rome. He was buried in St. Peter's.

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

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