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John XIV - Died In Prison

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Mosaic of John XIVBenedict VII had died in peace, and since Otto II was still in Italy the new pontificate got off to a smooth start. It was to have a rough ending. To succeed Benedict VII, Otto secured the election of Peter, bishop of Pavia.

A native of Pavia, Peter Canepanova rose to be not only bishop of Pavia, but chancellor of the Kingdom of Italy. He also served as imperial agent in Rome. While chancellor he had had a disagreement with the famous scholar Gerbert, then abbot of Bobbio. Later, however, they became quite friendly. When he was elected pope, Peter took the name John XIV. With a good churchman and a close friend of the Emperor on the papal throne, much could be expected from such a harmonious pope-emperor relationship. But Otto, only twenty-eight years old, fell a victim to his doctors. Four drachms of aloes proved too much for the young Emperor's constitution, and assisted by Pope John, he died a most edifying death. He was buried in St. Peter's. Otto's premature death was a calamity for the empire; it was stark disaster for the Pope. With the Emperor's strong hand removed, the party of the antipope Boniface raised its head. At Easter 984 a revolt broke out. Back came the cruel antipope from Constantinople. Well supplied with gold, Boniface spent money lavishly to secure the triumph of his party. With the help of the Patrician Crescentius he seized Pope John, declared him deposed, and thrust him into the Castle of St. Angelo.

While Boniface lorded it at the Lateran, the Pope languished in his cell, and by August 20 he was dead. There was a report that he had died a violent death, but this is not at all certain. It is certain that John XIV died in prison on August 20. The antipope Boniface did not long survive his victim. He died quite suddenly in July 985. His body was seized by a gang of his own party, who resented the antipope's strong hand.

These rascals skinned the corpse and dragged it to the statue of Marcus Aurelius in front of the Lateran. Some clerics removed it and gave it a decent burial.

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

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