With St. Peter's standing forlorn and desolate, the Romans,
terrified at the Saracen peril, hastened to elect the holy priest Leo. After two
months' delay, they decided to go ahead with his consecration without waiting
for imperial confirmation. But they sent to Emperor Lothair to assure him that
they did not mean to lessen his prerogative. Though Leo was a Roman, his
father's name Radoald might possibly be an indication of Teutonic descent.
Educated in the monastery of St. Martin, Leo made such a reputation for holiness
that Gregory IV took him for the papal service.
made him cardinal-priest of the Four Crowned Martyrs' Church. Leo, though a
spiritual man, had to devote a great deal of time to temporal matters.
Determined that the sack of St. Peter's should not be repeated, Leo started to
build a wall around the Vatican Hill and district. It was a great undertaking
for those rude times, but the energy of the Pope was unflagging. He got money
from the Emperor and workers from the agricultural estates of the patrimony. But
while the walls were rising, news came that near Sardinia a great Saracen fleet
was being readied to sail against Rome. This time, however, the Italians took
measures to defend the Eternal City.
A fleet from the
Southern seaports of Naples, Amalfi and Gaeta, sailed into the Tiber. Since
these cities were nominally under the Eastern Emperor, the Romans wondered
whether the fleet had come to help them or attack them. When Admiral Caesarius
reassured the Pope, Leo led a Roman army to Ostia to join the fleet. He
celebrated Mass and gave Holy Communion to all hands. Thus fortified spiritually
and ready with their arms, the Christians met the Saracens. After some
indecisive fighting, a strong wind blew up, separated the fleets, and completely
wrecked the Saracen fleet; Rome was saved. Leo did not remain idle. He kept the
walls rising, and finally in 852, they were ready. The new enclosed area, justly
called the Leonine City, was dedicated by the Pope with a solemn procession
around the walls and a Mass. Leo also built a fortified town at Portus near the
mouth of the Tiber and settled Corsican refugees there to man the walls. He
rebuilt Centumcellae, sacked by the Saracens back in 813, in a better location.
He also did what he could to restore St. Peter's and adorn other churches. Leo
held a synod in 853 which renewed the reform canons of Eugene's synod in 826.
He gave added solemnity to the feast of Mary's Assumption by
giving it an octave. He protected his subjects from rapacious underlings. Two
monarchs were crowned by Leo. Louis, Lothair's son, was crowned emperor in 850.
In 853 a far more interesting coronation took place. Ethelwulf, king of the West
Saxons, sent his young son Alfred to be crowned by Pope Leo. The Pope made
Alfred his spiritual son. St. Leo died July 17, 855, with a great reputation for
sanctity. Indeed he was credited with working miracles. His feast is kept on
July 17. Excerpted from "Popes
Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.