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Leo V - A Praiseworthy Pontiff

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The Bretons have an old legend that St. Tugdual, the patron of Treguier, went to Rome on a pilgrimage and while in the Holy City was elected pope. He chose to be called "Leo Britigena" as is narrated in the Roman Catalogue. This much can be said for the legend: The Roman Catalogues that come down to us do make Leo V a priest from outside Rome. But they also say that he was from Priapi in the Ardeatine district of Italy.

Leo V is spoken of as a praiseworthy and holy man, but practically nothing is known of his early life or of his election. Whatever his qualifications, his pontificate was so short that he had no time to do more than grant the canons of Bologna the pleasant privilege of exemption from taxes. After a few weeks, Christopher, the cardinal-priest of St. Damasus, led an uprising against Leo, overthrew him, and put him in prison. Christopher then usurped the papal throne. But he was not popular, and Sergius, who had been excommunicated and driven into exile by Pope John IX, plotted with the Romans against him. With French help and Roman fifth-column activity, Sergius overthrew Christopher and put him in prison. Since Sergius then was elected pope, it is highly probable that Leo was already dead.

One lone author, however, states that Sergius, out of pity, had both Leo and Christopher executed. This is not probable, and it is not mentioned by any other author of the period. At any rate, whatever the manner of his death, Leo V disappeared from history at this time. 

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

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