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The Cadaver Synod

I switched majors back in college. I was originally a History major, but I switched to English. (My original-original plan had been to get a double major in both English and History, but plans change. I wasn’t willing to invest the amount of time needed, not to mention the cost.) As a former History major, then, I do know quite a bit about History. And as a grade-A weirdo, anything odd or bizarre in history is bound to snag my attention. How it is, then, that I had never heard of the Cadaver Synod before, I do not know. Thank you, Atlas Obscura, for educating me on the subject.

The Cadaver Synod, or SYNODUS HORRENDA, took place at the Basilica San Giovanni Laterano in Rome in January of 897. The Basilica is the official home of the Pope, but he actually resides at the Vatican. Back in the bad ol’ days before the first millennium, the Catholic Church wasn’t in such great shape. Pesky Saracens kept pillaging, and popes were behaving like a combination of mafia kingpins and modern-day American politicians. One of those popes, Pope Stephen VI, ordered that a former pope, Pope Formosus, be put on trial for crimes against the Church. The only problem being that Formosus had by that time been dead for years. Not much of a problem, though; not one that couldn’t be overcome. Stephen had Formosus exhumed, dressed in papal robes, and propped up in a chair so that he, Stephen, could accuse him. After pronouncing Formosus guilty, he ordered the corpse reburied, then changed his mind and ordered it to be exhumed and thrown in the Tiber. A later pope, Theodore II, had Formosus’s body fished out of the river and reinterred under St. Peter’s Cathedral.

The Catholic Church would probably like for us to forget all about the Cadaver Synod, along with most of its history throughout the Middle Ages. Stories like this one, though, are too strange and fascinating to ever forget.

TheCheezman • March 22, 2019

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