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Sunday, 3 February 2013

Pope Boniface VIII

Pope Boniface VIII  was born Benedetto Caetani in 1235 in Anagni, c. 50 kilometres southeast of Rome. He was the younger son of a minor noble family, the Gaetani.

Benedetto took his first steps in the religious life when he was sent to the monastery of the Friars Minor in Velletri, where he was put under the care of his uncle Fra Leonardo Patrasso. He became a canon of the cathedral in Anagni in his teens.

Benedetto Gaetani was elected pope, taking the name Boniface VIII. The conclave began on December 23, 1294, ten days after Celestine V vacated the throne. Benedetto Gaetani was elected pope the next day, Christmas Eve.

One of his first acts as pontiff was to imprison his predecessor in the Castle of Fumone in Ferentino, where he died the next year at the age of 81, attended by two monks of his order.

Pope Boniface VIII issued “Clericis Laicos” which threatened excommunication for any lay ruler who taxes the clergy and any clergyman who pays the taxes. Despite being pious himself, the king of England, Edward 1, retorted by decreeing if the clergy did not pay, they would be stripped of all legal protection and the King’s sheriff would seize their properties. The pope backed down.

Boniface proclaimed 1300 a "jubilee" year, the first in of many such jubilees take place in Rome. He had the churches of Rome restored for the Great Jubilee of 1300, particularly St. Peter's Basilica, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, and the Saint Mary Major Basilica.
He may have wanted to gather money from pilgrims to Rome as a substitute for the missing money from France. The event was a success; Rome had never received such crowds before.

Boniface VIII was the first pope to wear the zucchetto, a small skullcap that covers the tonsure. It has since been formally worn by the Pope and his cardinals and bishops down the centuries.

Pope Boniface asserted papal authority over all temporal rulers in his bull Unam Sanctam, which he issued on November 18, 1302. King Philip IV of France responded to the papal bull the following year with a counter attack and was behind the kidnapping of the pope by some Italian noblemen. Boniface was soon released but so roughly was he treated that he died shortly afterwards.

Boniface died of kidney stones, fever and humiliation on October 11, 1303. There were rumors he had died of suicide from "gnawing through his own arm" and bashing his skull into a wall.

Today, he is probably best remembered for his feuds with Dante, who placed him in the Eighth Circle of Hell in his Divina Commedia, among the simonists.

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