The Cadaver Synod: Strangest Trial in History

The Cadaver Synod: Strangest Trial in History

By Donald E. Wilkes, Jr.

Popular Media. Paper 42 (2001)

Introduction: One thousand, one hundred and four years ago, a criminal trial took place in Italy, a trial so macabre, so gruesome, so frightful, that it easily qualifies as the strangest and most terrible trial in human in human history. At this trial, called the Cadaver Synod, a dead Pope wrenched from the grave was brought into a Rome courtroom, tried in the presence of a successor Pope, found guilty, and then according to Horace K. Mann’s The Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages (1925), “subjected to the most barbarous violence.”

For the past several centuries, the papacy has enjoyed enormous respect in every quarter of the globe, partly because most 19th and 20th century Popes have stood for and publicly defended basic principles of liberty, justice and humanity in a tumultuous world often beset by war and revolution, and partly because with a few exceptions these Popes have been extraordinarily admirable human beings.

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