pope stephen vi

The Weirdest Trial in History,

One of the Popes of the 9th century, Pope Formosus’ reign was fraught with war, chaos, and political intrigue.  During his five year reign Formosus made many enemies, among them was his successor, Stephen VI.  Pope Stephen hated Formosus so much, that he would take weird to a whole new level in order to exact revenge on his former enemy.

In January of 897, about seven months after Formosus’ death, Pope Stephen ordered Formosus’ corpse exhumed from its grave and put on trial.  In what would become known as the “Cadaver Synod”, Pope Stephen charged Formosus with a number of crimes including perjury and having ascended the Papacy illegally.  During the trial, Formosus’ rotting corpse was propped up on a throne and clothed in Papal vestments.  Stephen himself acted as prosecutor while a church deacon was appointed to serve as Formosus’ defense attorney.  While judges were appointed from local priests, the synod amounted to nothing more than a show trial in which Stephen maniacally screamed, raved, and hurled insults at the dead corpse.  Formosus’ was declared guilty on all charges.  As punishment, his corpse was stripped of its Papal vestments, three fingers on its right hand were removed (the fingers used to conduct blessings), and all orders issued by Formosus’ were nullified.  Formosus’ corpse was buried in an unmarked paupers grave.  Later it was again disinterred and cast into the Tiber River.  

The Cadaver Synod turned out to be Stephen VI’s undoing, as the people of Rome were too weirded out by his bizarre and insane behavior.  He was quickly deposed and imprisoned, where he was strangled to death during the night.  In the meantime Formosus’ corpse had been recovered from the Tiber and reburied in its proper grave at St. Peters Basilica.  The next Pope, John IX, nullified the Cadaver Synod and issued a Papal decree banning the trial of a dead person.