Remember when Pope Benedict XVI abdicated and the media went into a meltdown? You probably heard around then that this wasn’t the first abdication, and that Celestine V had abdicated about 800 years earlier. And then we promptly forgot about all of that when Pope Francis was elected. Because, Francis.
Things could have gone very differently.
When Celestine V abdicated in 1294 he was succeeded by Pope Boniface VIII. Celestine was an 85-year old hermit from Naples. He was originally selected because of his great piety but he was, as Eamon Duffy has written, “saintly but hopeless.” Some thought that electing an “angelic Pope” like Celestine would help free the papacy of corruption. But it was not to be: Celestine was badgered into resigning by his successor. A more savvy diplomat, Boniface’s first move as Pope was to secure his position by having Celestine imprisoned in the Castle of Fumone. Celestine endured 10 miserable months of mistreatment there before finally kicking the bucket.