Saint of the Day – 19 May – St Pope Celestine V Born 1210 at Isneria, Abruzzi, Italy as Pietro del Morrone; Papal Ascension – 5 July 1294 – Papal Abdication – 13 December 1294. Died: • 19 May 1296 in Rome, Italy of natural causes. St Celestine is buried in the church of Saint Agatha, Ferentino, Italy and re-interred in the Church of Saint Maria di Collemaggio, Aquila, Italy. Monk, Hermit, Pope, Founder. Patron of Bookbinders,Papal resignations, Aquila, Urbino, Molisem Sant’Angelo Limosano. Attributes – Papal vestments, Papal tiara, Book
Peter Celestine, was Pope for five months from 5 July to 13 December 1294, when he resigned. He was also a monk and hermit who founded the order of the Celestines as a branch of the Benedictine order.
He was elected pope in the Catholic Church’s last non-conclave papal election, ending a two-year impasse. Among the only edicts of his to remain in force was the confirmation of the right of the pope to abdicate; nearly all of his other official acts were annulled by his successor, Boniface VIII. On 13 December 1294, a week after issuing the decree, Celestine resigned, stating his desire to return to his humble, pre-papal life. He was subsequently imprisoned by Boniface in the castle of Fumone in the Campagna region, in order to prevent his potential installation as antipope. He died in prison on 19 May 1296 at the age of 81.
St Celestine was canonized on 5 May 1313 by Pope Clement V. No subsequent pope has taken the name Celestine.
Pietro Angelerio was born to parents Angelo Angelerio and Maria Leone in a town called Sant’Angelo Limosano, in the Kingdom of Sicilia (Sicily). After his father’s death he began working in the fields. His mother Maria was a key figure in Pietro’s spiritual development: she imagined a different future for her deeply beloved son than becoming just a farmer or a shepherd. From the time he was a child, he showed great intelligence and love for others. He became a Benedictine monk at Faifoli in the Diocese of Benevento when he was 17. He showed an extraordinary disposition toward asceticism and solitude and in 1239 retired to a solitary cavern on the mountain Morrone, hence his name (Peter of Morrone). Five years later he left this retreat and went with two companions to a similar cave on the even more remote Mountain of Maiella in the Abruzzi region of central Italy, where he lived as strictly as possible according to the example of St. John the Baptist. Accounts exist of the severity of his penitential practices.
The cardinals assembled at Perugia after the death of Pope Nicholas IV in April 1292. After more than two years, a consensus had still not been reached. Pietro, well known to the cardinals as a Benedictine hermit, sent the cardinals a letter warning them that divine vengeance would fall upon them if they did not quickly elect a pope. Latino Malabranca, the aged and ill dean of the College of Cardinals cried out, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, I elect brother Pietro di Morrone.” The cardinals promptly ratified Malabranca’s desperate decision. When sent for, Pietro obstinately refused to accept the papacy and even, as Petrarch says, tried to flee, until he was finally persuaded by a deputation of cardinals accompanied by the king of Naples and the pretender to the throne of Hungary. Elected on 5 July 1294, at age 79, he was crowned at Santa Maria di Collemaggio in the city of Aquila in the Abruzzo on 29 August, taking the name Celestine V.
Shortly after assuming office, Celestine issued a papal bull granting a rare plenary indulgence to all pilgrims visiting Santa Maria di Collemaggio through its holy door on the anniversary of his papal coronation. The Perdonanza Celestiniana festival is celebrated in L’Aquila every 28–29 August in commemoration of this event.
With no political experience, Celestine proved to be an especially weak and ineffectual pope. He held his office in the Kingdom of Naples, out of contact with the Roman Curia and under the complete power of King Charles II. He appointed the king’s favorites to church offices, sometimes several to the same office. One of these was Louis of Toulouse, whom Celestine ordered given clerical tonsure and minor orders, although this was not carried out. He renewed a decree of Pope Gregory X that had established stringent rules for papal conclaves after a similarly prolonged election. In one decree, he appointed three cardinals to govern the church during Advent while he fasted, which was again refused. Realizing his lack of authority and personal incompatibility with papal duties, he consulted with Cardinal Benedetto Caetani (his eventual successor) about the possibility of resignation. This resulted in one final decree declaring the right of resignation, which he promptly exercised after five months and eight days in office, thus on 13 December 1294, Celestine V resigned. In the formal instrument of renunciation, he recited as the causes moving him to the step: “The desire for humility, for a purer life, for a stainless conscience, the deficiencies of his own physical strength, his ignorance, the perverseness of the people, his longing for the tranquility of his former life”. Having divested himself of every outward symbol of papal dignity, he slipped away from Naples and attempted to retire to his old life of solitude.
The next pope to resign of his own accord was Pope Benedict XVI in 2013, 719 years later.
The former Celestine, now reverted to Pietro Angelerio, was not allowed to become a hermit once again. Various parties had opposed his resignation and the new Pope Boniface VIII had reason to worry that one of them might install him as an antipope. To prevent this he ordered Pietro to accompany him to Rome. Pietro escaped and hid in the woods before attempting to return to Sulmona to resume monastic life. This proved impossible and Pietro was captured after an attempt to flee to Dalmatia was thwarted when a tempest forced his ship to return to port. Boniface imprisoned him in the castle of Fumone near Ferentino in Campagna, attended by two monks of his order, where Pietro died after 10 months at about the age of 81. His supporters spread the allegation that Boniface had treated him harshly and ultimately executed Pietro but the historical evidence is lacking. Pietro was buried at Ferentino but his body was subsequently removed to the Basilica Santa Maria di Collemaggio in Aquila.
Philip IV of France, who had supported Celestine and bitterly opposed Boniface, nominated Celestine for sainthood following the election of Pope Clement V. The latter signed a decree of dispensation on 13 May 1306 to investigate the nomination. He was canonised on 5 May 1313 after a consistory. Most modern interest in Celestine V has focused on his resignation. He was the first pope to formalise the resignation process and is often said to have been the first to resign. In fact he was preceded in this by Pope Pontian (235), John XVIII (1009), Benedict IX (1045) and Gregory VI (1046). As noted above, Celestine’s own decision was brought about by mild pressure from the Church establishment. His reinstitution of Gregory X’s conclave system established by the papal bull Ubi periculum has been respected ever since.
A 1966 visit by Pope Paul VI to Celestine’s place of death in Ferentino along with his speech in homage of Celestine prompted speculation that the Pontiff was considering retirement.
Celestine’s remains survived the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake with one Italian spokesman saying it was “another great miracle by the pope”. They were then recovered from the basilica shortly after the earthquake. While inspecting the earthquake damage during a 28 April 2009 visit to the Aquila, Pope Benedict XVI visited Celestine’s remains in the badly damaged Santa Maria di Collemaggio and left the woolen pallium he wore during his papal inauguration in April 2005 on his glass casket as a gift.
To mark the 800th anniversary of Celestine’s birth, Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed the Celestine year from 28 August 2009 through 29 August 2010. Benedict XVI visited the Sulmona Cathedral, near Aquila, on 4 July 2010 as part of his observance of the Celestine year and prayed before the altar consecrated by Celestine containing his relics, on 10 October 1294.