Benedict VI


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(19 Jan. 973–July 974)

Nothing is known of his background except that he was a Roman, son of a Hildebrand who became a monk, and was cardinal priest of S. Teodoro when he was elected. The exact date and circumstances of his election are obscure, but the increasingly dominant Crescentii family strongly backed a candidate of its own, the deacon Franco. Benedict, however, had the support of both the imperial party and, in all probability, of reforming circles opposed to a purely political appointment. He must have been elected in Sept. or Oct. 972; the delay in proceeding to his consecration was caused by the necessity, under the Ottonian privilege of 962, of obtaining the authorization of Emperor Otto I (962–73), then in Germany.

For the moment the Crescentii had to swallow their disappointment. Benedict embarked on policies characteristic of the Ottonian papacy, confirming the precedence of Trier as the oldest see in Germany, favouring reforming monasteries, and strictly forbidding bishops to charge fees for ordinations and consecrations. The death of Otto, however, on 7 May 973, fatally undermined his position in faction-riven Rome, and a year later, at a juncture when the new emperor, Otto II (973–83), was preoccupied with troubles in Germany, a nationalist party arose against him, led by the consul Crescentius I (d. 984), son of Theodora the Younger (d. c.950), and head of the Crescentian clan. Although concrete evidence is sparse, it is likely that the Byzantines, anxious to exploit the crisis in the empire and to overthrow German sovereignty in Italy, had a hand in the revolt. In June 974 Benedict was seized by the rebels and imprisoned in Castel Sant'Angelo to await trial. Nothing is known of the process or of the charges brought against him, but the deacon Franco was hastily elected and consecrated pope with the name Boniface VII. The imperial representative, Count Sicco of Spoleto, hurried to Rome in July and peremptorily demanded Benedict's release, but in vain. Boniface had him strangled by a priest named Stephen, probably judging that his own title to the holy see would look more credible if its legitimate tenant were out of the way.

Two privileges purporting to emanate from Benedict VI and to settle a dispute between Archbishop Frederick of Salzburg and Bishop Piligrim of Passau over jurisdiction in Hungary have been shown to be forgeries.

Further Reading

LP ii. 255–7JW i. 477–9, ii. 707ZPR 203–11DHGE viii. 38–43 (F. Baix)DBI viii. 344–6 (P. Delogu)P. E. Schramm, ‘Kaiser, Basileus und Papst in der Zeit der Ottonen’, HZ33 (1924), esp. 436 f.Levillain i. 155–6 (R. Grosse)Mann iv. 305–14Z1: 99 f.Z2: 202 f., 209Seppelt ii. 377–9

Subjects: Christianity.

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