Boniface VII


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(antipope June–July or Aug. 984–20 July 985)

A Roman, son of Ferrucius and himself named Franco, he was a cardinal deacon in 972, and on the death of John XIII on 6 Sept. seems to have been the candidate favoured by the Crescentii family, then dominant in Rome. The man chosen by the imperial party, however, and approved by Emperor Otto I (962–73), was Benedict VI, who had little following among the aristocracy and whose weakness was exposed on Otto's death in May 973. In June 974, when the new Emperor Otto II (973–83) was preoccupied with difficulties in Germany, there was a rising against Benedict led by Crescentius I de Theodora; he was imprisoned in Castel Sant'Angelo, and Franco was consecrated pope with the title Boniface VII. The emperor's representative, Count Sicco, hastened from Spoleto and demanded Benedict's release; but Boniface, aware that Sicco was certain to restore the legal pope, had him strangled. Horror at the murder turned the populace against him, and soon he had to take refuge in Castel Sant'Angelo. Sicco stormed the fortress but Boniface escaped, taking part of the papal treasure with him, and made for Byzantine territory in south Italy.

Meanwhile Benedict VII (974–83) was elected pope in Oct. with the approval of Sicco and, apparently, the Crescentii. One of his first measures was to hold a synod at which Boniface was excommunicated, the sentence being circulated in the east as well as the west. The usurper was far from finished, however, and was even able, in summer 980, possibly during the pope's absence, to establish himself temporarily in Rome. Benedict sent an urgent appeal to Otto, and managed to return only in Mar. 981 accompanied by the emperor and armed soldiers. Boniface was driven out and fled to Constantinople.

Four years later, exploiting the confusion following Otto II's death on 7 Dec. 983 and the unpopularity of Benedict's successor John XIV, Boniface made a second, successful if short-lived, comeback. Supplied by Byzantium with ample funds, he returned to Rome in Apr. 984, found powerful allies, had John imprisoned, deposed, and four months later (20 Aug. 984) murdered, and then reascended the papal throne. Almost nothing is known of his reign, but the fact that it lasted eleven months without imperial intervention is proof not only of the weakness of the government but of the support which, in spite of opposition (to quell which he had the cardinal deacon John blinded), he must have enjoyed.

On 20 July 985 he died suddenly. The conjecture that he was assassinated, the victim of a palace conspiracy, is plausible but not supported by the sources. There was certainly a revulsion of public opinion, for his death saw a furious outburst of detestation against him, and his corpse, stripped of its vestments, was dragged through the streets and exposed naked beneath Marcus Aurelius' statue, then in front of the Lateran, but now on the Capitol, where people trampled on it and stabbed it with their spears. In popular speech his name was twisted from ‘Bonifatius’ to ‘Malefatius’.


Subjects: Christianity.

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