(Aug.–Sept. 903: d. early 904)
Parish priest at Priapi, near Ardea 37 km south of Rome, he succeeded Benedict IV. How a man who did not belong to the Roman clergy came to be elected in this period is not known; it has been conjectured that the clergy and nobility could not agree on a local candidate and therefore settled for a stranger of whose high repute they had heard. Nothing is known of his earlier career, but the fact that Auxilius (c. 870–c. 930), the champion of the posthumously arraigned and controversial Formosus, describes him as an admirable and holy person suggests that, like his immediate predecessors, he was a pro-Formosan. After he had held office for only 30 days there was a palace revolution and one of his clergy, the priest Christopher, overthrew him, flung him into gaol, and had himself made pope. As it seems likely that Christopher was a Formosan too, there may have been a split in the Formosan faction, perhaps prompted by resentment against someone who must have seemed to many an outsider. Christopher himself was soon displaced by Sergius III and sent to join Leo in prison, where after languishing several weeks in misery both were eventually murdered.
A legend which first appears in the 11th century identifies Leo V with Tutwal (also Tual, Tugdual), patron saint of Tréguier, on the north coast of Brittany. The legend, which seems of French rather than Breton origin, relates that the holy man, who in fact lived in the 6th century and founded a monastery at Tréguier, was visiting Rome in hopes of an audience with the pope, but when he arrived there found the apostolic throne vacant and the clergy and people busy with an election. As the result of a miracle the choice fell on him, and as pope he assumed the name Leo the Breton (Britigena). The story probably developed from a misunderstanding of the title Pabu or Papa which, like other Breton saints, Tutwal bore.
LP ii. 234JW i. 444, ii. 746E. Dümmler, Auxilius und Vulgarius (Leipzig, 1866), 60 and 135Flodoard, De Chr. triumph. 12. 7 (PL 135: 831)DBI lxiv. 501–2 (U. Longo)DTC ix. 316 (É. Amann)Levillain ii. 922 (K. Herbers)NCE viii. 483 (O. J. Blum)BSS xii. 723 f. (H. Platelle: for the legend)