Bl. Victor III


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(24 May 1086; 9 May–16 Sept. 1087)

The death of Gregory VII in exile at Salerno on 25 May 1085 threw the reform party in Rome, weakened by desertions to Antipope Clement III, into confusion; almost a year elapsed before, under pressure from the Norman prince Jordan of Capua, the cardinals, much against his will, elected Desiderius, abbot of Monte Cassino. Although not one of the three recommended by the dying Gregory, he seemed the right choice because of his influence with the Normans, whose support was now more than ever necessary, and because his record suggested that he might effect a rapprochement with Emperor Henry IV (1056–1106). He adopted the name of Victor II, Henry III's (1039–56) nominee and guardian of Henry IV, as a token of conciliation.

Originally Daufer or Daufari, born c.1027 and related to the Lombard dukes of Benevento, he had early tried out the life of a hermit, then become a monk at the monastery of Santa Sofia in Benevento (where he took the name Desiderius), and finally, after service with Leo IX, entered Monte Cassino in 1055, becoming abbot on 19 Apr. 1058 after the death of Frederick of Lorraine, who had retained the abbacy even after becoming Pope Stephen IX. His rule marked a golden period, for he not only completely rebuilt the abbey, but expanded its property and library, and encouraged literature and the arts; he himself (1076–9) wrote a treatise on St Benedict's miracles. In Mar. 1059*Nicholas II named him cardinal priest of Santa Cecilia and papal vicar of the monasteries of south Italy. That summer he negotiated the alliance between the papacy and the Normans, with whom he had cultivated good relations, and in June 1080 reconciled Gregory VII and the Norman Robert Guiscard, duke of Apulia (c. 1015–85). In 1082 he incurred the pope's wrath, but probably not excommunication, by attempting to mediate between him and Henry IV and promising the latter to do what he honourably could to help him to obtain the imperial crown; but he sheltered Gregory, fleeing from Rome in spring 1084, at Monte Cassino, and was with him at Salerno, and possibly on his deathbed.

Four days after his reluctant election, before he could be consecrated, Victor was forced by rioting and other disturbances to leave Rome. Disheartened, perhaps also aware of the indignation his elevation had caused among the more fanatical Gregorians, he laid aside the papal insignia, retired to Monte Cassino, and resumed his functions as abbot. In Mar. 1087, however, at the instigation of Jordan of Capua, he convened a synod at Capua, not as pope but as ex officio papal vicar in southern Italy. On this his election of the previous year was activated and he was persuaded, in the teeth of bitter opposition from a minority led by Archbishop Hugh of Lyons (c.1040–1106), finally to accept office. On 9 May, after Norman troops had wrested the Leonine city from Antipope Clement III, he was at last consecrated in St Peter's.


Subjects: Christianity.

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