WTF Fun Fact 13152 – The Cadaver Synod

In 897, Pope Stephen VI held what is now known as the “Cadaver Synod.” He put Pope Formosus on trial. The catch was that Pope Formosus had been dead for about seven months. In what could (but should probably not) be described as a medieval Weekend At Bernie’s, the pope’s corpse was propped up on the papal throne throughout the interrogation.

What was the Cadaver Synod?

There’s no getting around the fact that this was a weird moment in papal history.

Pope Stephen VI even had Pope Formosus’ corpse dressed up in ecclesiastical robes for his “trial.” He hired a deacon to “speak” on the corpse’s behalf. All this is to say that Pope Stephen VI really felt like he was owning a corpse.

And if you think this all sounds crazy, consider the fact that there was an earthquake in the middle of the trial. One that the current pope was said not to notice he was so obsessed with his interrogation.

The verdict and aftermath

You’ll probably be unsurprised to know that Pope Formosus was found guilty of usurping the papcy. According to JSTOR Daily (cited below): “Stephen VI declared all his acts as pope null and void: all consecrations, all appointments, all ordinations were undone. Formosus’ body was stripped of its rich garments and dressed in rags. Three of his fingers—the fingers of the benediction, with which, in life, he had given blessings—were cut off, and his body was cast into the Tiber River.”

The living pope may have felt like a winner, but he was imprisoned and strange to death within months of the trial, having been pope only around one year.

The papacy was a particularly high-stakes position in the Middle Ages since the pope got to appoint the Holy Roman Emperor. The following pope lasted around a year and the next only roughly three weeks. But at least there were no more corpse trials.

Why did this happen?

You’re probably why Pope Stephen VI would go to so much trouble as to hold the trial of a corpse. To this we defer to JSTOR Daily:

“To understand this, you have to understand the importance of relics in the medieval era. The dead body of a holy person was more than rotting flesh; it was transformed by death into a holy relic, a source of miraculous power. These relics were the center of religious life. 

As historian Lionel Rothkrug writes:

Through their relics, saints continued to be members of the community: hearing the pleas of petitioners, responding to the needs of the people with divine intercession, and receiving their gifts of thanks. They were participants in the daily lives of the people that venerated them. In this sense, they were still alive.”

Apparently, Stephen VI wanted Pope Formosus both dead and forgotten.  WTF fun facts

Source: “The Cadaver Synod: Putting a Dead Pope on Trial” — JSTOR Daily

WTF Fun Fact 13057 – The Pope & Doc Martens

Did you know Pope John Paul II wore Doc Martens boots? Not only that, but he ordered dozens of pairs of the boots in white for himself and his staff!

The Pope gets stylish with Doc Martens

In a now-archived story from 1996 (cited below), the Associated Press (AP) reported that Doc Martens’ military-style kickers had a new fan – Pope JP2.

They noted that “The Pontiff has ordered 100 pairs of the cushion-soled boots for his Vatican staff, including a pair of white brogues in his own size.”

In fact, he wasn’t the only religious leader to own a pair, the AP reported that the Dalai Lama owned a pair as well.

The boots, originally sold as solid and practical work boots, have long been seen on style icons. But with the Pope’s clothing so formal, we never really would have seen that coming. And most of the time, they would have been hidden by his robes.

Still, sometimes you just need solid footwear to get the job done, no matter what that job is.

Vatican fashion

If you look back at photos of Pope John Paul II, you’ll often see him in some practical-yet-colorful blue slip-on (blue suede shoes, if you will). Yet, because part of the Vatican’s Doc Martens order included a special set in the pope’s size (size 9), it seemed clear that he was reserving the right to stomp around in them occasionally as well.

“The holy order includes a pair of the classic eight-eyelet bovver boots (quite frequently worn by skinheads) and three pairs of brogues in black, blue and white,” noted the AP.

The AP reported that “Among the first to try out the new Doc Martens boots in the Vatican will be the Pope’s Swiss guards.” That we’re less surprised about – because have you seen those uniforms? The boots would be the most practical aspect.

The original Doc Martens were manufactured in Northampton, England, though they were sold worldwide. If you’re a Gen X-er, you may remember lacing up a pair while popping in Nirvana’s “Nevermind” CD (or cassette!). They were big with the grunge crowd.

The receipts

This story wasn’t something assumed based on rumor alone. Doc Marten’s spokesperson Louise Hurren told the AP:

“Well the order was placed by the Vatican and they have asked us to supply a number of styles including the most famous eight eyelet boot in black, white and navy leather and also some three eyelet shoes”.

Stylish!  WTF fun facts


WTF Fun Fact 13045 – The Tale of Two Lovers

One of the most popular novels of the 15th century was an erotic one. A man who later became pope wrote it. It’s called The Tale of Two Lovers.

No stranger to love

It turns out that like many early popes, Enea Silvio Bartolomeo Piccolomini had an interesting life even before his rise to power. Born in October 1405 in what is now Pienza in Tuscany, Piccolomini was already a secretary to bishops and cardinals by 1435. But that’s when things got a little steamy.

In 1435, the Church sent him on a diplomatic mission to Scotland to meet with King James I. The boat trips weren’t exactly luxury cruises in those days. So when he got to shore, he vowed to walk all the way from Dunbar to Whitekirk to give thanks at the nearest shrine to the Virgin Mary. That meant trekking 8 miles – in the snow. He had leg pain for the rest of his life after that.

At some point after his arduous trek, he started having some impure thoughts. We know he fathered children in Scotland (as well as England), but that didn’t derail his religious career.

The tale of two lovers

In 1444, Piccolomini must have had some pent up lust to get out. That’s when he set about writing a steamy novel called Historia de duobus amantibus (The tale of two lovers).

The epitolary novel (one whose story is told via a series of letters between characters) is set in SIena. It’s about a married woman named Lucretia and Euryalus, a courtier of the Duke of Austria. They fall in love, realize their feeling are mutual, and begin writing erotic letters to each other.

Piccolomini is responsible for the words, but by the time the book was printed, the publisher, Ulrich Zell, also found someone to supply erotic images to go along with it.

Naturally, it became hugely popular (even if someone couldn’t read, they could still enjoy the images, after all).

While the book was set in Siena and written by an Italian priest, one of the remaining copies lies in the National Museum of Scotland (and another at the British Museum). However, it went through many printings.

Piccolomini becomes pope

Years after the novel was written, Piccolomini became a Cardinal. In another interesting turn of events, he served on a papal conclave (the meeting to select the next pope) and nominated himself for the role. No one knows precisely what goes on in these meetings, but it appears to have been a unanimous vote to crown Piccolomini over a wealthy French Cardinal who was also in the running.

The Church made the university-educated, world-traveling, dad-of-at-least-2 pope on September 3, 1458. He even chose the name Pope Pius II.  WTF fun facts

Source: “The Tale of Two Lovers” — National Library of Scotland

WTF Fun Fact 12811 – Pope Francis Conducts Mid-Air Wedding

Imagine being on the same flight as Pope Francis (we’d feel pretty safe, all considered). Then imagine striking up a conversation with him and having him offer to officiate a second wedding for you!

Pope Francis’ mid-air wedding offer

In 2018, Paola Podest Ruiz, age 41, and groom Carlos Ciuffardi Elorriaga, age 39 were working as flight attendants on a flight from Santiago to Iquique, Chile. The couple had already been legally married in a civil ceremony in early 2010, but they had planned to follow it up with a church ceremony.

However, on February 27, an enormous earthquake hit the country – it measured 8.8 on the Richter scale and caused a massive tsunami that further damaged coastal areas. 525 people lost their lives, and it was clearly no time for a wedding. But the couple always regretted not being married in the church.

Of course, Pope Francis, being a big fan of a Catholic wedding blessing offered to help the couple out by conducting a ceremony right then and there, on the plane, in the sky!

As far as anyone knows, it’s the first time a pope has conducted a mid-flight wedding.

The couple’s reaction

Despite being legally married for years, the couple jumped at the opportunity.

Mr. Elorriaga told Sky News (cited below): “We told him that we are husband and wife. That we are married. That we have two daughters and that we would have loved to receive his blessing. All of a sudden he asked us if we were married by the church too. We are not married by the church because the 2010 earthquake happened on the day we got married.”

The pontiff then asked the most important question:

“He took our hands and he asked if there was love in our marriage and if we want to keep on being together for life. He asked if wanted to stay together until the end. We said ‘Yes’. We laughed for a while. It was very moving. He blessed us. He married us. It was a huge emotion, we are very, very happy.”

The Vatican confirms the story

You might be tempted to think the story is at least partially made up, but Vatican spokesman Greg Burke confirmed the mid-air wedding.

“Something totally extraordinary happened today, which was that the hostesses and the stewards going to get their photos taken and one said: ‘We are a couple, we met on a plane.’ And as they walked back they said that the Pope married them in a religious ceremony, which obviously has never happened on a papal plane before. They were super happy. The first time the Pope heard about it was this morning, it wasn’t part of the plan.”

We just wonder…does the drink cart court as an open bar ceremony?

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Pope marries flight attendants in mid-air wedding” — Sky News

WTF Fun Fact 12582 – Blessing a Sneeze

When someone sneezes, it seems rude not to acknowledge it in some way. In fact, saying “bless you” or “God bless you” has become a part of modern etiquette.

But where did this come from?

Most people have been told that the habit comes from the belief that the soul momentarily separates from the body during a sneeze. Therefore, “bless you” is a way of sending your best wishes their way in case the soul doesn’t come back. Some also believe that blessing the soul prevents it from being snatched up by evil spirits while it was disconnected from the body during a sneeze.

But it’s likely that the origin of “God bless you” goes back to 590 AD when a plague was ravaging Europe. Sneezing was often the first sign that someone was ill (and while they didn’t realize it at the time, it was also the way the plague spread). In order to bless the would of those who may get deathly ill, Pope Gregory the Great commanded that sneezing people be given a quick blessing.

While “God bless you” and “bless you” go back to the 6th century, the acknowledgment of a sneeze goes back even further – by hundreds of years. Roman author Pliny the Elder wrote in his 77 AD Natural History:

“Why is it that we salute a person when he sneezes, an observation which Tiberius Caesar, they say, the most unsociable of men, as we all know, used to exact, when riding in his chariot even?”

The superstition predates the pope, but Pliny offers no explanation as to why the sneeze was acknowledged.

Of course, there are secular ways of acknowledging a sneeze as well. Those who don’t believe in disembodied souls can keep it polite with a quick “gesundheit.”

– WTF fun facts

Source: “Why We Feel Compelled to Say ‘Bless You’ When Someone Sneezes” — The New York Times

WTF Fun Fact 12451 – The Bishop of the Moon

Archbishop William D. Borders was the founding bishop of the Diocese of Orlando, established in 1968. It covered 13 counties and nearly 10,000 square miles of central Florida. And possibly the moon.

Now, the Catholic Church has made no claim at all to the moon, but Borders’ territory happened to include Brevard, Florida, home to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that is where the U.S. launches its space missions.

At the time of the moon landing in July of 1969, many religious leaders praised the space program, seeing it as proof that God’s creation was neverending.

But for Borders, the moon landing was a little more personal. According to the 1917 Code of Canon Law (aka The Pio-Benedictine Code), which was in effect until 1983, any newly discovered territory was to be placed under the jurisdiction of the diocese from which the expedition that discovered that territory originated.

In other words, since the Apollo 11 mission launched from Cape Canaveral and that was in Borders’ territory, it was technically under his jurisdiction. A couple of other bishops joked that they might have dibs, but it was all in good fun.

In fact, to keep the joke going, Bishop Borders mentioned this to Pope Paul VI on a visit to the Vatican in late 1969. The pope had watched the moon landing with great interest (the Vatican has one of the best observatories in the world), but we’re not quite sure what he thought of the claim.

The story of their meeting comes to us via Renae Bennett, Orlando’s diocesan archivist, who wrote:

During his visit, Bishop Borders mentioned to the pope that he was the ‘bishop of the moon.’ Responding to the pontiff’s perplexed reaction, Bishop Borders explained that according to the 1917 Code of Canon Law (in effect at that time), any newly discovered territory was placed under the jurisdiction of the diocese from which the expedition that discovered that territory originated. Since Cape Canaveral, launching site for the Apollo moon missions, was in Brevard County and part of the Diocese of Orlando, then in addition to being bishop of 13 counties, he was also bishop of the moon,” Bennett wrote. That would add more than 14.6 million square miles to the Diocese of Orlando, making that diocese the largest in the known universe.”

Of course, it all means very little, but that’s what makes it a fun fact.

Another fun fact: This would all make the current Bishop of Orlando, John G. Noonan, not only bishop of the moon but also of the International Space Station, which launched from Kennedy Space Center. – WTF fun facts

Source: “A Catholic bishop of the moon?” — The Catholic Weekly