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Pope Boniface VIII

Boniface VIII, né Benedict Gaetano (ca. 1235 - October 11, 1303) was Pope of the Roman Catholic Church from 1294 to 1303. Boniface's given name was either Benedict Cajetan or Benedetto Gaetano. He was elected in 1294 after Celestine V abdicated. (One of Boniface's first acts as pontiff was to imprison his predecessor in the castle of Fumone, where he died at the age of 91, attended by two monks of his order.) In 1300 Boniface instituted the jubilees, which afterwards became a source of both profit and scandal to the church.

Boniface VIII put forward some of the strongest claims to temporal as well as spiritual supremacy of any Pope and meddled incessantly in foreign affairs. In his Bull of 1302, Unam Sanctam, Boniface VIII proclaimed that it "is necessary for salvation that every living creature be under submission to the Roman pontiff", pushing papal supremacy to its historical extreme. These views and his intervention in 'temporal' affairs led to many bitter quarrels with the emperor Albert I of Habsburg, the powerful family of the Colonnas and with Philip the Fair of France.

Boniface VIII's quarrel with Philip the Fair became so resentful that he excommunicated him in 1303. However, before the Pope could lay France under an interdict, Boniface VIII was seized at Anagni by a party of horsemen under Guillaume de Nogaret, an agent of Philip and Sciarra Colonna. Philip and the Colonnas demanded that he resign, to which Boniface responded, "Sooner die." Although he was released from capitivity after three days, he died of shock a month later, on October 11, 1303. He was buried in St. Peter's Basilica, in a grandiose tomb that he had designed himself. (Allegedly, when the tomb cracked open three centuries after his death, his body was revealed to be perfectly incorrupt.) No subsequent popes were to repeat Boniface VIII's claims.

Dante portrayed Boniface VIII, though alive at the date of his vision, as destined for the Inferno—specifically the Eighth Circle, in a special pit reserved for Popes guilty of simony—in his Divine Comedy. The pontiff earned this when his feud with the Colonnas led him to demolish the city of Palestrina, killing 6,000 citizens and destroying both the home of Julius Caesar and a shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

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Initial text after the 9th edition (1880s) of a public domain encyclopedia. Please update as needed.

Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04