Spirituality for Today – June 2016 – Volume 20, Issue 11

The 118th Pope
Pope Leo V

An image of Pope Leo V, the 118th PopePope Leo V, the 118th Pope

Pope Leo V (903) – The sad story of the few months reign of Pope Leo V warns of the fatal risk of being not only a pope, but also dealing with an anti-pope in the early tenth century. Mystery surrounds the election of Leo V. He was a priest who was not a member of the clergy of Rome and that fact made his election a conundrum for historians. It is unknown if he was chosen because of a sterling reputation or if he was a compromise candidate, but, nevertheless, he was gone before the dust settled. A cardinal-priest named Christopher overthrew Leo and had him imprisoned. Christopher named himself to be pope, but he was overthrown by a priest named Sergius who ordered both Pope Leo and the antipope Christopher murdered. Although the elimination of rivals was standard fare for rulers of this age, it is shocking to find such practices among churchmen.

As an addendum to the story of the most ill-fortuned Leo V, Tugdual, a Breton saint, was the subject of a later legend of actually being Pope Leo V. The saint was said to have been marvelously chosen to be pope while he was on a pilgrimage to the Holy City. In truth, Tugdual lived four hundred years earlier.

The burial site for Pope Leo V is disputed. He is interred either in the Basilica of Saint Peter or on the grounds of the Lateran. May he rest in peace!

Habemus papam