Popes in a Year
#110 - Pope Stephen V (VI)
Pope from September 885 - September 14, 891
Died: September 14, 891
Give me the scoop on Stephen V.
Stephen was born in Rome, the son of a wealthy Roman aristocrat. His father had him educated by Bishop Zachary, the papal librarian. Under Pope Marinus I, Stephen was elevated to cardinal-priest of Santi Quattro Coronati (“Four Crowned Martyrs”). Though Adrian III was no fan of Stephen’s, the latter was nevertheless renowned for his holiness, and as a result was unanimously elected the 110th pope in September of 885.
As pope, Stephen V faced the issue of famine and a plague of locusts in the Eternal City. As luck would have it, the papal treasury barely had two
to rub together, so Stephen was forced to rely on his father’s wealth to feed the poor, ransom slaves, and restore churches. Stephen was also successful in exiling the pesky Photius, a layman who kept trying to usurp the Patriarch of Constantinople, to a monastery once and for all. Stephen died September 14, 891, after six years in office. He was buried in St. Peter’s Basilica.
What was he known for?
After Charles the Fat, the Holy Roman Emperor, died in 887, Stephen V was left picking up the pieces. The old empire was all but dead along with him, but the pope could do nothing if not try and restore some order. He practically adopted Guido III, the Count of Spoleto, as a son, and eventually even crowned him emperor (891). He also affirmed Louis the Blind as king of the region of Provence in southeastern France. On the Church front, Stephen kept peace by intervening in several irregular and suspicious elections of French and German bishops. Despite his best efforts, however, the empire was largely vulnerable to renewed barbarian invasions as the Church entered continually-dark times.
Pope Stephen V sometimes is seen with the Roman numeral “VI” behind his name, as well. Since the original Pope Stephen II actually died prior to consecration in 752, he’s usually omitted from modern lists, with the next “Stephen” being referred to as "Pope Stephen II" instead. Still, you’ll usually see the names of Popes Stephen II, III, IV, V, and VI followed by the next chronological Roman numeral in parentheses, to give a small nod to the first “the second.”
What else was going on in the world at the time?
In 886, King Alfred the Great of England recaptured “Lundenburgh” for the Anglo-Saxons, after it had been in Viking hands for many decades. This event officially marked the beginning of the City of London as we now know it.
Coming Monday...Pope Formosus
SOURCES (and further reading)
John, E. (1964). The Popes: A concise biographical history. New York: Hawthorn Books.
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Sent by Matthew Sewell on Friday, June 2, 2017 at 2:00AM