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Saint Celestine V

Saint Celestine V
  • Century: 13th Century
  • Patronage: Bookbinders
  • Feast Day: May 19th

St. Celestine V, was born Pietro Angelerio.  He was a monk and hermit who founded the order of the Celestines.  In 1294, he was elected Pope in the Catholic Church’s last non-conclave Papal election, ending a two year impasse.  Among the only surviving edicts he issued as Pope, was the confirmation of the right of the Pope to abdicate.  All of his other official acts were annulled by his successor, Pope Boniface VIII.  Celestine resigned stating his desire to return to his humble, pre-papal life.  On December 13, 1294, he announced his resignation.  He was then imprisoned by Pope Boniface VIII, in the castle of Fumone in the Campagna region, where he died after nine months of being held prisoner.  He was canonized in 1313, and no other Pope has taken the name “Celestine”. 

He was born in a town called St. Angelo Limosano, in the Kingdom of Sicily.  After his father’s death, he began to work in the fields.  His mother was a key figure in his spiritual development, as she wished for a different future for her son.  From the time he was a child, he showed great intelligence and love for others.  He became a Benedictine Monk when he was 17.  He was drawn to asceticism and solitude, and in 1239 he retired to a solitary cavern on the Mountain Morrone.  Five years later, he relocated with two companions to an even more remote mountain, trying to follow the example of St. John the Baptist.  He practiced severe penitential practices. 

It was while living as an ascetic monk that he founded his Celestines Order in 1244.  He drew up a Rule and Pope Urban IV approved it. He lived to see himself as Superior General, and it grew to thirty-six Monasteries, with more than 600 Monks.   After seeing this success, he gave the power over to another, and once again moved to a still more remote place, to give himself entirely up to solitary prayer and penance. 

He was elected as Pope, but with no political experience, Celestine proved to be an especially weak and incompetent Pope.  He held his office in the Kingdom of Naples, out of contact with the Roman Curia and under the complete power of King Charles II.  He appointed the King’s favorites to all the Church’s offices, sometime several to the same office.  He even went, as far as to appoint three cardinals to govern the Church during Advent, while he fasted, something that was not well received.  Realizing his lack of authority and personal incompatibility with Papal duties, he consulted with Cardinal Benedetta Caetani his eventual successor about the possibility of resignation.  His supporters thought he had been kept prisoner and was treated harshly under the new Pope, some even thought he was executed.   The historical evidence is unclear, and he did die 9 months after his retirement, while being held against his will in a Papal Castle.  He was buried at Ferentino, but his body was removed to the Basilica Santa Maria di Collemaggio in Aquila.  Many of his supporters thought that he was ousted as Pope, and that his successor Pope Boniface VIII was responsible for holding him captive.  It is worth noting, that this is the tomb that Pope Benedict the XVI went to visit, praying over this saint, just prior to announcing his retirement. 

Practical Take Away

St. Celestine V, was born Pietro Angelerio.  He was a monk and hermit who founded the order of the Celestines.  In 1294, he was elected Pope in the Catholic Church’s last non-conclave Papal election, ending a two year impasse.  Among the only surviving edicts he issued as Pope, was the confirmation of the right of the Pope to abdicate.  All of his other official acts were annulled by his successor, Pope Boniface VIII.  Celestine resigned stating his desire to return to his humble, pre-papal life.  On December 13, 1294, he announced his resignation.  He was then imprisoned by Pope Boniface VIII, in the castle of Fumone in the Campagna region, where he died after nine months of being held prisoner.  He was canonized in 1313, and no other Pope has taken the name “Celestine”.