Synodus Horrenda: The Macabre Trial of the Corpse of Pope Formoso

Synodus Horrenda: The Macabre Trial of the Corpse of Pope Formoso

In AD 897 the holy space of the Basilica of St John of Lateran, Rome, was violated by a truly sinister event inside the dark walls of the house of God.  In the august presence of the Emperor Lamberto of Spoleto, Pope Stephen VI and the judicial curia, an unusual defendant was put on trial: the corpse of Pope Formoso, accused - it is believed unjustly - of the most atrocious wickedness. 

On the left, Pope Formoso, whose body was exhumed, tried and condemned (Public Domain). On the right, an impressive 'close-up' of Lauren’s painting of the Pope’s corpse during the macabre trial.(Public Domain)

On the left, Pope Formoso, whose body was exhumed, tried and condemned (Public Domain). On the right, an impressive 'close-up' of Lauren’s painting of the Pope’s corpse during the macabre trial.(Public Domain)

The Absurdity of the Corpse on Trial

Formoso, born in Rome in AD 816, was the first cardinal of the suburbicarian seat of Porto-Santa Rufina, already constituted in the third century, and reigned over the throne of Peter from AD 891 until his death on April 4, 896.  In addition to the judges - among whom were Pietro di Albano, Silvestro di Porto and Giovanni di Velletri - the aisles were occupied by both high prelates and the common people anxious to attend a macabre show which more than any other could have aroused their curiosity, interest and horror.


Become a member to read more OR login here