Oct 17, 2009


Today (or yesterday, depending) is the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr, successor to St. Peter as bishop of the See of Antioch, and who suffered martyrdom by being devoured by beasts in the Flavian Amphitheatre (Roman Colosseum).  I can't imagine a more terrifying death, except perhaps being buried alive. The courage of the early martyrs, many of whom  walked singing to their deaths we are told, filled with a supernatural light and joy, is a testimony to the extraordinary outpouring of the Spirit which accompanied the birth of this Near Eastern religion, a faith which was soon to conquer the Colosseum itself. For some unexplainable reason, this led me to reflect on the death of St. Stanislaw of Krakow, also bishop and martyr and patron saint of Poland, together with St. Aldabert of Prague, whose church is right next door to my apartment. Aldabert was invited by the Duke of Poland to evangelize the Prussians of Pomerania. He, too, suffered a martyr's death and his remains were first buried in Gniezno, Poland, before being transported to Prague in 1039. St. Stanislow's death remains something of a mystery, even though Pope John Paul II, when Bishop of Krakow, ordered the remains of the saint to be exhumed in order to ascertain his exact cause of death. Some say King Boleslaw, with whom he was in dispute, strangled him with his own hands, because the king's own soldiers were too afraid to touch the holy bishop.

Pious legend maintains, however, that the good bishop's body was hacked to pieces by the king's men, but that his members miraculously reunited themselves in an act of 'spontaneous reintegration.' No wonder Cardinal Wojtyla wanted the  holy bishop's remains to be exhumed. What was the final result? No one seems to know, since the final results were never published, or so I'm told by Polish friends here in Prague.

From the dismembered remains of Saint Stanislaw, my mind then wandered to the skull of Pope Celestine V. Why you may ask? Was it the lateness of the hour or that last glass of Merlot? Au Contraire, mon amie (or ami, as the case may be), I thrive in the night hours and the Merlot was pleasantly comforting and warmed the soul. No, I made the leap from the exhumation of St. Stanislaw's miraculously reintegrated remains to the skull of Pope Celestine V, because in 1988, as we now know, Pope John Paul II ordered a high tech CT scan to be made of Celestine's coffin, with the express purpose of ascertaining the cause of death, an examination that revealed a suspicious hole in the cranium of the  13th century pope that 'more or 'less' confirms the rumors that Pope Celestine was murdered. The likely culprit = you guessed it (didn't you?). His successor (since Celestine resigned), Pope Boniface VIII.

"How ghastly, gory and ghoulish, " I can hear you exclaim. "What kind of people are these rulers in rudabaker red and pompous purple?" Well, rumor has it that Boniface, one of whose first acts as pontiff was to imprison his predecessor in the Castle of Fumone in Ferentino, was enraged by Celestine's austerity and humility, a witness of holiness that roared up and down Europe in silent condemnation of Boniface's own lust for temporal power. To echo Cromwell in A Man For All Seasons, this was a silence that betokened, a silence with no need of an interpreter. Celestine's "abdication of such immense power, wealth, and material comfort, in pursuit of austere, humble surroundings, was a most pious and admirable sacrifice demonstrating Celestine V's profound and rare degree of spiritual fortitude and virtue." (Wikipedia). Such a contrary witness could not be allowed to live and so he was dispatched with a spike through the brain. Or so the rumor goes. Dante  in his Divina Commedia placed Celestine just outside the gates of hell because his abdication paved the way for the rule of  Boniface, whom Dante placed squarely within the tormenting flames.

And here is a photo of Pope Benedict and George, at it again, praying before the remains of Pope Celestine V. Do they know something we don't? Or is Benedict, who thinks in milennia  and centuries rather than in decades, looking towards the time when the memory of one murdered Pope can make more palatable and acceptable the recognition and acknowledgment of the murder of a second? And is this what primarily motivated Pope John Paul II to order the examination of Pope Celestine in 1988, at the same time as John Cornwell's Vatican authorized investigation of the death of John Paul I was underway, the  "results" of which were published in the book,  A Thief in the Night, in 1989? (They can hardly be called 'results' when contrary to initial promises made by the Vatican, Cornwell was denied all access to Luciani's medical records.)

And so from the exhumation of the remains of Saint Stanislaw to the CT scan of the cranium of Pope Celestine, we now come to the remains of Pope John Paul I. No official autopsy was performed - that we know of - and Pope John Paul II did not order his remains to be exhumed or his coffin to be scanned, which would seem to be the obvious complement to Cornwell's Vatican authorized investigation. There are any number of possible reasons for this, none of which I wish to pursue, except to mention the persistent rumors that a secret autopsy was in fact carried out with results that no recent Pope wishes to make public. I simply let that thought linger in the mid-night air.

It has always been my express intention in this reflection blog not to get bogged down in conspiracy theories about the death of Papa Luciani, since they create a swirling vortex of contradictory accusations and contorted suspicions that pull one down into a bottomless black hole. Moreover, I have no expertise in this matter, which is so enormously complicated. However, there are some heroic individuals who seem called by vocation to pursue justice in this matter, among them Spanish priest, Father Jesús López Sáez, and I'm grateful to them for their courage and dedication. However, from time to time, I do feel called through circumstance or inspiration to witness in my own quiet way to a gentle living flame within my inner being, the persistent, deep interior conviction that Father Albino Luciani, Pope John Paul I, died a martyr for reform of the Church.


Michael J. Bayly said...

Morbid, perhaps, but the thoughts you've shared Jayden are also both intriguing and insightful. Like you, I tend to keep late hours. In my grandmother's words, I'm "an owl, not a fowl"!