Vatican exhibition covers 1,000 years of European history

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RESIGNATION CAN have its drawbacks.

Take Pope Celestine V, the hermit from the Abruzzi mountains who reigned as pope for all of five months, from July to December 1294.

Celestine got the nod at the age of 80 when four cardinals and two notaries were sent to tell him he had been elected. Making their way up Mount Morrone, they came across a holy man in wornout garments, eyes “swollen from weeping”, with an unkempt beard and confused gaze.

Pietro del Morrone, later Celestine V, reportedly knelt down at the cardinals’ feet. Pietro only accepted the papacy to break the stalemate of an electoral conclave that had gone on for more than two years. But he might have been better keeping to his cave in the mountains. Years of the hermit’s life hardly represent the ideal preparation for occupying the seat of Peter.

Very quickly, and after having committed a series of errors in office, Celestine realised the mistake he had made and resigned. The problem was that his successor, Boniface VIII, decided it would be bad for business to have two popes knocking around, so he ordered that Celestine be imprisoned even before he himself had been elected....

The story of Celestine V is just one of many fascinating tales recounted in Lux in Arcana or The Vatican Secret Archives Revealed (, an unprecedented exhibition at Rome’s Capitoline Museum that runs through to early September. If you are in Rome this summer, do not miss it....

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