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From The Lives of the Popes from the Time of our Saviour Jesus Christ to the Accession of Gregory VII. Written Originally in Latin by B. Platina, Native of Cremona, and translated into English (from an anonymous translation, first printed in 1685 by Sir Paul Rycaut), Edited by William Benham, Volume I, London: Griffith, Farran, Okeden & Welsh, [1888, undated in text]; pp. 204-208.

The Lives of the Popes,
B. Platina

Volume I.

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A.D. 795-816.

LEO the Third, a Roman, son of Azzupius, was, upon the account of merit, advanced to the pontificate, having been from his youth so thoroughly educated and instructed in ecclesiastical learning, that he deserved to be preferred before all others. A modest, upright, and well-spoken person, and such a favourer of learned men, that he encouraged them by the proposal of generous rewards to resort from all parts to him, and was wonderfully pleased with their conversation. Moreover, to visit and exhort the sick, to relieve the poor, to comfort the dejected, and to reduce the erroneous by his preaching and admonition, in which, through his art and eloquence, he had gained a great perfection, was his peculiar providence. He was naturally of a meek temper, a lover of all mankind, slow to anger, ready to commiserate, eminent for piety, and a vigorous promoter and defender of the honour of God and His Church. Hereupon he was (as I have said) unanimously elected to the papal see on St Stephen’s day, and the day following with general acclamations seated in St Peter’s chair. At this time Irene, mother of Constantine the Emperor, not being able to bear her son’s ill courses, and being instigated thereto by certain of the citizens, returns to Constantinople, puts out his eyes, and throws him into prison, where, as an undutiful son, he miserably ended his days. In the meantime Charles, having disturbance given him on many sides, sends his son Pipin against the Hungarians, whom, having worsted in several engagements, he at length totally subdued. Alphonsus, likewise King of Asturia and Gallicia, having received auxiliary forces from Charles, vanquished the Saracens and took Lisbon; upon the hearing of which victory 205 of his, the garrison of Barcelona forthwith yielded up to Charles. Moreover, the Bavarians, who made inroads upon the inhabitants of Friuli, were now overcome by Henry, Charles’s lieutenant there. At this time Leo, with the clergy and people, being employed in the solemn procession instituted by Pope Gregory, he was, through the treachery of Paschal and Campulus, two of the principal clergy, seized near the church of St Sylvester, stripped of his pontifical habit, so cruelly beaten and misused that it was thought he had been deprived both of his sight and speech, and then closely imprisoned in the monastery of St Erasmus. From whence yet soon after by the diligence of Albinus, one belonging to his bed-chamber, he made his escape, and was secretly conveyed to the Vatican, where he lay concealed till Vinigisius, Duke of Spoleto, being privately invited thereunto, came, and with a strong guard of soldiers to secure him on his way from any violence which his enemies might offer to him, carried him off safely to Spoleto. The factious being not now able to wreak their malice upon the persons of Leo and Albinus, express their rage in pulling down their houses; nay, so hardy and daring were they, as to go to Charles, who was now making war upon the Saxons, and to whom they understood Leo had repaired, on purpose to complain of and accuse the Pope. But Charles, deferring the debate of the matter to another time, sends the Pope to Rome with an honourable retinue, promising that himself would be there in a little time, in order to the composing of the affairs of Italy. Leo in his passage being come as far as Ponte Molle, was there in honour met by the clergy and people of Rome, who congratulated his return, and introduced him into the city. And Charles, without making any long stay, passing through Mentz and Nuremberg into Friuli, severely chastises the citizens of Treviso for having put to death Henry, their governor, and having constituted another to succeed him in that office, he thence goes first to Ravenna, and presently after to Rome, where his presence was earnestly desired and expected. At his entrance into the city all imaginable expressions of honour, as good reason was, were made to him. On the eighth day of his being there, in the presence of the people and clergy, assembled in St Peter’s Church, he asked all the bishops, who had come thither out of all the parts of Italy and France, what their opinion was concerning the life and conversation of the Pope. But answer was made 206 by all with one voice, that the apostolic see, the head of all churches, ought to be judged by none, especially not by a laic. Hereupon, Charles laying aside any farther inquiry into the matter, Pope Leo, who extremely wished that he might be put upon that way of purging himself, going up into the pulpit and holding the gospels in his hands, declared upon his oath that he was innocent of all those things which were laid to his charge. This was done on the thirteenth day of December, A.D . 800. While things went thus at Rome, Pipin, by his father’s order, advancing against the Beneventans, who, under Grimoald’s conduct, made inroads upon their neighbours, and having given them so many defeats, that at length they were scarce able to defend themselves within the walls of their city, he left the farther management of that war to Vinigisius, Duke of Spoleto, and returned to his father, who was now in a short time to be crowned Emperor. For the Pope, that he might make some requital to Charles, who had deserved so well of the Church, and also because he saw that the emperors of Constantinople were hardly able to maintain that title; upon which account Rome and all Italy had suffered great calamities; after Mass in St Peter’s Church, with the consent and at the request of the people of Rome, declares with a loud voice the said Charles to be Emperor, and put the imperial diadem upon his head, the people repeating thrice this acclamation, “Long life and victory to Charles Augustus, whom God has crowned, the great and pacific Emperor.” Then the Pope anointed him, and his son Pipin, whom in like manner he pronounced King of Italy. Charles being now invested with imperial power, gave order that Campulus and Paschal, the conspirators against the Pope, should be put to death; but the Pope, who was all clemency, obtained a pardon of their lives, and they were only banished into France. After this there were some who would have persuaded Charles to expel all the Lombards out of Italy. But that not appearing to be a safe course, because they had mingled in blood and affinity with multitudes of families in Italy, it was determined, both by Charles and Leo, that the name of Lombard should remain there only, where that nation had chiefly had their seat. Pipin being now returned to Beneventum, and having continued the siege of that place for several months without success, he turns his arms against the city Chieti, of which having, after some opposition, made 207 himself master by force, he plundered and burnt it, upon the terror whereof at his marching thence, he had the cities of Ortona and Luceria surrendered to him, and in the latter he took Grimoald, Duke of Beneventum, who not long after died of grief. In the meantime, the Empress of Constantinople, sending ambassadors into Italy, enters into a league with Charles, their several pretensions to Italy being thus adjusted, viz., Irene was to have that part which, beginning on the one side from Naples, and from Siponto (a city now called Manfredonia) on the other, lies extended between the two seas, eastward, together with Sicily; all Italy beside, only excepting always those places which were under the jurisdiction of the Church, were by the articles of peace adjudged to be Charles’s own. But Nicephorus, a Patrician, not stomaching to submit to the dominion of a woman, having craftily seized Irene, and banished her into Lesbos, by his ambassadors renew the league before entered into with Charles; which Charles at this time compelled the Saxons, who had so often revolted, to remove, with their wives and children, into France, following them close in their passage with his army to prevent their committing any disorders as they went along. Pope Leo, being perpetually disturbed by one sedition after another, leaving Rome, goes to Mantua to see the blood of Christ, which was now in great esteem for the miracles said to be wrought there by it. Having been received with great respect and affection by the Mantuans, and approved it to be indeed Christ’s blood upon frequent trial of the miraculous effects of it, he makes a journey to Charles, who was very desirous to know the truth of this matter, that he might certify him concerning it, and also that he might discourse with him about settling the affairs of Italy. Returning then to Rome, and being assisted by King Pipin, who had his father’s order therein, he proceeded to a gentle punishment of some of the chief plotters and movers of sedition. Charles being now very aged, having intelligence that Pipin was dead at Milan, declares Louis, his younger son, King of Aquitain, and his successor in the empire, and Bernard, his nephew, King of Italy, to whom he gave charge that he should in all things be obedient to Louis. To the extent of the empire he set these bounds: in Gallia, the Rhine and the Loyre; in Germany, the Danube and the Save; and to these provinces he added Aquitain, Gascoigne, a great part of Spain, Lombardy, Saxony, 208 both the Pannonias, Istria, Croatia, and Dalmatia, excepting only those parts of it situate on the sea-coast, which were subject to the Emperor of Constantinople. Having thus settled affairs, while he was at Aachen for the recovery of his health by the use of the hot baths there, he died of a fever and pleurisy, in the seventy-second year of his age, January 28, A.D. 814. His body was, with all imaginable pomp and solemnity, interred in the church of St Mary, which himself had built at Aachen, with this inscription on his tomb, “Magni Caroli Regis Christianissimi, Romanorumque Imperatoris Corpus hoc Sepulchro conditum jacet.” He was indeed, whether we regard his management of civil or military matters, so illustrious and excellent an Emperor, that none of his successors have either excelled or equaled him. Moreover, when leisure from other weighty affairs permitted him, he took such delight in the study of learning, that it was he who, at the persuasion of Alcuin, first made Paris an university. Of three tables of silver which he had, one, on which was engraven the city of Constantinople, he gave to the church of St Peter; another, on which the city of Rome was described, to the church of Ravenna; the third, which some tell us was of gold, on which was a map of the whole world, he left to his sons.

As for Pope Leo, having repaired the roof of St Paul’s which had fallen down in an earthquake; built from the ground a very capacious hospital for strangers near St Peter’s; and ordained litanies on the three days before Ascension Day; on the first of which the procession was to be from St Mary ad Præsepe to the Lateran Church; on the second, from the church of St Sabina to St Paul’s; and on the third day, from St Cross to St Laurence’s, without the walls — in the twenty-first year of his pontificate he died, which year there appeared a comet, thought by some to have been a presage of so great a calamity.1 He was buried in St Peter’s, June the 12th; and the see was vacant ten days.


 1  The latter days of his pontificate were disturbed by violent insurrections in Rome; the people declared that his exactions and tyranny were intolerable, and there were fires and bloodshed in the attempt to depose him. He executed many of the insurgents, and wrote to the Emperor to deprecate his anger for doing so. The tumults were still going on when he died. — ED.

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Previous Pope:  97. Adrian I. 98. Leo III. Next Pope: 99. Stephen V.

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