Pope Formosus

Pope Formosus was the 111th pope and the only man to ever choose the name, Formosus. He is best known for the posthumous trial that happened after his death, which involved his time as pope. This article will go over that trial and his more than four years as pope.

Early Life

Pope Formosus, was born in Ostia and named Formoso at birth. Though some records list his date of birth as 816, others show a much earlier date of birth around 805.

Assigned a role as cardinal in 864, he became the Cardinal Bishop of Porto. The work he did as a cardinal-bishop led to Pope Nicholas I recognizing him and naming him a papal legate. In both 869 and 872, he went on diplomatic missions for the pope to France.


As the nephew of Charles the Bald, Formosus asked his uncle to come to Rome. Though nobles had selected him as the next Holy Roman Emperor, there was some dissension from within the Church.

Fearing what might happen, many people fled from Rome. Pope John VIII asked them to return to discuss the matter. When Formosus remained hidden, the pope excommunicated him. When he agreed to not work as a priest and to stay away from Rome, the pope lifted his excommunication.

Papal Election

Despite his temporary excommunication, Formosus was a popular choice as pope. Some even brought his name up in 872. It wasn’t until the papal election of 891 that he became the top choice. Most of the cardinals who voted in the election picked him.

Papacy and Posthumous Trial

Formosus did little during his papacy. He spoke out against the Spoletos who invaded Italy and asked Arnulf of Carinthia to intervene. He also dealt with other invaders who attacked the western region of Italy.

Not long after naming and crowning Arnulf the Holy Roman Emperor, the pope died. After the death of the next pope, Boniface VI, Pope Stephen VI led the Cadaver Synod. He put the former popes on trial and had the body of Formosus removed from his tomb at St. Peter’s Basilica.

During the trial, the pope requested that cardinals consecrated under Formosus take their vows again. Though both Stephen VI and Sergius worked together during the trial, the Church later found that the trial meant nothing. It still considers Formosus a rightful pope.

List Of Events In The Life of Pope Formosus

86448.0AppointedCardinal-Bishop of Porto
6 Oct 89175.7ElectedPope (Roma, Italy)
4 Apr 89680.2DiedPope (Roma, Italy)

Quick Facts About Pope Formosus

  • He was born circa 805 to 816 in Ostia, which was a Papal State.
  • His birth name was Formoso.
  • He died on April 4, 896 in Rome.
  • Formosus died not long after crowning Arnulf as the Holy Roman Emperor.
  • The papacy of Pope Formosus began on October 6, 891.
  • His papacy ended when the pope passed away in 896.
  • Boniface VI succeeded him as pope but reigned for just 15 days.

Interesting Facts About Pope Formosus

  • Pope Marinus I had much to do with the election of Formosus. Following the death of the previous pope, he gave Formosus back his position in Portus. That kept his name in the public eye and showed his commitment to the Church.

  • Formosus was pope for four years and 181 days. He spent more time as pope than his next seven predecessors did. Some of those men reigned for less than one year.

  • Jean-Paul Laurens painted a famous piece that depicts the body of Pope Formosus on trial.

  • Some rumors indicate that after the posthumous trial, Pope Stephen VI had the man’s body beheaded.

  • A drawing of Formosus shows him as a slightly built man with hair on the sides of his head and a small patch of hair near his forehead.

See the full list of Popes throughout history here.