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Celestine IV

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(25 Oct.–10 Nov. 1241)

Successor to Gregory IX, Goffredo da Castiglione was a Milanese of aristocratic family who first appears as canon and chancellor of Milan in the 1220s. It is possible that his father married the sister of the then archbishop of Milan, who later became Urban II. Reports that he was a Cistercian monk at Hautecombe, in Savoy, lack confirmation. A proficient theologian, he was created cardinal priest of S. Marco in Sept. 1227 by Gregory IX, by whom he was charged with both political and anti-heretical missions in Tuscany and Lombardy in 1228/9. Probably because of their disappointing results, he remained at the curia performing routine duties from 1229 to 1238, but in the latter year was promoted cardinal bishop of Sabina.

In the crisis following Gregory IX's death (22 Aug. 1241) the cardinals were reduced to twelve, of whom two were held prisoner by Emperor Frederick II (1220–50). The remaining ten were deeply divided, some favouring and others deploring the late pope's implacable hostility to the emperor. To compel them to reach a decision the senator Matteo Rosso Orsini, who was effectively dictator of Rome, following a procedure frequently adopted in the north Italian communes and certain religious orders, had them shut up, but in deliberately cruel and squalid conditions, in the crumbling palace known as the Septizonium. At the first ballot Goffredo, the candidate of the emperor's ally Cardinal John Colonna, obtained more votes than the anti-imperial candidate, but not the two-thirds majority required by the third Lateran council (1179). They then resolved to elect someone outside their own ranks, but Orsini deterred them from doing so by brutal threats. Worn out by harsh treatment, illness, and the death of one of their colleagues, they at last, on 25 Oct., after some 60 days of enforced confinement, elected Goffredo, who took the style of Celestine IV; his age and wretched state of health probably suggested that his reign would be short and that they would later be able to proceed to a free election under less straitened conditions. So in fact it proved, for two days later Celestine fell seriously ill and died on 10 Nov., in Anagni, where he had taken refuge with the cardinals. Although one chronicler reports that he was crowned on 28 Oct. and presided at mass on All Souls' Day, the more likely account is that he died before being consecrated and without performing any official act.

Further Reading

Potthast i. 938, 940 f.K. Hampe, ‘Ein ungedruckter Bericht über das Konklave von 241’, SBHeid4 (1913), 1–31K. Wenck, ‘Das erste Konklave der Papstgeschichte’, QFIAB18 (1926), 101–70DHGE xii. 77–9 (R. Mols)DBI xxiii. 398–402 (A. Paravicini Bagliani)Levillain i. 279 (T. Boespflug)Seppelt iii. 449–51

Subjects: Religion

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