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loose canons
There's a thin line between saintliness and madness. Here are inspiring tales of holy folly that laugh in the face of human wisdom... and also breathtaking examples of religious stupidity that fly in the face of common sense.

As told by Stephen Tomkins

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11: The Pope who wouldn't stay in his grave
F MUCH OF THE HISTORY of the medieval papacy is the squabbles of equally obnoxious rival vicars of Christ deposing each other (and that's not a particularly big if), it reached a bizarre new low when Pope Formosus died in the year 896.

His successor died of gout within 15 days. Next up was Stephen VI, and he hated Formosus with a hate you wouldn't believe. Taking to a new extreme the idea that revenge is a dish best served cold, he dug up the late Pontif and put him on trial.

In full papal regalia, Formosus revisited the papal throne to face charges of perjury, coveting and dodgy dealing. Rather than taking whatever was the medieval equivalent of the fifth amendment, as one might expect, Formosus answered all charges, through the mouthpiece of a Roman deacon. All the same, he was found guilty. All his acts and ordinations were cancelled, and he was stripped and thrown into the River Tiber.

It seems, however, that the corpse was supernaturally preserved, found its way out of the river and started working miracles in the nearby countryside. This was not good for Stephen. Rome rose up in rebellion, sacked him and put him in prison, where he was quietly strangled.

Formosus was discreetly reburied by his fans, but then raised again two Popes later. This time his exhausted corpse was dressed up and buried a third time, with maximum ceremony and all the trimmings, in St Peter's.

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