St. Benedict XI, Pope and Confessor
HIS family name was Nicholas Bocasini. He was a native of Treviso, which city was then an independent commonwealth, but since the year 1336 is subject to that of Venice. He was born in 1240, and studied first at Treviso, and afterwards at Venice, where, at fourteen years of age, he took the habit of St. Dominick. He seemed desirous to set no bounds to his fervour and fidelity in the practice of every means of improving his soul daily in virtue; and, during fourteen years, enriched his mind with an uncommon store of sacred learning. After this term he was appointed professor and preacher at Venice and Bologna, and with incredible fruit communicated to others those spiritual riches which he had treasured up in silence and retirement, being always careful by the same means to preserve and increase his own stock. He wrote several sermons and comments on the holy scripture, which are still extant. He was chosen provincial of Lombardy, and, in 1296, the ninth general of his Order. On that occasion, by a pathetic circular letter, 1 he exhorted his brethren to a love of poverty, humility, retirement, prayer, charity, and obedience. In 1297 he was sent by Boniface VIII. nuncio into France, to be the mediator of peace between that nation and the English; and was created cardinal during his residence there in 1298. Nothing but the strict command of his Holiness could have obliged him to accept that dignity, which cost him many tears. He was made soon after bishop of Ostia, and dean of the sacred college; and in 1301 went legate a latere into Hungary, to endeavour to compose the differences which divided that nation into factions, and had already laid it waste by a dreadful civil war; in which cardinal Bocasini succeeded to a miracle. He also abolished in that country several superstitious practices, and other abuses and scandals. He afterwards exerted his zeal in Austria and at Venice, being successively legate in both those places.
Boniface VIII. dying on the 11th of October, 1303, the cardinals entered the conclave on the 21st of the same month, and on the day following unanimously chose our saint pope. He was seized with trembling at the news; but being compelled to acquiesce, was crowned on the following Sunday. He continued his former practices of humility, mortification, and penance. When his mother came to his court in rich attire, he refused to see her till she had put on again her former mean apparel. Rome was at that time torn by civil divisions, especially by the factions of the Colonnas against the late pope; but the moderation, meekness, and prudence of our saint soon restored the whole country to perfect tranquillity. He pardoned the Colonnas and other rebels, Sciarra Colonna and William of Nogaret excepted, who remained under the former sentence of proscription. He pacified Denmark, and other kingdoms of the North, and appeased the State and Church of France. He reconciled the cities of Venice and Padua without effusion of blood. He joined his zealous endeavours with Helena, queen of Servia, in the conversion of her son Orosius. This good pope died the martyr of peace, to make which reign over the whole Christian world he seemed only to have lived. Having sat only eight months and seventeen days, he departed this life at Perugia, on the 6th of July, in the year of our Lord, 1304, of his age sixty-three. Some say he died of poison secretly given him by the contrivance of certain wicked men who were enemies to the public tranquillity. He was honoured by miracles, examined and approved by the bishop of Perugia, and attested by Platina and other historians. See Conc. t. 10. also his life collected by Pagi, in his Annals, and in an express work by the late learned Dominican, F. Peter Thomas Campana; and Vie de S. Benoit XI. ou Caractère de la Sainteté du B. Benoit XI. à Toulouse, 1739. See also F. Touron, Hommes Illustres, t. 1. l. 7. p. 655. and Benedict XIV. de Canoniz, t. 4. Append. and in his new Roman Martyrology on the 7th of July. 2
Note 1. Published by Dom. Martenne, Anecdot. t. 4. [back]
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Principal Saints, by Rev. Alban Butler (Metropolitan Press: Baltimore, 1845), Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882)