Feast Day : September 16
Cornelius was a priest in the Church of Rome at the time of his elevation to bishop to replace Pope St. Fabian, who had been killed at the beginning of persecutions under Emperor Decius. Fabian died on January 20, 250, but the persecutions delayed the election of a new pope for 14 months, until March 251. The main issue facing Cornelius was the treatment of Christians who had denied their faith during the persecutions. He supported St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, whose council provided for the restoration of Communion after various forms of penance, against Novatian, a Roman priest who asserted that the apostates should not be pardoned. In the summer of 251, Novatian had himself consecrated bishop of Rome by some dissident deacons, establishing himself as antipope to Cornelius. This brought about a major schism in the Church, with many eastern bishops inclined to back Novatian. However, a synod of western bishops in Rome in October upheld Cornelius, condemned the teachings of Novatian and excommunicated him and his followers. New persecutions suddenly broke out early in 252, and Cornelius was exiled to Centumcellæ (Civita Vecchia). He was beheaded there in June 253, having reigned two years, three months and 10 days. His relics were translated to Rome where they were interred, not in the Chapel of the Popes in the Catacomb of St. Callistus but rather in an adjoining catacomb, perhaps that of a branch of his noble family. The inscription on his tomb is in Latin, whereas those of his immediate predecessor and successor are in Greek.