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st.Leo III-Pope

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st.Leo III-Pope

Feast Day : June 12

 

 

Leo was the son of Atyuppius and Elizabeth, Romans of the lower class. He joined the priesthood and served as cardinal-priest of the church of Santa Susanna as well as vestiarius (chief of the pontifical wardrobe and treasury). Leo was elected to the Chair of St. Peter on the day that his predecessor, Hadrian (Adrian) I (r. 772–795), was buried, December 26, 795, and consecrated the next day. This unusual haste may have been due to the Romans’ wish to forestall any influence from the Franks in the election. However, Leo was quick to inform the Frankish king, Charlemagne, sending along the keys to the confessional in St. Peter’s basilica and the flag of Rome. Charlemagne in return sent Leo a considerable part of the treasure he had captured from the Avars. This unexpected wealth allowed Leo to be an especially generous benefactor of Roman churches and charitable institutions. Leo was not without his enemies, however. Two of Pope Hadrian’s nephews had hoped to succeed him, and on St. Mark’s Day (April 25), 799, they hired a gang of young nobles to attack Leo as he was riding in a procession. The youths dragged the pope from his horse and attempted to blind him and cut out his tongue, defects that would have made him unable to rule. With the help of a supporter, Leo managed to escape to the monastery of St. Erasmus, where he recovered quickly, some believe miraculously. Charlemagne was then in Paderborn, Germany, and Leo crossed the Alps to see him. He returned to Rome a few months later, accompanied by an armed escort assigned by the king, to be met by rejoicing crowds. Hadrian’s nephews, however, were not through with him. They accused him of adultery and perjury. Charlemagne convened a council to consider the charges, but when the accusers could not prove them, they were arrested and carried as prisoners to Frankland (France). They were condemned to die, but at Leo’s request, the sentence was commuted to life in exile. Charlemagne visited Rome in 800, and in a special Christmas Day ceremony in St. Peter’s, Leo crowned him Holy Roman Emperor. This was the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire, an attempt to realize St. Augustine’s ideal of the City of God and an alliance intended to halt the spread of Islam in Europe. In effect, the Holy Roman Empire revived the ancient Western Roman Empire and pitted it against the Eastern Empire, with its capital in Constantinople. In 801, Leo attempted to bring about a marriage between Charlemagne and the Eastern empress Irene, hoping thereby to resurrect the original, unified Roman Empire and ensure the supremacy of Christianity throughout its domain, but the match did not come about. In the ensuing years, Leo and Charlemagne worked closely together to combat the heresy of Adoptionism in Spain, to settle disputes in Germany and England, and to protect the northern Mediterranean against incursions from Islamic Saracens. In 804, Leo gave his blessing to Charlemagne’s plan to divide his empire between his two sons. When Charlemagne died in January 814, Leo lost his protector, and new conspiracies were launched against him. He managed to put these down, but his life was coming to an end. Leo died on June 12, 816, and was interred in St. Peter’s, where his relics are to be found today alongside those of Popes SS. Leo I (Leo the Great, r. 440–461), Leo II (r. 682–683) and Leo IV (r. 847–855). In art, Leo is generally shown crowning Charlemagne. A restored, near-contemporary mosaic depicting St. Peter giving the pallium to Leo and a standard to Charlemagne survives in the Lateran Palace. Another image from the Grandes Chroniques de France depicts the “Torture of Leo III.”

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