Boniface VIII (Benedetto Gaetano) (ca.
Pope who gained an unenviable notoriety in Dante’s Inferno
as ‘‘Prince of the new Pharisees’’ and was regarded by many
people as an exponent of black magic. A noted jurist, Boniface
was born at Anagni in a noble family and was elected pope in
1294. In 1296 he quarreled seriously with Phillippe le Bel, king
of France, who wanted to tax the church, and prepared to excommunicate
the king. The quarrel arose when Boniface was
determined to extend the rule of the papacy throughout the
kingdoms of the world and to build up great estates for his family.
In 1303, Phillippe’s ministers and agents boldly accused
Boniface of heresy and sorcery, and the king called a council
at Paris to hear witnesses and pronounce judgment. The pope
resisted and refused to acknowledge a council not called by
himself. Then the king planned to abduct Boniface and bring
him to France. The French attacked the pope in his residence,
but could not carry off their escape, and the mistreatment to
which Boniface was exposed proved too much for him. He died
the same year, in the midst of these vindictive proceedings. His
enemies spread abroad a report that in his last moments he had
confessed his league with the demon, and that his death was attended
with ‘‘so much thunder and tempest, with dragons flying
in the air and vomiting flames, and such lightning and
other prodigies, that the people of Rome believed that the
whole city was going to be swallowed up in the abyss.’’
His successor, Benedict XI, undertook to defend his predecessor’s
memory, but he died in 1304, the first year of his
pontificate (some said he was poisoned), and the holy see remained
vacant for 11 months. In mid-June 1305 the archbishop
of Bordeaux was elected to the papal chair under the title
Clement V. This election was ascribed to the influence of the
king, who was said to have stipulated as one condition that
Clement should support proceedings against Boniface that
would make his memory infamous. However, the prosecution
was dropped, and in 1312 Boniface was declared innocent of
all offenses with which he had been charged. These had included
wild accusations of infidelity, skepticism, and communication
with demons. One witness deposed that he had a demon
enclosed in a ring which he wore on his finger; one friar (Brother
Bernard de Sorano) deposed that when Boniface was a cardinal,
he was seen to enter a garden adjacent to the palace of
Nicholas III and perform a magical ceremony with a sacrificed
cock and a book of spells, conjuring up demons. Such statements
must be judged in the light of the king’s opposition to
Boniface and the superstitions of the time.

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