Silvester II, Pope (d. 1003)
Silvester II (Gerbert), a distinguished scholar, statesman,
and pope (999–1003 C.E.), was one of a number of popes from
the tenth century on who were regarded as sorcerers. It was said
that Silvester had evoked a demon who obtained for him the
papacy, and who further promised him that he should die only
after he had celebrated High Mass in Jerusalem.
One day while he was saying mass in a church in Rome, he
felt suddenly ill, and, remembering that he was in a church
called the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, suddenly knew that the
demon had played him a trick. Before he died, he confessed to
his cardinals his compact with the devil. However, as Silvester
had been preceptor of two monarchs, and a friend of others,
it is more likely that he owed his preference to one of these.
He was one of the most learned men of his day, proficient
in mathematics, astronomy, and mechanics. He introduced
clocks, and some writers credit him with the invention of arithmetic.
It is not at all improbable that his scientific pursuits and
the technical language involved might have appeared to the
less educated to savor of magic. The brazen head that the
chronicler William of Malmesbury stated as belonging to Silvester,
which answered questions in an oracular manner, probably
had its origin in a similar misinterpretation of scientific apparatus.
It also recalls folk stories of the wonderful brazen head
of Roger Bacon.
There is no lack of picturesque detail in some of the stories
told of Silvester. He was said to have discovered buried treasure
by the aid of sorcery and to have visited a marvelous underground
palace, whose riches and splendor vanished at a touch.
His tomb was believed to possess the powers of sorcery and to
shed tears when one of the succeeding popes was about to die.