Originally printed at catholic365.com on October 23, 2020:
At the beginning of the 10th century, the pope did not have jurisdiction over most of the Papal States. That privilege was argued over by the Holy Roman Emperor and the various kings of the Italian peninsula. The popes at that time were highly influenced by the Theophylacti family, noblemen of the highest caliber and politicians of the same.
The last pope to reign before this family took over was Leo V. Leo V was born in Priapi, near Ardea, 22 miles south of Rome and only 2 miles from the Mediterranean. His birth is estimated to be around 840. The sudden death of Benedict IV, in the summer of 903, brought all the warring factions out in force. Although Pope Formosus had died four years prior, the Vatican was still sorting out his legacy. So, Leo was possibly a compromise candidate to satisfy the wishes of the supporters of Formosus and their enemies.
Leo V was not a cardinal priest with an assigned honorary parish; he was simply a priest. And he was the first non-Roman pope in 100 years. In his short, thirty-day papacy, Leo was able to grant the canons of Bologna a special bull exempting them from paying taxes. But he had no more time.
Within two months, Leo was kidnapped by a man identified as his own chaplain, Christopher, the cardinal-priest of San Lorenzo in Damaro. Leo was imprisoned and died there. Christopher then had himself elected pope and was actually considered a legitimate pope for many years. Research has not shown that Leo relinquished his throne, so Christopher is now considered an antipope.
Leo soon died, whether it was by murder or a broken heart, we do not know. Aurelius, a historical writer of the time, described Leo’s papacy thus: “He held the rudder of the Holy Roman Church” for 30 days and that “he was a Man of God and of praiseworthy life and holiness.”
By January, 904, Christopher was said to have been driven from the papacy by Bishop Sergius’ followers. Aurelius says that the new Pope, Sergius III, went on to murder both Leo and Christopher with the military help of Alberic I of Spoleto. Some say Christopher was sent to a monastery and died a natural death.
Thus started the Theophylacti reign of the papacy: Sergius was a puppet for Theophylact, Count of Tusculum. Theophylact was not only rich and powerful, but he was also elected consul of Rome at one point and was a senior senator. Alberic I of Spoleto was the son-in-law of the Count, married to Marozia, the daughter of Theophylact and his wife, Theodora. Theophylact’s wife was very organized and capable of advising her husband. She was honored with the term “senatrix”. Her daughter, Marozia, a very manipulative woman, is assumed to be the concubine of Pope Sergius III. Between Marozia and her sister Theodora, there descended seven popes over the next 150 years.