Pope Benedict XI was born Nicolo Boccasinni in Trevisio, the Republic of Venice, around 1240. His father, a notary, died in 1246, leaving a wife and two children. Their lives became easier when a Dominican friar left them money. Half would go to Nicolo, if he became a Dominican. His uncle, a local priest, identified the intelligence in the little boy and took him in to educate the child.
At 14, Nicolo joined the convent in town. The prior took him to the Provincial in Venice. He was assigned to the convent of SS Giovanni e Paolo where he studied for seven years. Towards the end, he engaged as a tutor to the sons of a rich man. When his time was finished, Nicolo attended the new stadium of S Eustorgio in Milan. At some time along the way, he became a professed brother. After six years, the young friar went back to Venice to serve as a lector, a teacher in charge of the younger friars. For a few years, he also served as a lector at Treviso, his home town. In 1282, he became a lector at Genoa. He had no university degree, so he could not be a professor.
In 1286, he attended the Provincial Chapter, the annual meeting of the Order of Preachers. Nicolo was elected the Provincial Prior of Lombardy. Suddenly, instead of spending years in one place, he was in charge of the inspections and advising of 51 convents. He also was an inquisitor during that time. In 1289, his three-year term ended.
In 1293, Nicolo was reelected to his previous post. His term ended in 1296. But in the general meeting in Strasburg that year, he had been elected Master of the Order. One of his first actions was an ordinance he issued forbidding the public questioning of Pope Boniface’s election by any Dominican.
Nicolo Boccasinni was distinguished as a scholar as well as an organizer. He wrote commentaries on the Psalms, Job, Matthew and Revelations
On 4 December, 1298, Nicolo was elevated to the title of Cardinal-priest of Santa Sabina. On 25 March, 1299, he entered the Curia, thus qualifying for the profit sharing in the College of cardinals. Just a year later, Nicolo became Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia and was consecrated.
In May 1301, he became papal legate to Hungary. From June until May of 1303, Bishop Boccasinni worked to settle the civil war there. Briefly, the bishop served as papal legate to France, dealing with Pope Boniface’s argument with King Philip. Then he met up with the Pope at Anagni. It was then that the Episcopal Palace was attacked by supporters of King Philip. Nicolo was one of two cardinals who dared defend the Pope. The other was Pedro Rodriguez, the Bishop of Sabina. They were imprisoned for three days before being liberated by the townsfolk. Within days Boccasinni accompanied Pope Boniface back to Rome.
The Pope died in less than a month. The conclave took place on 22 October 1303. One ballot was all it took. Nicolo Boccasinni was unanimously elected. The cardinals wanted a candidate who would not be hostile to King Philip of France. Boccasinni took the name Benedict.
In two consistories, the new Pope raised three members of the Dominican Order to the level of cardinal. Very shortly, Pope Benedict released King Philip from the excommunication placed by Pope Boniface. By June, he placed the excommunication on who he thought really deserved it, Philip’s minister, Guillaume de Nogaret plus the Italians who played a big role in the kidnapping and ultimate death of Pope Boniface. Within a month, Pope Benedict laid dead in Perugia. Some said he was poisoned, possibly by Nogaret. But there is no evidence for or against this theory.
Nicolo Boccasinni had a reputation for holiness. The faithful starting coming to his tomb to venerate the man. And the tomb gained a reputation for miracles. Pope Clement XII announced a formal beatification on 29 April 1786.