The 9th century had turned into a disaster for the Church, and Italy. Not only were the Saracens attacking southern Italy and Sicily, cities were becoming independent and thinking for themselves. Popes were chased out, pushed out or killed in rapid succession. One pope would negate what the previous pope had created, whether bishoprics, ordinations and policies. In the year previous to the August, 897 ascension of Pope Romanus to the chair of Peter, there had been three others sitting on the throne, Formosus, Benedict VI and Stephen VI. All had died or been dethroned after cancelling the work of their predecessor.
When Stephen was sent to a monastery, where he was never heard from again, Romanus, the cardinal-priest of San Pietro in Vincoli for the past thirty years, was put on the throne. The son of Constantine of Gallese, and, likely, the nephew of Pope Marinus (882-884), Romanus appears to have been a virtuous man, according to a contemporary historian. He was pro-Formosus, which probably is why he, too, got into trouble.
The first thing he did was have the body of Pope Formosus rescued from the Tiber River flood plain, where he had been dumped weeks before, and quickly re-buried in a shallow grave.
In the few months that he had papal discretion, Romanus annulled the acts and decrees of Pope Stephen VI. He granted the pallium to Abbot Vitalis of Farfa, who was appointed the patriarch of Grado. He also confirmed the possessions of the bishops of Girona and Elna.
In November of the same year, Romanus, in his turn, was deposed and sent to a monastery. No one knows, for sure, which side betrayed him, those supporting Stephen VI or others. And no one knows what happened to him after he went to the monastery.
Within days, Romanus was replaced by Theodore II. The contemporary historian, Flodoard, claims this man was of excellent character, chaste, a lover of the poor and the clergy, and a peacemaker. In his short, twenty-day reign, Theodore held a synod where he reinstated the ordinations of Pope Formosus and finished the respectful interring of the body of the late pope at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. He died in late December, probably murdered for his courageous acts.