A Pope on trial – short story!

close up photo of skull

A book club I know just started a competition asking members to write a story called ‘Theological Downfall’. Well, I couldn’t resist. 500 word limit and so I concocted something in two hours based around a real event in the ninth century AD – read and hopefully enjoy. Copyright Tony McMahon – naturally!

Theological Downfall – Tony McMahon
(453 words – based on a real event in the 9th century AD)
His Holiness looked on with supreme indifference as the rancour exploded around the papal throne.
What a dull and unimaginative accusation. Nobody had ever had the temerity to shout that in his face before but circumstances had changed so much.
He slumped slightly to the side – expressionless. This only infuriated his attackers even more. The ruddy faced bishop of Verona heaved himself across the exquisitely painted tiles, prized from some Roman villa and reset in the pope’s Palace not so many years before.
“I propose we sever his fingers. They’re not fit to give another benediction!”
With that, the portly prelate produced a sharp knife from under his vestments and set about hacking through the sinews and bone. His victim’s jaw slackened slightly but there was not a single gasp emitted or cry of pain. In no time, the bishop of Verona was flourishing the offending digits to the synod. They cheered to a man.
“To the Tiber with him!”
Still wrapped in gold and crimson, his remaining fingers encrusted in jewels and the papal tiara rammed tightly on his head – Pope Honorius was lifted high in the air and soon found himself being transported by a mob through the streets of Rome. There were the ruins of the Temple of Faustina and the Coloseum newly pockmarked by peasants scavenging for the iron bars that once held the huge blocks in place. On every corner, lime burners filled the air with noxious fumes as marble was stripped off once grand, proud and elegant buildings. It had been four hundred years since the Empire had fallen and only the successor of Saint Peter kept any semblance of order in this anarchic metropolis.
With one heave, Honorius floated through the air and then with a splash ended up in the great river. How many disgraced emperors, strangled enemies of Caesar and dead gladiators had been unceremoniously dumped in this fast moving stretch of water? After what seemed like an eternity, Honorius hit a muddy bank. A monk ran forward.
“Quick, you take his legs.”
“He smells.”
“What do you expect?”
The two monks lifted the pope, carrying him to the Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter, near the Via Labicana. They kicked open the iron door of an ancient tomb housing a long dead baker and his wife.
“This will have to do.”
Without even a parting prayer or any words of sorrow, Honorius was dropped on to the floor between two stone sarcophagi. The iron door slammed shut. Silence. No more baseless accusations. No more screaming insults. Honorious stared blankly at the ceiling as he had done during his first funeral. Maybe this time his body would be allowed to lie undisturbed.
(Based on the so-called Cadaver Synod that put the dead Pope Honorius on trial for heresy)

Leave a Reply