Celestine III

With Henry of Germany marching on the city, the cardinals turned to old Hyacinth Bobo, cardinal-deacon of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The old veteran refused to accept the burdensome honor, but when the danger of delay was pointed out to him, he gave in. Hyacinth Bobo was a Roman. His brother Ursus is considered the founder of the famous Orsini family. Already a cardinal in 1144, Hyacinth had a long and distinguished career in the papal service. While in France he had become a great admirer of the philosopher Peter Abelard, and had backed him even against the formidable St. Bernard. On three different occasions he went on papal missions to Spain, and as recently as 1187, when he had tried to depose the bishop of Coimbra, he had been bluntly warned by the angry Portuguese monarch to get out before his feet were cut off! Perhaps his most important mission was that given him by Hadrian IV in 1157. The English pope sent him to soothe Frederick Barbarossa after the Emperor had been so irritated by Roland Bandinelli. With a record like this it is easy to see why the cardinals ignored his great age and elected the octogenarian Hyacinth. He was ordained priest on April 13 and consecrated pope on the next day - Easter Sunday - under the name Celestine III.

The new pope welcomed Henry VI, and after receiving pledges of loyalty to the rights of church, he crowned Henry emperor. Henry won the support of the Romans by allowing them to destroy hated Tusculum. Though Henry guaranteed the rights of the Church, he was a dangerous man. His ambitions were as far-reaching as his means to obtain them were ferocious. He enjoyed initial success in his campaign to take over the Norman kingdom of Naples- Sicily, but disease soon decimated his army and sent him flying north, a sick man. Constance, his wife, was then seized by the Neapolitans and turned over to Tancred. Pope Celestine came to the rescue and by a threat of excommunication forced King Tancred to release the lady.

The Pope was less successful in his attempt to protect Richard the Lion- Hearted from Henry. The mean-spirited Emperor had taken the returning crusader from Leopold of Austria and was holding him for a huge ransom. The Pope should have acted most strenuously against this gross violation of a crusader's rights, and Richard's old mother, the fiery Eleanor of Aquitaine, told the Pope so in spirited if respectful pleas. Celestine did threaten the Emperor, but greedy Henry released Richard only after a king's ransom was exacted.

After the death of Tancred, Henry once more, and this time successfully, invaded South Italy. With the fierce Hohenstaufen on both sides of him, Pope Celestine might have had trouble, but Henry died in 1197, leaving only an infant son.

Celestine acted vigorously to protect the sanctity of the marriage bond when Philip II of France tried to repudiate his Danish wife, Ingeborg. He fostered the Teutonic Knights and the Bridgebuilding Brothers. He canonized several saints, among them the Irish Malachi. He protected the Jews and victims of shipwreck. Greatly interested in the Holy Land, he did much for the Knights Templar and the Knights of St. John.

Celestine III died after a busy pontificate on January 8, 1198.


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