Christianity Knowledge Base
  • English name - Boniface VIII
Giotto - Bonifatius VIII

Pope Boniface VIII by Giotto

  • Birth name - Benedetto Caetani
  • Term start - December 24, 1294
  • Term end October 11, 1303
  • Predecessor Celestine V
  • Successor - Benedict XI
  • Birth date - ca. 1235
  • Birth place - Anagni, Italy
  • Dead
  • Death date - October 11, 1303
  • Death place - Rome, Italy

Pope Boniface VIII (c. 1235 – October 11, 1303), born Benedetto Caetani, was Pope of the Roman Catholic Church from 1294 to 1303.


Boniface VIII was born in Anagni as Benedetto Caetani.

He was elected in 1294 after Pope Celestine V abdicated. It was Boniface VIII's doing that Celestine V renounced the papacy - for Boniface, previously Benedetto, convinced Celestine V that no person on the earth could go through life without sin. Therefore, Celestine V left and Boniface VIII took his place as pope. Before this, Boniface VIII was a cardinal priest and papal legate to Sicily, France, and England. One of his first acts as pontiff was to imprison his predecessor in the Castle of Fumone in Ferentino, where he died at the age of 81, attended by two monks of his order. In 1300, Boniface VIII formalized the jubilees, which afterwards became a source of both profit and scandal to the church. Boniface VIII founded the University of Rome La Sapienza in 1303.

Boniface VIII put forward some of the strongest claims to temporal, as well as spiritual, supremacy of any Pope and constantly involved himself with foreign affairs. In his Bull of 1302, Unam Sanctam, Boniface VIII proclaimed that it "is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman pontiff", pushing papal supremacy to its historical extreme. These views and his intervention in 'temporal' affairs led to many bitter quarrels with the Emperor Albert I of Hapsburg (1291–98), the powerful family of the Colonnas and with Philip IV of France (1285–1314).

Boniface VIII's quarrel with Philip IV of France became so bitter that he excommunicated him in 1303. However, before the Pope could lay France under an interdict, Boniface VIII was seized at Anagni by a party of horsemen under Guillaume de Nogaret, an agent of Philip IV and Sciarra Colonna. The King and the Colonnas demanded that he resign, to which Boniface VIII responded that he would 'sooner die'. The Pope was released from captivity after three days, but he died a month later, on October 11, 1303. No subsequent popes were to repeat Boniface VIII's claims of political supremacy.

Boniface VIII was buried in St. Peter's Basilica in a grandiose tomb that he had designed himself. (Allegedly, when the tomb cracked open three centuries after his death (on October 9, 1605), his body was revealed to be perfectly incorrupt.)

(Note on numbering: Pope Boniface VII is now considered an anti-pope. At the time however, this fact was not recognized and so the seventh true Pope Boniface took the official number VIII. This has advanced the numbering of all subsequent Popes Boniface by one. Popes Boniface VIII-IX are really the seventh through eight popes by that name.)

Boniface VIII and culture[]

  • In his Inferno, Dante portrayed Boniface VIII, though alive at the date of his vision, as destined for Hell—specifically the Eighth Circle, in a special pit reserved for popes guilty of simony. Dante claims to know this because Pope Nicholas III, whom he meets as the current occupant of the pit, tells Dante that he foresees the damnation of his successor. A bit later in the Inferno, we are reminded of the pontiff's feud with the Colonnesi, which led him to demolish the city of Palestrina, killing 6,000 citizens and destroying both the home of Julius Caesar and a shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Boniface's ultimate fate is confirmed by Beatrice when Dante visits Heaven.
  • The great mathematician and astronomer Giovanni Campano served as personal physician to Pope Boniface VIII.
  • In Boccaccio's Decameron, Boniface VIII is satirically depicted granting a highwayman (Ghino di Tacco) a priorate (Day 10, second tale). Earlier (I.i), Boniface VIII is also mentioned for his role in sending Charles of Valois to Florence in 1300 to end the feud between the Black and White Guelphs.
  • Boniface was a patron of Giotto di Bondone.
  • Boniface had restored the churches of Rome for the Great Jubilee of 1300, particularly St. Peter's Basilica, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, and the Saint Mary Major Basilica.

Posthumous process against the memory of Boniface VIII[]

A process (judicial investigation) against the memory of Pope Boniface VIII was held from 1303 to 1311. Its records were recently republished in a critical edition by J. Coste (see literature). If reliable, the collected testimonies (especially those of the examination held at Groseau in the August and September of 1310) revealed many bold sayings of Boniface VIII, which seem partially rather nihilist-hedonist, partially remarkably critical-freethinking. For example, Boniface VIII was reported to have said:

  • The Christian religion is a human invention like the faith of the Jews and the Arabs;
  • The dead will rise just as little as my horse which died yesterday;
  • Mary, when she bore Christ, was just as little a virgin as my own mother when she gave birth to me;
  • Sex and the satisfaction of natural drives is as little a sin as hand washing;
  • Paradise and hell only exist on earth; the healthy, rich and happy people live in the earthly paradise, the poor and the sick are in the earthly hell;
  • The world will exist forever, only we do not;
  • Any religion and especially Christianity does not only contain some truth, but also many errors. The long list of Christian untruth includes trinity, the virgin birth, the godly nature of Jesus, the eucharistic transformation of bread and wine into the body of Christ and the resurrection of the dead.

The historicity of these quotations is disputed among scholars. T. Boase, whose biography of Pope Boniface VIII is often regarded as still the best (see literature), comes to the conclusion, "The evidence is not unconvincing ... but it was too late, long years after the event, to construct an openly held heresy out of a few chance remarks with some newly-added venom in construing them" (p. 361). The posthumous trial against the memory of Boniface VIII was in any case settled without a result in 1311.


  • Boase, Thomas S. R.: Boniface VIII. London: Constable, 1933.
  • Coste, Jean (ed.): Boniface VIII en procès. Articles d'accusation et dépositions des témoins (1303–1311). Rome: L'Erma di Bretschneider, 1995. ISBN 88-7062-914-7.

External links[]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Celestine V
24 December 1294 – 11 October 1303

Succeeded by
Benedict XI
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