This is a study of the strange Cadaver Trial of Pope Formosus in 897. Formosus was caught up in the turmoil surrounding the end of the Carolingian Empire. In the midst of violence and agitation, the popes were forced to choose among rival candidates for the title of Emperor, hoping for protection, but under pressure from powerful families inside Rome and military forces from abroad. Following the death of Formosus, his enemies took revenge by exhuming the body, putting the dead pope on trial, and deposing him. The event reveals contradictions in the 'Carolingian world order' in Europe. This study focuses on questions of legal history, political theology, and politico-ecclesiastical concepts of the papacy. What caused Pope Formosus to be treated as a scapegoat, and what made his posthumous trial possible?
In the course of the Cadaver Trial in 897, the body of Pope Formosus was exhumed and put on trial, his corpse mutilated and thrown into the Tiber River. This event sheds light on contradictions in the late Carolingian order. On the one hand stood the traditional values of religion such as political and ecclesiastical unity (papal and imperial authority),on the other hand were the aspirations of regional lords, having a diversity of political allegiances and religious beliefs. The Carolingian order was undermined as the old empire of Charlemagne was broken into smaller kingdoms. Imperial and papal institutions were subverted in the course of events, due to resentment and emulation among leading figures. Acts of desacralization undermined the authority of the imperial crown and the papal tiara, casting doubt on their powers of succession and continuity.