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Pope John XIII : biography

- September 6, 0972

Pope John XIII ( ; c. 930/935 – 6 September 972) was the head of the Catholic Church from 1 October 965 to his death in 972. His pontificate was caught up in the continuing conflict between the Emperor, Otto I, and the Roman nobility.

Troubles with the Eastern Empire

After John XIII's restoration, he worked with the Emperor on ecclesiastical improvements. It was decided in a council held at Rome in the beginning of 967 in the emperor’s presence that Grado was to be the patriarchal and metropolitan church of the whole of the Veneto. At another council at Ravenna in April 967, Otto again “restored to the apostolic Pope John the city and territory of Ravenna and many other possessions which had for some time been lost to the Popes.”Mann, pg. 289 At around this time he also created, at Otto’s request, the Archbishopric of Magdeburg.The Papacy:An Encyclopedia, Ed. Philippe Levillain, (Routledge, 2002), 841.

Then, on Christmas Day in 967, John XIII crowned Otto I's son Otto II as co-Emperor.McBrien, 161. Various synods were held before the emperors left Rome for the south of Italy, in which, sometimes at their request, John XIII took several German monasteries under his special protection, or decided that in some cases they were to remain forever “under the patronage (mundiburdium) of the kings or emperors.”Mann, pgs. 290-291 With Otto I seeking a marriage alliance with the Byzantine Empire through his son and a Byzantine princess, John XIII lent his support to Otto’s cause. He wrote a letter to the Eastern Emperor, Nikephoros II Phokas, but ended up insulting him by referring to him, not as “Emperor of the Romans”, but as “Emperor of the Greeks”.Norwich, John Julius, Byzantium: The Apogee (1993), pg. 200 As his price for the marriage, Otto demanded a dowry from the Eastern Empire, that of the Themes of Longobardia and Calabria. Nikephoros retorted by instead demanding the restitution of the Exarchate of Ravenna, which included Rome and the Papal States, as the price for the imperial marriage.Mann, pg. 292 When negotiations broke down, Nikephoros refused to write to John XIII in his own hand, instead sending him a threatening letter written by his brother, Leo Phokas the Younger.Mann, pgs. 292-293

After the failure of negotiations, Nikephoros attempted to extend the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople into the Pope’s jurisdiction in southern Italy. The eastern emperor ordered the Patriarch to transform the bishopric of Otranto into a metropolitan see, and to ensure that services were no longer said in Latin, but in Greek only. Patriarch Polyeuctus of Constantinople quickly addressed an order to the head of the Church of Otranto giving him authority to consecrate bishops in the churches of Acerenza, Tursi, Gravina, Matera, and Tricarico, all previously dependent on the Church of Rome.Mann, pg. 293 In response, and at the request of the western emperor, John convened a synod in 969, which elevated the bishopric of Beneventum into a metropolitan see, thus reducing the influence of the Byzantine Empire and Eastern Orthodox Church there, thus reducing the influence of the Byzantine Empire and Eastern Orthodox Church there.Mann, pg. 294

However, the death of Nikephoros Phokas in 969 saw the elevation of John I Tzimiskes. He entered into negotiations with Otto I, and soon Otto II was betrothed to the niece of the eastern emperor. The marriage of Otto II and Theophanu was performed by John XIII at Rome on April 14, 972, at Rome.Gregorovius, pg. 376


There is a legend which attached itself to the reign of John XIII. According to Dietrich I of Metz, one of the nobles attached to the court of the emperor Otto I was possessed by an evil spirit, resulting in his tearing at his own face, and biting his hands and arms. The emperor ordered that the nobleman be taken to Pope John XIII, with instructions that the Chains of Saint Peter be placed upon him, and so cure him. According to the legend, John placed several chains on the afflicted man, each of which were copies, but to no effect. However, when John placed the true chain of Saint Peter on him, a thick smoke issued from the nobleman’s body, cries were heard in the air, and the evil spirit left the nobleman.DeCormenin, pg. 303

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Living octopus

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