In Celestine's place was chosen Benedict Gaetani, who, although even older than the worn-out and doting late pope, was still full of strength, both in body and in mind. Benedict (who took the name of Boniface VIII) is said to have been very learned, especially in matters at law; but his pride and ambition led him into attempts which ended in his own ruin, and did serious harm to the papacy.
In the year 1300 Boniface set on foot what was called the Jubilee. You will remember the Jubilee which God in the Law of Moses commanded the Israelites to keep (Leviticus xxv.). But this new Jubilee had nothing to do with the law of Moses, and was more like some games which were celebrated every hundredth year by the ancient Romans. Nothing of the sort had ever before been known among Christians; but when the end of the thirteenth century was at hand, it was found that people's minds were full of a fancy that the year 1300 ought to be a time of some great celebration. Nay, they were even made to believe that such a way of keeping every hundredth year had been usual from the beginning of the Church, although (as I have said} there was no ground whatever for this notion; and one or two lying old men were brought forward to pretend that when children they had attended a former jubilee a hundred years before!
How the expectation of the jubilee was got up we do not know. Most likely Boniface had something to do with it; at all events, he took it up and reaped the profits of it. He sent forth letters offering extraordinary spiritual benefits to all who should visit Rome and the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul during the coming year; and immense numbers of people flocked together from all parts of Europe. It is said that all through the year there were two hundred thousand strangers in Rome; for as some went away, others came to fill up their places. The crowd is described to us as if, in the streets and on the bridge leading to the great church of St. Peter's, an army were marching each way.
It is said that Boniface appeared one day in the robes of a pope, and next day in those of an emperor, with a sword in his hand, and that he declared to some ambassadors that he was both pope and emperor. And after all this display of his pride and grandeur, he found himself much enriched by the offerings which the pilgrims had made; for these were so large, that in one church alone (as we are told,) two of the clergy were employed day and night in gathering them in with long rakes. If this be anything like the truth, the whole amount collected from the pilgrims at the jubilee must have been very large indeed.
Boniface got into serious quarrels with princes and others; but the most serious of them all was a quarrel with Philip IV of France, who is called "The Fair" on account of his good looks -- not that there was any fairness in his character, for it would not be easy to name any one more utterly unfair. If Boniface wished to exalt himself above princes, Philip, who was a thoroughly hard, cold, selfish man, was no less desirous to get the mastery over the clergy; and it was natural that between two such persons unpleasant differences should arise. I need not mention the particulars, except that Boniface wrote letters which seemed to forbid the clergy of any kingdom to pay taxes and such-like dues to their sovereign, and to claim for the pope a right to dispose of the kingdoms of the earth. Philip, provoked by this, held meetings of what were called the estates of France, -- clergy, nobles, and commons, -- and charged the pope with all sorts of vices and crimes, even with disbelief of the Christian faith. The estates declared against the pope's claims; and when Boniface summoned a council of bishops from all countries to meet at Rome, Philip forbade the French bishops to obey, and all but a few stayed away. One of the pope's letters to the king was cut in pieces and thrown into the fire, and the burning was proclaimed through the streets of Paris with the sound of the trumpet.
The pope was greatly enraged by Philip's conduct. He prepared a bull by which the king was declared to be excommunicated and to be deprived of his crown; and it was intended to publish this bull on the 8th of September, 1303, at Anagni, Boniface's native place. Here he was spending the summer months. But on the day before, something took place which hindered the carrying out of the pope's design.
Early in his reign Boniface had been engaged in a quarrel with the Colonnas, one of the most powerful among the great princely families of Rome. He had persecuted them bitterly, had deprived them of their estates and honours, and, after having got possession of a fortress belonging to them by treachery, he had caused it to be utterly destroyed, and the ground on which it stood to be ploughed up and sown with salt. The Colonnas were scattered in all quarters, and it is said that one of them, named James, who was a very rough and violent man, had been for a time in captivity among pirates, and was delivered from this condition by the money of the French king, who wished to make use of him.
On the 7th of September, 1303, this James Colonna, with other persons in King Philip's service, appeared at Anagni with an armed force, and made their way to the pope's palace. Boniface sent to ask what they wanted; and in answer they required that he should give up his office, should restore the Colonnas to all that they had lost, and should put himself into the hands of James Colonna. On his refusal, they set fire to the doors of a church which adjoined the palace, and rushed in through the flames. Boniface heard the forcing of the doors which were between them and the room in which he was, and as one door after another gave way with a crash, he declared himself resolved to die as became a pope. He put on the mantle of his office, with the imperial crown which bore the name of Constantine; he grasped his pastoral staff in one hand and the keys of St. Peter in the other, and, taking his seat on his throne, he awaited the approach of his enemies. On entering the room, even these rude and furious men were awed for a moment by his venerable and dauntless look; but James Colonna, quickly overcoming this feeling, required him to resign the papacy. "Behold my neck and my head," answered Boniface: "if I have been betrayed like Christ, I am ready to die like Christ's vicar." Colonna savagely dragged him from the throne, and is said to have struck him on the face with his mailed hand, so as to draw blood. Others of the party poured forth torrents of reproaches. The pope was hurried into the streets, was paraded about the town on a vicious horse, with his face toward the tail, and was then thrown into prison, while the ruffians plundered the palaces and churches of Anagni.
The citizens, in their surprise and alarm, had allowed these things to pass without any check. But two days later they took heart, and with the help of some neighbours got the better of the pope's enemies and delivered him from prison. He was brought out on a balcony in the market-place, where his appearance raised the pity of all, for he had tasted nothing since his arrest. The old man begged that some good woman would save him from dying by hunger. On this the crowd burst out into cries of, "Life to you, holy father!" and immediately people hurried away in all directions, and came back with abundance of food and drink for his relief. The pope spoke kindly to all who were near him, and pronounced forgiveness of all but those who had plundered the Church.
Boniface was soon afterwards removed to Rome. But the sufferings which he had gone through had been too much for a man almost ninety years old to bear. His mind seems to have given way; and there are terrible stories (although we cannot be sure that they are true) about the manner of his death, which took place within a few days after he reached the city (Nov.22, 1303). It was said of him, "He entered like a fox, he reigned like a lion, he went out like a dog;" and although this saying was, no doubt, made up after his end, it was commonly believed to have been a prophecy uttered by old Pope Celestine, to whom he had behaved so treacherously and so harshly.