Pope Celestine V Biography


Born: 1215

Born In: Sant'Angelo Limosano, Italy

Pope Celestine V, also known as Pietro da Morrone, Peter of Morrone, and Peter Celestine, was a monk and hermit who established the order of the Celestines, which later got affiliated to the Benedictine order. He decided to dedicate his life to spiritualism at a tender age and left everything to live in solitude. After his religious order gained prominence, Pietro quit his position and influence behind to begin a journey to salvation. However, he had to return to fill the position of the pope, which had been vacant for 2 years. With his election as the pope, Pietro adopted the name “Celestine V.” He, however, turned out to be a weak administrator. Pietro, too, felt that his papal position was distracting him from his ultimate motive of salvation. His desire to step down established the decree of resignation. His successor, Boniface VIII, annulled almost all of Pietro's proclamations, except the right of the pope to renounce. He later captured Pietro to save him from being labeled as an antipope. Pietro died in prison, and Boniface was heavily condemned for this. To date, Pietro has been the only pope to adopt the name “Celestine.”

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Pietro Angelerio, Pietro da Morrone, Peter of Morrone, Peter Celestine, Pietro Angelerio

Died At Age: 81


father: Angelo Angelerio

mother: Maria Leone

Born Country: Italy

Spiritual & Religious Leaders Italian Men

Died on: May 19, 1296

place of death: Fumone, Italy

Grouping of People: Christians

Cause of Death: Murder

Childhood & Early Life

Pietro Angelerio was born in 1215, near Isernia town in the Kingdom of Naples, to Angelo Angelerio and Maria Leone.

Pietro lost his father at a tender age and thus worked in the fields to support his family. However, his mother wanted him to gain fame through spiritualism.

Pietro was naturally inclined toward spiritualism and possessed the intellect to become a spiritual leader.

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Early Spiritual Pursuits

At the age of 17, Pope Celestine V (then Pietro) became a Benedictine monk at Faifoli in the ‘Diocese of Benevento.’ He retired in 1239, to live a solitary life on Morrone Mountain (hence earning the name “Pietro di Morrone”).

After a 5-year solitary retreat, he moved to a more remote Maiella mountain region in central Italy. He imposed stringent penitential rules on himself.

Establishing the Order of the Celestines

In 1244, Pietro established the order of the Celestines (named after him) and structured a set of strict rules that he had been following all the while.

The head of the ‘Catholic Church,’ Urban IV, approved Pietro’s new religious institution. However, the head of the council at Lyon, Pope Gregory X, was not happy with the establishment, as it was against the command of the ‘Lateran Council’ that had prohibited the establishment and development of any further religious institutions.

Pietro hence traveled to Lyon and successfully convinced Pope Gregory X to issue the approval. The Celestine order was made a branch of the Benedictine order, which followed the rule of Saint Benedict. As the order of the Celestines was under papal protection, Gregory X was to be the master of the order’s acquired properties.

Meanwhile, the order of the Celestines rapidly spread, and Pietro eventually became the "Superior-General" to 36 monasteries, with over 600 monks under him. He, however, never desired any power or position.

After his new order had been consolidated, Pietro retired to live a more solitary life dedicated to penance and prayer.


Pope Nicholas IV died in April 1292, leaving behind a situation of papal disturbance. For over 2 years, no one succeeded him. The cardinals at Perugia could not reach an agreement and were worried after receiving a letter from Pietro saying they should soon elect a pope or face divine vengeance.

With the growing tension, the dean of the ‘College of Cardinals,’ Latino Malabranca, who was old and ill, suggested Pietro's name for the position of the new pope. The cardinals approved Malabranca's frantic decision.

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However, Pietro refused to take the position and even tried to flee to avoid the situation. Nevertheless, he gave in to the persuasion of the king of Naples, the pretender to the throne of Hungary, and their delegation of cardinals.

Pietro was officially appointed as the pope in July 1294, at the ‘Santa Maria di Collemaggio,’ in Aquila in the Abruzzo. He began his papal tenure assuming the name “Celestine V.”

Since Celestine V never desired power or position, he began to feel that his papacy was taking him away from his ascetic life and obstructing his journey to attain salvation. Hence, he failed as an administrator.

He was heavily dependent on King Charles II of Naples, as he doubted his cardinals. He eventually realized that his position was disturbing the administration of the church and thus decided to step down.

After consulting the cardinals, Celestine V resigned in December 1294. He then left Naples to go back to a solitary retreat.

Celestine V's resignation established a new decree of right to resign. It was next exercised 719 years later, when Pope Benedict XVI stepped down in 2013, according to his wish.

Final Years & Death

According to the set religious rule, once Pope Celestine V reverted to “Pietro Angelerio,” he could not become a hermit again. Since his resignation was heavily condemned, the new pope, Boniface VIII, was worried that Pietro might be named an “antipope.”

To save him, Boniface VIII ordered Pietro to live with him in Rome. Pietro fled to the woods to live a monastic life. Nevertheless, he was captured while fleeing to Dalmatia. He was kept in the castle of Fumone, near Ferentino, in the papal state of Lazio.

Ten months later, on May 19, 1296, Pietro died while still imprisoned in the castle. Boniface was accused of the death, as Pietro’s supporters claimed that he had treated him harshly and had executed him.

Pietro’s body was moved from Ferentino to the 'Basilica Santa Maria di Collemaggio' in L'Aquila.

One of his supporters, Philip IV of France, in an attempt to oppose Boniface, nominated Pietro as a hermit. The newly elected Pope Clement V set up an investigation on the nomination, signing a new decree of dispensation.

The rival Colonna family of Boniface outvoted his Caetani family after Pietro was canonized on May 5, 1313.


Pietro is still revered for reinstituting the conclave system, which was initially established by the papal bull ‘Ubi periculum’ while Gregory X held the papacy.

During the 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila, 'Santa Maria di Collemaggio' was heavily damaged, but Pietro's remains, preserved in a glass casket, were absolutely safe. This incident was regarded as a ''miracle by the pope." When Pope Benedict XVI visited the remains, he left his woollen pallium on the casket as a gift.

As Pope Benedict XVI had proclaimed, Pietro's 800th birth anniversary was commemorated as the Celestine year, observed from August 28, 2009, through August 29, 2010.

Author Dan Brown referred to Pietro as a ''murdered pope'' in a chapter of his mystery novel 'Angels & Demons.' The book’s film adaptation, too, had the reference.

Pietro's life has been a subject of the stage plays 'L'avventura di un povero cristiano' ('The Story of a Humble Christian') by Ignazio Silone and 'Sunsets and Glories' by Peter Barnes. His life has also inspired the short story 'Brother of the Holy Ghost' from Brendan Connell's 'The Life of Polycrates and Other Stories for Antiquated Children,' Stefania Del Monte's book 'Celestino V. Papa Templare o Povero Cristiano?' ('The Story and Legacy of Celestine V'), Jon M. Sweeney's 'The Pope Who Quit: A True Medieval Tale of Mystery, Death, and Salvation' (which was adapted into an ‘HBO’ film in 2013), and Constantine P. Cavafy's poem 'Che Fece...Il Gran Rifiuto.'

See the events in life of Pope Celestine V in Chronological Order

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