Pope Benedict XI

Blessed Pope
Benedict XI
Papacy began 22 October 1303
Papacy ended 7 July 1304
Predecessor Boniface VIII
Successor Clement V
Ordination 1300
Consecration March 1300
Created Cardinal 4 December 1298
by Boniface VIII
Personal details
Birth name Nicola Boccasini
Born 1240
Treviso, Italy, Holy Roman Empire
Died 7 July 1304 (aged 64)
Perugia, Papal States
Previous post
Motto Illustra faciem Tuam super servum Tuum ("Let Your Face shine upon Your servant")
Coat of arms {{{coat_of_arms_alt}}}
Feast day 7 July
Beatified 24 April 1736
Rome, Papal States
by Pope Clement XII
Patronage Treviso
Other popes named Benedict
Papal styles of
Pope Benedict XI
Cardinal Boccasini.

Pope Benedict XI (Latin: Benedictus XI; 1240 – 7 July 1304), born Nicola Boccasini, (Niccolò of Treviso) was Pope from 22 October 1303 to his death on 7 July, 1304.[1] He was also a member of the Order of Preachers. Among the events of his brief pontificate was his revocation of Pope Boniface VIII's papal bull, Unam Sanctam, on papal supremacy.

He was beatified with his cultus confirmed by Pope Clement XII in 1736. He is a patron of Treviso.


Early life

Niccolò Boccasini was born in Treviso to Boccasio, a municipal notary (died 1246), whose brother was a priest; and Ber(n)arda, who worked as a laundress for the Dominican friars of Treviso. Niccolò had a sister, Adelette.[2] The family lived outside the walls of Treviso, in a suburb called S. Bartolommeo.[3] In 1246, a Dominican friar left a sum of money in his will to Bernarda and her children, recently orphaned. A condition was that if Niccolò were to enter the Dominican Order he would receive half of the entire legacy.[4] From the age of six, it seems, Niccolò was destined for the monkish life. His first teacher was his uncle, the priest of S. Andrea.[5]

He entered the Order of Preachers in 1254, at the age of fourteen, taking the habit of a novice in his native Treviso.[6] He was taken to Venice by his Prior and presented to the Provincial, who assigned him to the convent of SS. Giovanni e Paolo in Venice. For the next seven years or so, Niccolò pursued his basic education in Venice. Toward the end of this period, he served as tutor to the young sons of Romeo Quirini of Venice, whose brother was a Canon in the Cathedral of Treviso.[7] In 1262, Niccolò was transferred to Milan, to the new studium of S. Eustorgio. He spent the next six years at S. Eustorgio.[8] By the end of his term at S. Eustorgio he must have become a professed member of the Order of Preachers; the actual date, however, is unknown. As a professed brother he served in the responsible position as a Lecturer in the studium in Venice, that is to say, he was in charge of the elementary education of the brothers in his convent. Each convent had its lector. He served as lector for fourteen years, from 1268 to 1282, according to Bernardus Guidonis. In 1276 he is attested as being lector at the Dominican convent in his native Treviso, a post he was still holding in 1280. In February, 1282, he is found at Genoa, again as lector. He was not a professor, since he had never taken a university degree.[9]

Office and Responsibility

In 1286, at the meeting of the Provincial Chapter, which took place that year in Brescia, Fr. Niccolò was elected Provincial Prior of Lombardy.[10] As Provincial of Lombardy, Fr. Niccolò's lifestyle changed considerably. Instead of being firmly attached to a single convent for years, he would instead become peripatetic, moving from one convent to another on visits of inspection, encouragement and correction. In Lombardy at the time there were some fifty-one convents.[11] He also had responsibility as an Inquisitor, a task for which popes considered Franciscans and Dominicans especially suited.[12] He also had the responsibility of convening the Provincial Chapters. In 1287, the Chapter was at Venice; in 1288, it was at Rimini; in 1289 at the General Chapter, which was held at Trier, Fr. Niccolò was released from the office of Provincial of Lombardy, having completed his three-year term. It is probable that, without office, he returned to a convent, possibly that of Treviso—though the evidence is scanty and based on wills and codicils.[13] He was elected Provincial Prior of Lombardy again, however, at the Provincial Chapter held at Brescia in 1293. In 1294 it was held at Faventia, in 1295 at Verona, and in 1296 at Ferrara, where Fr. Niccolò's successor was elected, since he had a new assignment.

Master General of the Order of Preachers

At the Capitulum Generale of the Order of Preachers, which was held at Strasbourg in 1296, Frater Niccolò of Treviso was elected Master of the Order of Preachers,[14] and issued ordinances that forbade public questioning of the legitimacy of Pope Boniface VIII's papal election (which had taken place on Christmas Eve, 1295) on the part of any Dominican.


Boccasini was elevated to the cardinalate on December 4, 1298, by Boniface VIII, and assigned the title of Cardinal-Priest of Santa Sabina.[15] He entered the Roman Curia on March 25, 1299, and thus began to receive his share of the profits of the Chamber of the College of Cardinals.

He was promoted to the rank of Cardinal-Bishop of the See of Ostia on March 2, 1300, and also received episcopal consecration. On May 13, 1301 he was appointed Apostolic Legate to Hungary. He made his official departure on June 22, 1301, and returned on May 10, 1303.[16] He also served as papal legate to France.

When Pope Boniface VIII was seized at Anagni in September, 1303, Boccasini was one of only two cardinals to defend the Pope in the Episcopal Palace itself. The other was Pedro Rodriguez, Bishop of Sabina. They were imprisoned for three days.[17] On Monday, September 10, they were liberated by forces led by Cardinal Luca Fieschi, and on September 14, the Pope and his retinue returned to Rome, with an escort organized by Cardinal Matteo Rosso Orsini.[18]


Papal election

Main article: Papal conclave, 1303

The conclave to elect the successor of Boniface VIII was held in the Basilica of Saint John Lateran and the College of Cardinals desired an appropriate candidate who would not be hostile towards King Philip IV of France. After one ballot in a conclave that lasted a day, Boccasini was elected as pope.


He was also quick to annul his predecessor's bull Unam Sanctam which asserted papal supremacy over secular rulers. He was quick to release King Philip IV from the excommunication that had been put upon him by Boniface VIII. Nevertheless, on 7 June 1304, Benedict XI excommunicated Philip IV's implacable minister Guillaume de Nogaret and all the Italians who had played a part in the seizure of his predecessor at Anagni. Benedict XI also arranged an armistice between Philip IV of France and Edward I of England.

After a brief pontificate that spanned a mere eight months, Benedict XI died suddenly at Perugia. As original reports had it, suspicion fell primarily on Nogaret with the suspicion that his sudden death was caused by poisoning. There is no direct evidence, however, to either support or disprove the contention that Nogaret poisoned the pope. Benedict XI's successor, Clement V removed the papal seat from Rome to Avignon, inaugurating the period sometimes known as the Babylonian Captivity. He and the French popes who succeeded him were completely under the influence of the kings of France.

Pope Benedict XI also celebrated two Consistories for the purpose of creating new cardinals. The first, on December 18, 1303, elevated Fr. Nicholas Alberti da Prato, OP, the Bishop of Spoleto; and Fr. William Macclesfield (Marlesfeld), OP, of Canterbury, Prior of the English Province of the Dominicans.[19] On February 19, 1304, he elevated Walter Winterburn, OP, of Salisbury, the confessor of King Edward I of England, who did not want to part with him, and kept him in England for some time. By the time he arrived in Perugia on November 28, 1304, Pope Benedict was dead.[20] Cardinal Winterburn died at Genoa on September 24, 1305.[21] It cannot escape notice that all three new cardinals were members of the Dominican Order.

Benedict XI was the author of a volume of sermons and commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew, the Psalms, the Book of Job, and the Book of Revelation.[22]


Cardinal Caesar Baronius (1538–1607) wrote that, on the Monday of Easter week in 1304, Pope Benedict XI was celebrating Mass, but a pilgrim interrupted it, because he wanted the pope to hear his confession. Rather than telling him to find another time or another priest to have his confession, the Pope left the mass to hear his confession and then returned to continue the mass.[23] This appears to be an anecdote, appropriate for a sermon recommending frequent confession, placed in an age when twice annual confession was the norm. It is unlikely that a pilgrim would attempt to interrupt a Mass, that a priest would interrupt a Mass for some other function, or that the protocols of the papal Court would permit such an unfettered close approach to the pontiff during a sacred service.

There is also a story that, at the General Chapter of the Dominicans at Lucca in May, 1288, the Provincial of the Roman Province, Thomas de Luni predicted to Fr. Niccolò that he would someday be pope. On another occasion, when he was in Venice, a friar of Torcello predicted that he would be Provincial, Master General, Cardinal and Pope.[24] This is a sort of flattery often used upon, and then anecdotally reported about ecclesiastical persons, after they have reached the height of their eminence. The thousands of times when the prediction does not turn out to be true are not reported. One need not place much significance in such tales.


Tomb of Benedict XI.

Benedict XI earned a reputation for holiness and the faithful came to venerate him. His tomb gained a reputation for the amount of miracles that emerged from the site. Pope Clement XII approved his cultus on 24 April 1736 which acted as his formal beatification. Pope Benedict XIV extended his veneration to the Republic of Venice in 1748 after a request from the Venetians.

Papal numbering

A note on the numbering: Pope Benedict X (1058–1059) is now considered an antipope by the Roman Catholic Church. At the time of Benedict XI's election, however, Benedict X was still considered a legitimate pope, and thus the man the Roman Catholic Church officially considers the tenth true Pope Benedict, Niccolo Boccasini, took the official number XI rather than X. This has advanced the numbering of all subsequent Popes Benedict by one digit. Popes Benedict XI-Benedict XVI are, from an official point of view, the tenth through fifteenth popes by that name.


  1. Conradus Eubel, Hierarchia catholica medii aevi I editio altera (Monasterii 1913), p. 13.
  2. Mortier, II, p. 319-320.
  3. Fietta, p. 222.
  4. Mortier, p. 320 and n. 3.
  5. Fietta, p. 225 and n. 1.
  6. Mortier, p. 320. Fietta, p. 226, with notes 1 and 2.
  7. Fietta, p. 226, n. 3; p. 228-229. One of these children, Bartolommeo Quirini later became Bishop of Trent, in 1304, at the hands of Pope Benedict.
  8. Fietta, p. 229.
  9. Mortier, 322-323. Fietta, p. 231-234.
  10. Fietta, p. 236. Benedikt Maria Reichert (editor), Cronica ordinis praedicatorum ab anno 1170. usque ad 1333 Part 1 (Rome 1897), pp. 102-104.
  11. Mortier, p. 323. Bernardus Guidonis, however, states that, when the Province of Lombardy was divided in 1303, there were thirty-three convents. Jacobus Echard, Scriptores Ordinis Praedicatorum recensiti Tomus primus (Paris 1719), p. vii. There were also convents of nuns which were under his jurisdiction.
  12. On August 26, 1289, Pope Nicholas IV wrote to all the Inquisitors of the Dominican Order in Lombardy and the March of Genoa, urging them to pursue their work against heretics with energy: Augustus Potthast, Regesta pontificum Romanorum II, no. 23053.
  13. Fietta, p. 244.
  14. Reichert, Cronica ordinis praedicatorum, p. 104.
  15. Eubel, pp. 12-13.
  16. Eubel, p. 13, note 1.
  17. Augustinus Theiner (Editor), Caesaris S. R. E. Cardinalis Baronii, Od. Raynaldi et Jac. Laderchii Annales Ecclesiastici Tomus Vigesimus Tertius, 1286–1312 (Barri-Ducis: Ludovicus Guerin 1871), under the year 1303, § 41, p. 330-331; Ludovico Antonio Muratori, Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, p. 672.
  18. Gregorovius V. 2, pp. 588-594.
  19. Macclesfeld may have been dead at the time that he was created cardinal.
  20. Bernardus Guidonis, quoted in J. Catalano, Sacrarum Caeremoniarum sive Rituum Ecclesiasticorum Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Libri Tres (Romae 1750), p. 59.
  21. Eubel, p. 13.
  22. Jacobus Echard, Scriptores Ordinis Praedicatorum recensiti Tomus I (Paris 1719), pp. 444-447.
  23. Leonard of Port Maurice. Counsels to Confessors. Loreto Publications, 2008
  24. Fietta, pp. 242-243: "Ce sont la bien entendu des legendes que ne prirent corps qu' après l' evénement, mais il ne serait pas impossible qu' elles aient eu pour origine quelque anecdote authentique."


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Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Stephen of Besançon
Master General of the Dominican Order
Succeeded by
Albert of Chiavari
Preceded by
Leonardo Patrasso
Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia
Succeeded by
Nicolò Albertini
Preceded by
Boniface VIII
22 October 1303 – 7 July 1304
Succeeded by
Clement V
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