Pope Stephen IX, the 154th pope, was a younger member of the Ardennes-Verdun dynasty, a politically active family in the mid-11th century. He was head of the Roman Church 2 August 1057 – 29 March 1058.
Born Frederick of Lorraine, his early years were spent as a canon at St. Lambert’s Cathedral in Liege, Belgium. Later he was an archdeacon. Between 1049 and 1051, he met with his cousin, Pope Leo IX and was invited to Rome. Leo appointed him cardinal-deacon of Santa Maria in Domnica. Then he became the chancellor and librarian of the Vatican. A chancellor prepares and issues papal documents. This meant that he was often with the pope. He travelled with Leo IX through southern Italy and Germany in the summer of 1052.
In the spring, returning from Germany, Leo planned to go to war against the Normans in southern Italy. With his German and papal troops, Leo was defeated at Civitate in April 1053. The pope was in prison at Benevento from June 1053 to March 1054. At the same time, the Church hierarchy attacked the Greek churches in Southern Italy, demanding they only follow the Latin rite or close.
The cousins were in communication throughout the pope’s imprisonment. Leo appointed Frederick to be part of an embassy to Constantinople in January 1054 along with Abbot Humbert and Archbishop Pietro. The purpose of this trip was to persuade Emperor Constantine to come to the aid of the pope, join forces with Emperor Henry III and destroy the Normans’ stronghold. A second purpose was a little more difficult. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael, demanded he be named “ecumenical patriarch” Church. Leo refused that request and wanted his emissaries to forward that message.
Although the Byzantine Emperor welcomed the legates, the negotiations did not go well. Patriarch Michael closed all the Latin churches in Constantinople. He also insisted that the empire would not help with the Norman problem. Pope Leo IX died 19 April 1054, but word did not get back to his three legates soon enough. By 16 July, Humbert presented a bull of excommunication to the patriarch and Archbishop Leo of Ohrid, the patriarch’s co-negotiator. Negotiations stopped. Emperor Constantine honored the three representatives of Pope Leo and ladened them with gifts. Returning to Rome, Frederick had so much gold that Emperor Henry suspected him of treason.
In November 1054, Henry named his advisor pope. Gebhard took the name Victor II. Frederick returned to the chancellery. In the summer, Henry visited Rome and commanded Victor to arrest Frederick and send him to court in Germany. Frederick fled to Montecassino, took vows as a monk and went to the isle of Termiti to await safety. Soon after, the abbot of Montecassino died and was replaced without benefit of Victor’s blessings. With rumors of misdoings at the abbey, Victor set up investigations.
The following year, Victor felt so harassed by the Romans that he went to Germany to seek advice. Henry died 10 October. Victor gained more power. Because of this interruption, the investigations at Montecassino did not begin until May 1057. Frederick’s associate, Abbot Humbert, presided. Abbot Peter was told to resign. A day later, Frederick was voted in as the new abbot. A month later, Frederick was consecrated abbot by Victor. He was able to get privileges for the abbey right away.
Just three weeks later, Frederick was appointed cardinal-presbyter of San Crisogono in Rome. Then, he attended the synod in Arezzo on 23 July, and returned to Rome to visit his new church. Days later, Victor died.
Names of potential popes circulated, but no one seemed right. A number of Roman clergymen went to Frederick and persuaded him to join them at the conclave. On 2 August, Frederick was chosen as the new pope and consecrated the next day. He took the name Stephen IX.
Stephen’s policies included continuing the Gregorian Reform, accenting clerical celibacy. To this end, he gave the cardinalate to Peter Damian and his friend Humbert. He, then, visited Montecassino 30 November to 10 February 1058. In December he was so sick he thought he was at the end. But he seemed to recover.
In an attempt to get his brother Godfrey crowned emperor, Pope Stephen began journeying to Lorraine but died in Florence 29 March. Some say it was a return of his earlier illness. Some say he was poisoned. In fear, his retinue of Benedictine monks returned to the abbey on a secret route.
Pope Stephen was buried at the Church of Santa Reparata in Florence. When extensive renewal of the church occurred in the 1300s, his remains were lost.