Celestine was born Pietro Angelerio around 1215. He was the 12th of 15 children born to Angelo Angelario and Maria Leone in Campobasso. Pietro grew up in the mountainous region on the east coast of the peninsula of Italy. When Angelo died, Pietro was still a child but had to go to work in the fields. His mother asked her children to become saints. The young man was intelligent, loving, and ascetic. He loved solitude. At 17, he joined the Benedictine Order.
By his early 20s, Pietro retired to a solitary cave in the mountains of central Italy called Montagne del Morrone. Hence, he came to be known as Pietro Morrone. Five years later, Pietro and two others left Morrone and moved to a more remote Majella Mountain in Abruzzi. At this point, he was living an extreme penitential life. Many joined him in this lifestyle, forming a religious community which was approved in 1264. They came to be known as the Celestines.
The Council of Lyons (1274) issued a directive to stop the formation of new orders. Pietro went to Lyons and convinced Pope Gregory X to uphold his ten-year-old order by connecting it with the Benedictines. It was to be a new, more severe version. Eventually the Celestines grew to 36 monasteries and 600 monks before he died. Once the order was consolidated, Pietro turned the control to a man named Robert and retired to Majella for solitary penance and prayer. But, as he aged, he returned to the more accessible Morrone.
In April, 1292, Pope Nicholas IV died. The eleven cardinals met in Perugia for the conclave. But after two years, there still was no pope chosen. Pietro, having followed the news, wrote to them warning that divine vengeance would fll on them, if they did not quickly elect a pope. It is said that the dean of cardinals, Latino Malbranca, cried out “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, I elect brother Pietro di Morrone!” He was voted into office.
The conclave sent for Pietro, but he refused to appear and even attempted to flee Morrone. Shockingly, Pietro soon was visited by a deputation of King Charles of Naples, his son Charles Martel and several cardinals who persuaded him to accept the vote of the cardinals. In Aquila, Abruzzi Pietro took the crown and the name Celestine. 200,000 people were said to have attended the coronation.
One of the first actions by the new pope was a papal bull granting a rare plenary indulgence to all pilgrims visiting the Church of Santa Maria di Collemaggio, where he had been crowned, on the anniversary of his coronation. The Celestine Forgiveness Festival is still celebrated there August 38 and 29 every year. This predated and set a precedent for the Jubilee Years which his predecessor began.
His other large action was appointing eleven new cardinals, bringing the number to twenty-two.
Unfortunately, every good holy man is not a leader. He was an especially weak and ineffectual man. He distrusted the cardinals and stayed under the power of King Charles at Naples. He appointed the king’s favorites to Church offices, sometime several men to one office. He also favored his monks. Within months, he realized his lack of authority and personal incompatibility for the position.
On 13 December 1294, Pope Celestine exercised his right of resignation. Then he planned to leave Naples, most likely to go back to Morrone. On Christmas Eve, Cardinal Benedetto Caetini became the new pope.
However, the new Pope Boniface VIII worried that Pietro Morrone would be turned into an antipope by his enemies. He ordered the old man to accompany him to Rome. Pietro managed to escape from the group and managed to hide in the woods for some time. The pope’s men hunted him down and found him at the eastern seacoast where he had attempted to escape by ship to Dalmatia. Imprisoned by Boniface’s men, he was moved to Fumone Castle in Lazio where he lived about nine months before dying 19 May 1296.
King Philip IV of France nominated Celestine for sainthood. It was quickly granted by Pope Clement V in 1313. Pope Saint Celestine V is the patron of bookbinders, papal resignations as well as Aquila, Urbino and Molise, Italy.
Pope Saint Celestine V pray for us.