Formosus was born in 816 but little is known of his upbringing. He became the Cardinal Bishop of Porto, Italy in 864.
Formosus was excommunicated in July 872 on the charges of deserting his diocese without papal permission, aspiring to the position of Archbishop of Bulgaria and despoiling the cloisters of Rome.
His excommunication was lifted in 878 when he promised to never return to Rome or exercise his priestly role.
In 883 Pope Marinus I restored Formosus as the Cardinal Bishop of Porto. Where he served until his Papacy.
After the reigns of Pope Marinus, Pope Hadrian III, and Pope Stephen V, Formosus was somehow unanimously elected Pope on 06 October 891. As strange as all that is, Formosus is most famously remembered for the Cadaver Synod.
Formosus died on 04 April 896 and was succeeded by Pope Boniface VI. Boniface died of gout 15 days into his papacy and Pope Stephen VI was elected.
Pope Stephen put Formosus (still dead) on trial for being unworthy of the pontificate. Formosus’ corpse was disinterred, dressed in papal vestments and placed on a throne.
Formosus was found guilty of his crimes. The papal vestments were ripped from his body, the three fingers from his right hand he had used in blessings were cut off and the corpse was thrown into the Tiber river (his body was later recovered by a monk).
After the death of Stephen VI, Formosus’ body was reinterred in St Peter’s Basilica. Further trials of this nature against deceased persons were banned.
Listen to our podcast episode on Bad Popes to hear the full story of Pope Stephen, Formosus and other Popes.