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“Oh, I did, I did, I did, I did”

I may be reading too much of the Telegraph this week (I blame John Bolch at Family Lore, who I am sure is buying two bottles of Buxton water and getting a free copy of the telegraph from a well-known newsagent).

This one is about a Supreme Court judge, Lord Wilson, giving a speech in Belfast, which included his comments that gay marriage and divorce and mixing of nuclear families post separation might not be a bad thing.  In the world of the Telegraph, this sort of thing is ‘controversial’ 


Anyway, that’s not the bit that struck me, it was this bit


Lord Wilson also pointed out that Australia allows a woman to wed her uncle, and France permits about 20 posthumous marriages to take place a year, if the surviving member of the couple can prove they were genuinely engaged.


That was actually news to me, and on doing a bit of digging (sorry, probably poor choice of word) I find that it is true.

You really can apply in France, if you have good evidence that a person who has died did intend to marry you, for a posthumous marriage. It doesn’t change any financial matters or inheritance (so you can’t wait until Rupert Murdoch dies, and then agree to marry him for the loot)

At the ceremony, the deceased is represented by a photograph, and rather than the bride/groom saying  “I do” they say “I did”   – the wording also misses out, for obvious reasons the “till death us do part” bit.

 It happened after a dam broke and killed a woman’s fiance and she wrote to the President to ask him to allow the marriage to happen anyway. He allowed it and the law was later changed to permit it. Lord Wilson does seem right that about 20 happen per year. [In my researches, I haven’t come across any MEN who have asked to marry their dead fiancee, only the other way around]

[Perhaps it is because I am in my own first month of marriage that I think this is rather sweet rather than freakish and morbid.  ]


Anyway, that tied in to something I read about a long time ago, and have been waiting for an opportunity to crowbar in, which is the trial of Pope Formosus.

Pope Formosus was Pope for just five years, 891 to 896. His reign as Pope was quite troubled and controversial. That would explain why he was put on trial.  One of his crimes was trying to escape the Vatican and escape being Pope  (which is described as “Conspiring to destroy the papal See”  – or if you are our last Pope, “resigning”)


What is slightly harder to explain is why his trial was two years after he died, in what is called the Cadaver Synod.


His successor, Pope Steven VI, had Formosus dug up, dressed in robes, sat on a chair and made him undergo a posthumous trial as the defendant. Steven served as prosecutor and Judge.  During the trial, a Deacon (appointed by Steven) answered all of the questions on behalf of Formosus.


I suspect that these answers were more on the lines of cringing admissions rather than spirited rebuttals.  Unsurprisingly, Formosus didn’t beat the rap, and as punishment, all of his papal orders were set aside, three of his fingers cut off and he was then thrown in a river. He was later fished out and buried.


There is a story, although this is disputed, that a later Pope, Sergius III was so taken with this that he also dug up poor Formosus again, put him on trial again and this time beheaded him.


Clearly in the “Big Book of Rainy Day Vatican City Games”,  there was a purple bookmark on the page “digging up previous Popes and putting them on trial for a laugh”


Under Stephen VI, the successor of Boniface, Emperor Lambert and Agiltrude recovered their authority in Rome at the beginning of 897, having renounced their claims to the greater part of Upper and Central Italy. Agiltrude being determined to wreak vengeance on her opponent even after his death, Stephen VI lent himself to the revolting scene of sitting in judgment on his predecessor, Formosus. At the synod convened for that purpose, he occupied the chair; the corpse, clad in papal vestments, was withdrawn from the sarcophagus and seated on a throne; close by stood a deacon to answer in its name, all the old charges formulated against Formosus under John VIII being revived. The decision was that the deceased had been unworthy of the pontificate, which he could not have validly received since he was bishop of another see. All his measures and acts were annulled, and all the orders conferred by him were declared invalid. The papal vestments were torn from his body; the three fingers which the dead pope had used in consecrations were severed from his right hand; the corpse was cast into a grave in the cemetery for strangers, to be removed after a few days and consigned to the Tiber


Catholic Encyclopaedia Chapter 13


This also reminds me that in my recent research into trial by ordeal (don’t ask) – whilst most of the ordeals were pretty grim (carry a red hot bar of iron for twenty paces, plunge your hand into scalding water for a minute  – if you don’t scar on either of those you are innocent) there’s one that was “Trial by Ingestion” just put the communion wafer [or dry bread and cheese] in your mouth and then eat it without choking. That seems to me to be the one I would have been advising clients to take. 

About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

9 responses

  1. Congratulations on your marriage! As a former scholar of Chinese family law in the ch’in dynasty (which I use constantly in the FPC) I should draw your attention to the fact that one could marry a dead person there, too – in fact, two dead people could marry each other.

  2. Congrats on the marriage Andy. Even dug up it would appear that the ex-pope did indeed have a legal rep for whatever good it may have done them. Also it does seem a tad creepy that people want to marry the dead, at least in this legal ceremony they didn’t dig up the body.

  3. Many congratulations and every joy.

    When did the Aussies start allowing marriage between uncle and niece? It mut ahve been a deliberate decision; they took over English law on the prohibited degrees and must have amended it. Not something to imitate, I think.

  4. must have, damn this keyboard.

  5. Yep Second or third the congrats to Monsieur Suesspicious Minds,

    Now this article has got my grey matter ticking over, for one who marries by law despite the Country or local, they should be entitled to divorce, if the matter so arises, or in this current article not so arises *Cough*.

    Having seen many divorce judgments over the eras many of them purport that the husband was shall we say ill performing, the wife would make reference that he was “dead” in bed, one does wonder then how the divorce would work if the groom is literally brown bread.

    Oh and Andrew, I suffer with a condition what is known as Sausage’ous Digitalis, in which the mind understands what it intends to write however the fingers, or digits tend to write their own thing, its not the keyboards fault, there is counselling for this condition, the pain and suffering people with the condition suffer is astronomical, there is no known cure, sadly, there will be no Live 8 concerts for our condition, but surely we cannot simply suffer in silence any more, we suffer even more with these new fang dangled touch screen phones, simply sending a text message can be so difficult it would be quicker just going round and speaking to the person face to face, I would say that thank heavens for the auto spell check, however, the words blogger and blogged have yet to make the cut for auto correction status, check and you will see!

  6. Pingback: “Oh, I did, I did, I did, I did” | ...

  7. Sorry to rain on your parade but I can’t help wondering whether the cost of these researches is built into your overheads and charged clients. Intriguing stuff, though, and thanks for these nuggets.

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