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Lewis Lapham: Pope Raped Pilgrims in St. Peter’s Basilica

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Lewis Lapham
Lewis Lapham, of "Lapham's Quarterly," in New York. Photographer: Paul Goguen/Bloomberg

March 9 (Bloomberg) -- When Pope John XII was elected in 955, he didn’t give up his secular interests. He drank, invoked pagan gods when gambling and loved the ladies.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

John had sex with his father’s concubine, his own niece and many other women, turning the Lateran Palace into a “brothel and resort for harlots.” He even raped women pilgrims in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Otto I convened a synod to have John removed from the papacy and replaced with Leo, but when the emperor left Rome, John returned and deposed Leo as a usurper. He took revenge on those who had betrayed him, cutting off the right hand of one man, and the tongue, two fingers and nose of another.

John fled when Otto came back to Rome, and died when he was caught in bed by a cuckolded husband and severely beaten.

I spoke with Paul Collins, author of “The Birth of the West: Rome, Germany, France, and the Creation of Europe in the Tenth Century,” on the following topics:

1. Collapse & Chaos

2. Bad Popes

3. Church & State Intertwined

4. German Stability

5. Feudal Protection Racket

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

Muse highlights include Zinta Lundborg’s NYC Weekend Best and Jeremy Gerard on theater.

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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