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Victor III
Victor III. - Desiderius of Montecassino.jpg
Papacy began May 24, 1086
Papacy ended September 16, 1087
Predecessor Gregory VII
Successor Urban II
Personal details
Birth name Daufer (Italian: Dauferio)
Born c. 1026
Benevento, Duchy of Benevento
Died September 16, 1087
Monte Cassino, Papal States, Holy Roman Empire
Other Popes named Victor
Styles of
Pope Victor III
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style Blessed

Pope Blessed Victor III (c.1026 – 16 September 1087), born Daufer (Dauphar), Latinised Dauferius, was the Pope (from 24 May 1086) as the successor of Pope Gregory VII, yet his pontificate is far less impressive in history than his time as Desiderius, the great Abbot of Monte Cassino.


Early life and abbacy

He was born in 1026 or 1027 of a non-regnant branch of the Lombard dukes of Benevento as eldest son of Prince Landulf V of Benevento; being an only son his desire to embrace the monastic state was strenuously opposed by both his parents. After his father's death in battle with the Normans in 1047, he fled from the marriage which had been arranged for him and though brought back by force, eventually after a second flight to Cava obtained permission to enter the monastery of S. Sophia at Benevento where he changed his name of Dauferius to Desiderius. The life at S. Sophia was not strict enough for the young monk who betook himself first to the island monastery of Tremite in the Adriatic and in 1053 to some hermits at Majella in the Abruzzi. About this time he was brought to the notice of St. Leo IX and it is probable that the pope employed him at Benevento, to negotiate peace with the Normans after the fatal battle of Civitate.

Somewhat later Desiderius attached himself to the Court of Victor II at Florence and there met two monks of the renowned Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino, with whom he returned to their monastery in 1055. He joined the community, and was shortly afterwards appointed superior of the dependent house at Capua. In 1057, Stephen IX (X) who had retained the abbacy of Monte Cassino came thither and at Christmas, believing himself to be dying, ordered the monks to elect a new abbot. Their choice fell on Desiderius. The pope recovered, and, desiring to retain the abbacy during his lifetime, appointed the abbot-designate his legate for Constantinople. It was at Bari, when about to sail for the East, that the news of the pope's death reached Desiderius. Having obtained a safe-conduct from Robert Guiscard, the Norman Count (later Duke) of Apulia, he returned to his monastery and was duly istalled by Cardinal Humbert on Easter Day, 1058. A year later Pope Nicholas II (1059–61) raised him to the cardinalate, in 1059, as Cardinal-Priest with the ancient cardinal title of S. Cecilia and he received the abbatial blessing.

Desiderius was the greatest of all the abbots of Monte Cassino with the exception of the founder, and as such won for himself "imperishable fame" (Gregorovius). He rebuilt the church and conventual buildings, established schools of art and re-established monastic discipline so that there were 200 monks in the monastery in his day. On 1 October 1071, the new and magnificent Basilica of Monte Cassino was consecrated by Pope Alexander II. Desiderius's great reputation brought to the abbey many gifts and exemptions. The money was spent on church ornaments of which the most notable were a great golden altar front from Constantinople, adorned with gems and enamels and "nearly all the church ornaments of Victor II which had been pawned here and there throughout the city" [Chron. Cass., III, 18 (20)]. The bronze and silver doors of the Cassinese Basilica which Desiderius erected remain, and in the Church of S. Angelo in Formis, near Capua, some of the frescoes executed by his orders may still be seen. Peter the Deacon gives (op. cit., III, 63) a list of some seventy books which Desiderius caused to be copied at Monte Cassino, including works of Saint Augustine, Saint Ambrose, Saint Bede, Saint Basil, Saint Jerome, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus and Cassian, the registers of Popes Feliz and Leo, the histories of Josephus, Paul Warnfrid, Jordanus and Saint Gregory of Tours, the "Institutes" and "Novels" of Justinian, the works of Terence, Virgil and Seneca, Cicero's "De natura deorum", and Ovid's "Fasti".

Desiderius had been appointed papal vicar for Campania, Apulia, Calabria and the Principality of Beneventum with special powers for the reform of monasteries; so great was his reputation with the Holy See that he "was allowed by the Roman Pontiff to appoint Bishops and Abbots from among his [Benedictine] brethren in whatever churches or monasteries he desired of those which had been widowed of their patron" (Chron. Cas., III, 34).

Within two years of the consecration of the Cassinese Basilica, Alexander II died and was succeeded by Hildebrand as Pope Gregory VII. The chief importance of Desiderius in papal history lies in his influence with the Normans, which he was able repeatedly to exert in favour of the Holy See. Already in 1059 he had persuaded Robert Guiscard and Richard of Capua to become vassals of St. Peter for their newly conquered territories: now Gregory VII immediately after his election sent for him to give an account of the state of Norman Italy and entrusted him with the negotiation of an interview with Robert Guiscard on 2 August 1073, at Benevento. In 1074 and 1075 he acted as intermediary, probably as Gregory's agent, between the Norman princes themselves, and even when the latter were at open war with the pope, they still maintained the best relations with Monte Cassino (end of 1076). At the end of 1080 Desiderius obtained Norman troops for Gregory. In 1082 he visited the (then Italian king and future Holy Roman) Emperor Henry IV at Albano, while the troops of the Imperialist antipope were harassing the pope from Tivoli. In 1083 the peace-loving abbot joined Hugh of Cluny in an attempt to reconcile pope and emperor, and his proceedings seem to have aroused some suspicion in Gregory's entourage. In 1084 when Rome was in Henry's hands and the pope besieged in Sant' Angelo, Desiderius announced the approach of Guiscard's army to both emperor and pope.


Though certainly a strong partisan of the Hildebrandine reform, the gentler Desiderius belonged to the moderate party and could not always see eye to eye with Pope Gregory VII in his most intransigent proceedings. Yet when the latter lay dying at Salerno (25 May 1085), the Abbot of Monte Cassino, who had rendered him many important services, was one of those whom he recommended to the cardinals of southern Italy as fittest to succeed him. Desiderius was by no means willing to assume the mantle of Gregory VII, showing genuine reluctance to accept the embarrassing honour thus thrust upon him, as experience had taught him that his power and utility lay in being a middleman, yet at a time when the Church was surrounded by powerful enemies his influence with the Normans made him the most obvious candidate. The Romans had expelled the antipope Clement III (1080, 1084–1100, Guibert of Ravenna), who had powerful partisans, from the city, and hither Desiderius hastened to consult with the cardinals on the approaching election; finding, however, that they were bent on forcing the papal dignity upon him he fled to Monte Cassino, where he busied himself in exhorting the Normans and Lombards to rally to the support of the Holy See. When autumn came Desiderius accompanied the Norman army in its march towards Rome, but becoming aware of the plot which was on foot between the cardinals and the Norman princes to force the papal tiara upon him, he would not enter Rome unless they swore to abandon their design; this they refused to do, and the election was postponed. At about Easter (Chron. Cass., III, 66) the bishops and cardinals assembled at Rome summoned Desiderius and the cardinals who were with him at Monte Cassino to come to Rome to treat concerning the election. On 23 May a great meeting was held in the deaconry of St. Lucy, and Desiderius was again importuned to accept the papacy but persisted in his refusal, threatening to return to his monastery in case of violence. Next day, the feast of Pentecost, very early in the morning, the same scene was repeated. The Roman consul Cencius now suggested the election of Odo, Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia (afterwards pope Urban II), but this was rejected by some of the cardinals on the grounds that the translation of a bishop was contrary to the canons (ecclesiastical law). The assembly now lost all patience; Desiderius was seized and dragged to the Church of St. Lucy where he was forcibly vested in the red cope and given the name of Victor (24 May 1086). The church had been without a head for twelve months all but a day. Four days later, pope and cardinals had to flee from Rome before the imperial prefect of the Eternal City, and at Terracina, in spite of all protests, Victor laid aside the papal insignia and once more retired to Monte Cassino where he remained nearly a whole year. In the middle of Lent 1087, the pope-elect assisted at a council of cardinals and bishops held at Capua as "Papal vicar of those parts" (letter of Hugh of Lyons) together with the Norman princes, Cencius the Consul and the Roman nobles; here Victor finally yielded and "by the assumption of the cross and purple confirmed the past election" (Chron. Cass., III, 68). How much his obstinacy had irritated some of the prelates is evidenced in the letter of Hugh of Lyons preserved by Hugh of Flavigny (Monumenta German. Histor.: Script. VIII, 466-8).

Under pressure from Prince Jordan I of Capua to whom also he had rendered important service, he was elected on 24 May 1086, taking the throne name of Victor III, but and after his tardy consecration, which did not take place until 9 May 1087, owing to the presence of the antipope Victor III's stay in Rome was short. After celebrating Easter in his monastery Victor proceeded to Rome, and when the Normans had driven the soldiers of the Antipope Clement III (Guibert of Ravenna) out of St. Peter's, was there consecrated and enthroned (9 May 1087). He only remained eight days in Rome and then returned to Monte Cassino, though with the help of Matilda and Jordan, he took back the Vatican Hill. Before May was out he was once more in Rome in answer to a summons for the countess Matilda of Tuscany, whose troops held the Leonine City and Trastevere, but when at the end of June the antipope once more gained possession of St. Peter's, Victor again withdrew at once to his Monte Cassino abbey. In August a council or synod of some importance was held at Benevento, which renewed the excommunication of the antipope Clement III and the condemnation of lay investiture, proclaimed a kind of crusade against the Saracens in northern Africa and anathematised Hugh of Lyons and Richard, Abbot of Marseilles.

When the council had lasted three days, Victor became seriously ill and retired to Monte Cassino to die. He had himself carried into the chapter-house, issued various decrees for the benefit of the abbey, appointed with the consent of the monks the prior, Cardinal Oderisius, to succeed him in the abbacy, just as he himself had been appointed by Stephen IX (X), and proposed Odo of Ostia to the assembled cardinals and bishops as the next pope. He died on 16 September 1087, and was buried in the tomb he had prepared for himself in the abbey's chapter-house. His successor was Pope Urban II (1088–99).


In the sixteenth century his body was removed to the abbey church, and again translated in 1890. The cultus of Blessed Victor seems to have begun not later than the pontificate of Anastasius IV, about 60 years after his death (Acta Sanctorum, Loc. cit.).

In 1727 the Abbot of Monte Cassino obtained from pope Benedict XIII permission to keep his feast (Tosti, I, 393).


The only literary work of Victor which we possess is his "Dialogues," on the miracles wrought by St. Benedict and other saints at Monte Cassino.

There is also a letter to the bishops of Sardinia, to which country (since circa 1050 brought under Pisan and Genoan control) he had sent monks while still abbot of Monte Cassino. In his "De Viris Illustribus Casinensibus", Peter the Deacon ascribes to him the composition of a "Cantus ad B. Maurum" and letters to King Philip of France and to Hugh of Cluny, which no longer exist.

Sources and references

This article incorporates text from the entry Pope Blessed Victor III in Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, a publication now in the public domain.

  • GigaCatholic- Papal See of Rome
  • CatholicEncyclopaedia
  • Westermann, Großer Atlas zur Weltgeschichte (in German)
  • Chronicon Cassinense, in Monumenta German. Histor.: Script., VII, reprinted in P.L., 173
  • some autobiographical details are to be met with in his own Dialogues, P.L., 149.
  • MABILLON, Acta Sanctorum, Sept., V, 373 sqq.
  • WATTERICH, Pontificum Romanorum Vitae, I (Leipzig, 1862), in which (562) is to be found the letter of Hugh of Lyons mentioned above
  • Liber Pontificalis, ed. DUCHESNE, II (Paris, 1892), 292
  • JAFFE, Regesta Pontific. Roman., I (Leipzig, 1885), 655-6.
  • MANN, Lives of the Popes, VII (London, 1910), 218-244.

For Desiderius's relations with the Normans

  • CHALANDON, Histoire de la Domination Normande en Italie et en Sicile (Paris, 1907)
  • BOHMER, Victor III in Realencyklopadie fur protestantische Theologie, XX (Leipzig, 1908)
  • GREGOROVIUS, History of Rome in the Middle Ages, tr. HAMILTON, IV (London, 1894-1900)
  • MILMAN, Latin Christianity, IV (London, 1872)
  • TOSTI, Storia della Badia di Monte Cassino (Naples, 1842)
  • CROWE and CAVALCASELLE, History of Painting in Italy (New York, 1909).
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Gregory VII
Succeeded by
Urban II

Popes of the Roman Catholic Church
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