Except that he was a Roman, the son of Benedict, and that he was
elected pope probably on May 17, 884, practically nothing is known about Hadrian
before he became pope.
As pope, Hadrian had his troubles
with the gang of evildoers broken up by Pope John VIII. After that strong
pontiff died, they had drifted back to Rome. One of them, George of the Aventine,
had a life which would make headline material for the yellow press. He had
poisoned his brother for the sake of his mistress. He had solidified his
position by marrying the niece of Pope Benedict III; but later on, wishing to
marry the daughter of Gregory, a high official, he killed his wife almost in
public. George had escaped punishment by his influence with the imperial
officials and his father-in-law, Gregory. But now, for reasons that remain
obscure, justice caught up with him. Pope Hadrian III had his eyes put out.
Criminals often have little significance for the historian, but when, like
George, they are part of the ruling class of Rome, the nobles who are coming to
influence papal elections, then they have a sad significance. Hadrian sent a
friendly letter to Photius. He took under his protection the Monastery of St.
Giles in France and the Monastery of St. Sixtus in Piacenza. According to the
medieval chronicler Martinus Polonus, the Italian nobility, seeing that the
Carolingians could do little but fight among themselves, asked Pope Hadrian to
do something for Italy. Hadrian then issued two decrees.
first proclaimed that the pope-elect should be consecrated without waiting for
any imperial confirmation. The second stated that if Emperor Charles the Fat
died without heirs male the nobles of Italy should select one of their number to
be Emperor and King of Italy. Since the only source for these decrees is an
uncritical thirteenth-century chronicler, it is doubtful whether Hadrian
actually did issue these decrees. Emperor Charles the Fat invited Pope Hadrian
to a diet at Worms at which the question of the imperial succession would be
discussed. Hadrian, after appointing John, bishop of Pavia, to rule Rome in his
absence, left for Germany. But he did not get out of Italy. Sickness struck him
down, and he died near Nonantula probably in September 885. He was buried in the
Church of the Monastery of St. Silvester. Except for the exiled Pope St. Martin
I, Hadrian III is the first pope since Gregory the Great not to be buried in St.
Peter's. Excerpted from "Popes
Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.