That Benedict was a Roman, the son of Boniface, is all that is known of the
early life of this first of a long line of popes to bear the name. Benedict
seems to have been called Bonosus by the Greeks. After John III died, there
was an interval of over ten months before Benedict was consecrated. By now
the emperors were claiming the right to confirm papal elections, and with
Lombard bands on the prowl, the difficulty of communicating with
Constantinople was great.
Benedict's pontificate was filled with misery. The Lombard problem had
landed with a thud on the doorstep of the papacy. After the death of
Alboin, the chief who had led them into Italy, the Lombards soon broke up
into bands led by dukes. While this lack of unity saved several cities for
the empire, it increased the sufferings of the people. Without any central
control, Lombard war parties ravaged up and down the peninsula. This ten-
year period from 574 to 584, the decade of the dukes, was the most
miserable period of the Lombard invasions. Nor was the Eastern Empire
able to help. When in 577, the Patrician Pamphronius brought from Rome to
Constantinople three hundred pounds of gold to persuade the Emperor to send
help, he was told that the armed forces of the empire had their hands full
fighting Persians. The best use he could make of the money was to offer it
as a bribe to the Franks or to the Lombards themselves.
Famine too threatened Rome, but Benedict had the satisfaction of seeing an
imperial grain fleet from Egypt sail up the Tiber to relieve his distressed
It is quite probable that Benedict was the pope who received the famous
cross donated by Emperor Justin II to the shrine of the Apostles. At any
rate, in an inscription on the cross, Emperor Justin piously hopes that in
consideration of his gift, Heaven will send help to the city.
This cross, over a foot high, is covered with silver gilt and adorned with
jewels. It still may be seen in St. Peter's.
Benedict I died July 30, 579, as the Lombards were besieging Rome. He
was buried in St. Peter's.
Excerpted from "Popes
Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.