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Born in Rome, Stephen was a member of the ruling house of Spoleto. Before he was elected pope in 931, he was bishop of Agnani. Shortly after his election, he ordered the corpse of his predecessor, Formosus, disinterred, and he tried the dead pontiff on various charges in what is now called the Cadaver Synod. Formosus, whose part was taken by a deacon, was found guilty, and his corpse was mutilated and thrown into the Tiber. Stephen declared all of Formosus' ordinations invalid and required that any clergyman whom Formosus had ordained write a letter acknowledging that his ordination had been and was invalid. Formosus had ordained Stephen, who argued that he had been ordained against his will. However, he did accept demotion and was reordained. The basilica of the Lateran collapsed not long after this bizarre event, and many credited divine judgement. Fifteen months after his election, Stephen was ousted and imprisoned; he was strangled in prison. Rumors abound that he was insane.

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