Fun Facts: Popes
"It often happens that I wake at night and begin to think
about a serious problem and decide I must tell the pope about it. Then
I wake up completely and remember that I am the pope!"
—Pope John XXIII
One of the pope's titles, Pontifex Maximus, means
"supreme bridge builder". This title was
formerly held by the pagan high priests of Rome and the Roman
emperors, until the Christian emperor Gratian renounced it.
It was not until the third century that it was asserted that
Saint Peter was the first bishop of Rome.
The son of Pope Hormisdas (pope from 514 to 523), Silverius,
was himself elected pope in 536. Silverius was deposed nine months later
and exiled to Palmarola, where he died three months later.
Both popes were eventually canonized.
Pope Stephen II was pope for only three days, from March 22nd or 23rd
to March 25th or 26th, 752,
dying of apoplexy before he could be consecrated.
Pope Adrian II (also known as Hadrian II), pope from 867 to
872, was the last married pope.
He had married before he was elected pope, and refused to put away his
wife Stephania when he became pope. For a while he, his wife, and a
daughter lived in the Lateran Palace together.
Interestingly enough, several subsequent popes, though unmarried,
At the instigation of Holy Roman co-emperor Lambert, a "cadaveric
synod" convened in 897, eight months after the death of Pope Formosus, to
declare his five-year pontificate illegal and his acts null and void—chiefly
the one establishing Lambert's rival Arnaulf as co-emperor.
Formosus was exhumed and propped in a witness chair while
the new pope, Stephen VI, served as prosecutor and a deacon represented
the dead defendant. Found guilty, the corpse was stripped of papal
array and tossed into the Tiber River. However, the Roman citizens, finding
the trial somewhat unusual, had Stephen deposed and imprisoned.
Pope John IX then nullified Formosus' conviction and had his body fished
out of the Tiber and returned to St. Peter's.
Perhaps the worst pope in history was Octavian, Count of Tusculum,
who was consecrated Pope John XII on December 16th, 955.
On November 6th, 963, Holy Roman Emperor Otto I summoned a
council, levelling charges that John had ordained a
deacon in a stable, consecrated a 10-year-old boy as bishop of Todi,
converted the Lateran Palace into a brothel, raped female pilgrims in
St. Peter's, stolen church offerings, drank toasts to the devil, and
invoked the aid of Jove, Venus, and other pagan gods when playing dice.
He was deposed, but returned as pope when Otto left Rome,
maiming and mutilating all who had opposed him.
On May 11th, 964, he was apparently beaten by the husband
of a woman with whom he was committing adultery,
dying three days later without receiving confession or the sacraments.
The youngest pope ever was likely Pope John XII, who was consecrated in
955 at the age of 18 or 19. By some accounts, Pope Benedict IX was only
around 12 years old when he was made pope in 1032; however, while Benedict
was young at his consecration, it was more likely that he was in his twenties.
Gerbert of Aurillac, who became Pope Sylvester II in the year 999, was the greatest
Latin scholar around the turn of the first millennium. In his youth he went to Muslim Spain to
study philosophy and mathematics. His education
made him so intellectually superior to the rest of his Christian
contemporaries that for many centuries he was regarded as possessing
mysterious powers of black magic and sorcery.
The first female saint formally canonised by the Vatican (as opposed
to the older, "pre-congregation" saints that were not formally canonised)
was Saint Wilborada, canonised in 1047 by Pope Clement II. She
was an anchoress who warned the monks of St. Gall of an impending Hungarian
invasion. However, being an anchoress, she was walled into a small cell
and could not escape, and so was martyred by the Hungarians.
There were two Thursdays one week in 1147. Pope Eugenius III
travelled to Paris, and was scheduled to arrive on a Friday. In order
that the Parisians could hold a celebration on Friday, a day of fast,
Eugenius decreed that that day would be a Thursday.
A pope gave Ireland to the King of England. Pope Alexander III,
wanting to eradicate Celtic Christianity in Ireland, declared Henry II of England to be
the rightful Irish sovereign. This papal declaration, issued in
1172, led to the English conquest of Ireland, which took several
centuries to complete, by which time England no longer followed the
Pope. It took until the 20th century for the Irish to regain
Pope Celestine III was the oldest pope at the time of his election, being
around 85 years of age when he became pope in 1191.
Pope Innocent IV, pope between 1243 and 1254, first decreed that cardinals should wear red hats at ceremonies and processions, in token of their being ready to spill their blood for the Saviour.
Prior to 2013,
the only pope to abdicate of his own free will was Pope Celestine V.
After Pope Nicholas IV died in 1292, the College of Cardinals were unable
to agree on a pope for over two years, when they received a letter from Peter of Morone,
a 79-year-old hermit, who wrote that God had told him that the
cardinals would be punished for any further delay. They then chose
Peter, who took the name Celestine V when he became pope
on July 5, 1294. He was not particularly well-suited for the position,
and on December 13 he abdicated, citing "my lowliness, my desire for a
more perfect life, my great age and infirmities, my inexperience, and
ignorance of the world's affairs." His successor, Boniface VIII, annulled
almost all of Celestine's edicts, except the one confirming the right of
the pope to abdicate, and imprisoned him in Fumone Castle, where he died
Due to a clerical error, there was no Pope John XX. Pope John XIX
was pope from 1024 to 1032, and the next John to be pope was Pope John
XXI from 1276 to 1277.
On June 29, 1456, when what is now known as Halley's comet could be seen
at night and was seen as an omen of impending disaster, Pope Calixtus III
issued a papal bull against the comet, asking Christians to
pray that the comet, symbolizing "the anger of God", would be fended off
or be diverted solely against the Turks.
At a council in Constance between 1414 and 1417,
the man who called himself Pope John XXIII and is now known as
Antipope John XXIII (1410–1415; not to be confused with Pope John XXIII,
pope from 1958–1963) was convicted of piracy, murder, rape, and incest,
and received three years in prison.
By the time Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI in 1492, he already had
several children by a mistress, Vannozza Catanei. After his consecration as pope, he began
an affair with a 19-year-old married woman, Giulia Farnese. As pope, he put
the pursuit of wealth and worldly power ahead of the spiritual welfare of the
church, which played a part in the rise of the Protestant Reformation.
Pope Julius II.
In spite of the fact that the Catholic Church believed that the occult bordered on heresy,
Pope Julius II set the time of his coronation in 1503 based on astrological calculations.
The youngest pope since around 1400, when we have reliable dates of
birth for all popes, was Pope Leo X, who was 37 when he was elected to the
papacy on March 9, 1513. He was also the last person who was not a priest
to become pope.
Legend has it that Clement VII, pope from 1523 to 1534, was so fond of mushrooms
that he made it illegal for anyone else to eat those growing in the Papal States,
so that there would never be a shortage for his own table. He died in 1534 from
eating a poisonous death cap mushroom.
Pope John XXIII had served as a sergeant in the Italian army during World War I.
Pope Pius XI (1922–1939) was a mountaineer in his youth,
making ascents of several mountains in the Alps including Monte Rosa and
The American Institute of Management, which ranks major industries in
terms of management performance, evaluated the Roman Catholic Church in
1956, awarding Pope Pius XII and his bishops 8,800 points out of a possible
10,000. Four years later, under Pope John XXIII, the AIM's "management
excellence rating" climbed to 9,010 points, ranking the Church among the
best-managed institutions in the world.
When Pope Paul VI (1964–1978) made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1964, he was the
first reigning pope in over 150 years to travel outside of Italy.
On the other hand, Pope John Paul II (1978–2005) visited 129 countries
during his reign.
There were 124 popes (in addition to around 23 "anti-popes") in the
second millennium (1001–2000). Only five of these have been canonized as saints.
Pope John Paul II canonized more saints than all of his predecessors combined.
While the idea of papal infallibility may sound like an ancient or mediaeval concept,
it is not. This doctrine was first codified only at the First Vatican Council
The doctrine of papal infallibility does not imply that whatever the
pope says is always right. For the pope to make an infallible statement,
he has to be speaking ex cathedra, in his official capacity as
pastor for all Christians, and must make it clear that he is promulgating
a binding doctrine of faith. The last time that a pope made an infallible
statement was in 1950 when Pope Pius XII issued a dogmatic statement
ex cathedra regarding the Assumption of Mary.
When Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation on February 11, 2013,
he told his cardinals, "my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer
suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," and that he had
decided to "renounce the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, successor of St.
Peter." Because he spoke in Latin, because of the convoluted wording, and
because of the significance of what he was saying,
several of the 50 cardinals in attendance did not understand what
he was saying.