[click the picture for the linky list of A to Z participants]
The papacy is the longest succession of individuals to hold the same office. We are now on our 266th pope, seven of which have reigned during my lifetime.
The influence these men – learned, worldy elected by their peers – have had upon the world should not be underestimated. However I only have an hour for lunch so let’s do some sound bites.
The first pope – St Peter, the apostle and Christ’s most trusted disciple [despite that business with denial and cocks]
The youngest pope – either John XII, 18 at succession in AD 955, or Benedict IX, anywhere between 11 and 20 at his first succession in 1032. Both young men were castigated for their wickedly immoral ways, and both were reputed to have turned the Lateran Palace into a brothel. Benedict managed to be Pope on 3 separate occasions, on the 2nd selling the position for some ready cash. John was reputed to have a mistress called Joan who gave rise to the legend of Pope Joan.
Oldest pope – Leo XIII who was pope from 1878 until his death aged 93 in 1903.
Shortest reign – Stephen, 3 days – 23rd to 25th March 752. The shock of being elected was too much for him and he didn’t live to be crowned. Neither did Urban VII, 12 days – 15th to 27th September, 1590.
Scariest Pope – either Alexander VI, aka Rodrigo Borgia who doesn’t need much introduction or …
Leo X, who thought the Spanish Inquisition was such a spiffing idea that Portugal might like it too. Actually they pale into insignificance beside Urban II who instigated the First Crusade, something the world is still paying for today.
English Pope – Adrian IV, born Nicholas Breakspear in St Albans.
He started an early version of an internet flame-war with Frederic I, Holy Roman Emperor, over the misuse or mistranslation of a single word, that by means of increasingly irritated letters escalated into outright hostilities and could have ended in excommunication and war if Adrian hadn’t ended the conflict by choking on a fly that had drowned in his wine. One can only imagine Frederic’s troll-face when he heard the news.
Too many Popes – there have been times when papal succession has been contested. Accusations of vote rigging aren’t new. To be the leader of the free world is something to be aspired to and many of the candidates, while devout churchmen, were wildly ambitious and had private armies. But the most extreme occasion of papal superfluity occurred in 1309 when the Pope fell ut with France and France said “Okay we’ll have our OWN popes then.”
They built them a palace and everything in Avignon and there were 2 sets of popes, sometimes more for over 100 years
Most surprising Pope – this has to be Pius II.
He was highly educated, a humanist and writer, an urban planner, who designed Pienza as an ideal city. He wrote erotic poetry, but gave it up as inappropriate when he became pope and – oh my – was BFFs with Vlad Dracul!
Yes THAT Vlad Dracul, the Impaler, and inspiration for a hundred movies and ten times that many books, some of which sparkle. Vlad didn’t sparkle, but Pius enthused him about resisting the Ottoman Empire that was beginning to push into Wallachia. Finding their way blocked by stakes laden with writhing bodies – no, impaling does NOT kill outright if you do it properly – and sick of being picked off from ambush or met in open battle by hysterical troops who were more scared of Vlad than them, the Ottoman empire went home. Pius, presumably, took care of the confessions of multiple murders, believing that you can’t make a very big omelette without cracking half a country full of eggs.
There are more popes to read about, some of whom have been so wacky they deserve a post all to themselves. But this is where I’ll leave them for now.