Things you didn't know about the Vatican and the Popes of history

A millennial institution
The cloister of the Cardinals
The Avignon Popes
The Swiss Guard
The shortest pontificate
Sense of humor
Another good-natured Pope
Football
A Polish Pope
The third longest pontificate
International spirit
The Popemobile
An exorcist pope
Renounce
The oldest pope in history
Francis
Progressive positions
A sports fan
A millennial institution

The Catholic Church has 2,000 years of history and is arguably the best-known institution in the world. But few know how it works internally, let alone some details about its leaders. Find out more in this gallery!

The cloister of the Cardinals

To elect a new Pope, the Cardinals meet in a conclave, where they are isolated from the rest of the world. This tradition, made to avoid political pressure, has existed since the 13th century.

The Avignon Popes

In the 14th century, Popes came to reside outside the Vatican. That's when the city of Avignon, France, became famous for hosting them in the Palace of the Popes. During this period, the supreme heads of the Catholic Church were French: there were seven in total.

The Swiss Guard

Since 1505, the Vatican has been protected by the Pontifical Swiss Guard, known for its colorful uniforms. At the time, Swiss mercenaries were reputed to be the most formidable in Europe. It is also the second smallest army in the world, after Monaco.

The shortest pontificate

In 1590, the new Pope, Urban VII, contracted malaria and died twelve days after being elected. It was the shortest Pontificate in two millennia. The conclave had to meet again the following month.

Sense of humor

Despite exercising a solemn function, Popes are not always so serious. John XXIII on one occasion said: "Sometimes during the night I think about very serious problems. In view of this, I tell myself that I should talk to the Pope about the matter. Then I wake up, really, and remember that the Pope is me!"

Another good-natured Pope

Pope John XXIII also said something unusual: "Anyone can become the Pope, I am the proof of that!"

Football

The Vatican has its team, the Vatican Football Team, which was created in 1972. The team played its first international match, in 1994, against San Marino, another microstate on the Italian peninsula. Match result: draw!

A Polish Pope

Elected in 1978, John Paul II was the first non-Italian Pope in 450 years and also the first to come from an Eastern European country. As he did not master Italian perfectly, he famously spoke from the balcony of St. Peter's Cathedral: "Correct me if I'm wrong."

The third longest pontificate

His Pontificate lasted 26 years and is the third-longest in history, after Saint Peter and Pius IX in the 19th century.

International spirit

John Paul II traveled to 129 countries (more than all of his predecessors combined) and preached to millions of people. And speaking of records, he's number one in beatifications and sanctifications.

The Popemobile

Victim of a firearm attack, in 1981, John Paul II acquired the habit of circulating, amid the crowd, in a small vehicle specially designed for him. The famous 'Popemobile.'

An exorcist pope

In 2002, the New York Post revealed that John Paul II had performed three exorcisms: the first in 1981, with a woman convulsing on the floor, the second in 2000, with an enraged woman in St. Peter's Square, and the last one in 2001.

Renounce

Benedict XVI, the first German pope since the 11th century, succeeded John Paul II in 2005. He is known for stepping down from his role. He was not the first to do this, by the way, but the tenth. Yet, it hadn't happened for over 6oo years. Benedict announced his decision (in Latin!) in February 2013.

The oldest pope in history

If Benedict XVI had not resigned, he would be a record holder now, as the oldest pope in history. The feat would have taken place in September 2020, the date on which he turned 93.

Francis

His Argentine successor brought much news. For starters, he was the first South American Pope in history. In addition, he was the first to be called Francisco. The start was as innovative as the rest of his Pontificate.

Progressive positions

Pope Francis has taken a stand against the more traditional ideals of the Church. Always in favor of immigrants, minorities, ecology, and against the power of money. This earned him some criticism, but above all, it increased the support of millions of Catholics around the world.

A sports fan

As a young man, Pope Francis used to play basketball, but his favorite sport is football. He is a fan of Club Atlético San Lorenzo de Almagro from Buenos Aires. They are nicknamed 'El Ciclón.'

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