Who Were the Most Memorable Popes?

Head of the Catholic Church, the Pope follows in the footsteps of St. Peter who was chosen by Jesus to be the leader of the early church and be the rock of its foundations.

For centuries, one iconic figure has been celebrated and cherished throughout the world; the Pope. Being the leader of the Catholic church as well as the ruler of Vatican City, the Pope has been the symbol of Christlike holiness and a moral compass to all for years. There have been countless Popes throughout the Catholic church’s reign, with some becoming unforgettable icons, and others falling through the cracks.

Those Who Gave Vatican City Their Iconic Sites

  • Vatican Museums

    The birth of these museums began in 1503 by Pope Julius II, when a new marble statue was discovered in a country vineyard in 1506. The sculpture was known as ‘Laocoon and His Sons,’ which depicts the Trojan priest Laocoön and his two sons frantically trying to free themselves from the grasp of serpents. Since its 16th century excavation, ‘Laocoon and His Sons’ has attracted archaeologists and art lovers alike, mesmerised by the sculpture’s reenactment of such an action-packed scene. The sculpture was purchased by Pope Julius II after Giuliano da Sangallo and Michelangelo Buonarroti confirmed its value and worth. It was then put on display in the Vatican Museums, with the rest of the collection growing after private families and other pope’s also contributed their lot. He is best known as the ‘warrior pope,’ who used warfare to gain control of the Papal States after the alienation of sections to Cesare Borgia. However, his contribution to the Renaissance made it a substantial era.

  • Sistine Chapel

    The existence of the Sistine Chapel is down to two Popes; Pope Sixtus IV and Julius II.  Before either of these two commissioned anything, the chapel was the ancient Capella Magna. In the 1470s, Pope Sixtus IV commissioned a new chapel on top of the basic foundation of Capella Magna. However, the first interior decorations were done by numerous artists, including Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Pinturicchio, and Cosimo Roselli. But it was not until 1508 when Pope Julius II commissioned a new ceiling to be done by the famous Michelangelo. Both these commissions led to one of the most magnificent and iconic structures in Vatican City.

The Most Memorable Popes

  • St. Peter

    St. Peter is regarded as the very first pope ever to exist. A member of Jesus’ twelve apostles, he was the rock of Jesus’ church. After being given the keys to the church, he was known to perform the first miracle in Jesus’ name and was the main mortal figure for Christianity. His memory lives on, with no less than 5 festivals dedicated to him and his religious dedication.

  • Pope Leo

    Pope Leo makes this due to his peacekeeping and perseverance for human rights. Some of his greatest triumphs were single-handedly convincing one of the world’s greatest warriors- Attila the Hun- to not invade Rome. As well as rebuilding the city after the sacking of Rome. During his reign, there were many dissents threatening the sanctity of Catholicism. However, Pope Leo I was a gracious leader, and only ever used his power for the people and not himself. After his death, he was canonised as a saint and is now known as Leo the Great.

  • Pope Francis

    One of the more current Popes has easily made it to this list due to his strong advocacy in political and environmental issues. He is known for breaking traditions, the first Pope from Argentina, and chose to stay in a simple apartment instead of the luxurious Apostolic Palace. His progression in some areas was controversial in the Catholic Church but necessary to adopt to modern times. Including his strong opinions on climate change, he also places a lot of significance on global social injustice.

The most unforgettably un-holy

  • John XII

    Unfortunately for John XII, it was never going to end well, becoming pope at the young age of eighteen. Being holy and without sin became too difficult for the young man, transforming his residence from the simple holy place into a brothel like home. Once tasting the sins of life, John XII took it even further; murdering, invoking demons, and even having sexual relations with his sisters. Unsurprisingly his promiscuity ended up being his undoing when he was found in bed with a married lady. When the woman’s husband found out he beat the pope so badly that he died from his injuries 3 days later.

  • Benedict IX

    Benedict IX, though a terrible pope, held the position on 3 different occasions! The first was when he was only 12 years old, and ran away from the role when he apparently overheard his consorts plotting to kill him. This threat did not seem to stop him committing crimes however, as he grew up to be a wicked boy who performed unspeakable deeds, like thievery and murder to name a few. His second reign only lasted 2 months, before he was bribed to leave. Lastly, his third and final reign lasted a short eight months before he was finally driven out for good, never return again.

  • Alexander VI

    Alexander VI came to be pope by bribing his fellow cardinals, which says a lot about his character. Before his reign, he was apart of the Italian crime family; the Borgias. His attitude did not change, acting similar to when he was in the crime business, with bribing, conspiracies, and dishonesty surrounding him and his decisions. He fathered at least nine children during his reign and was also known to host a series of orgies, with one being named ‘Joust of Whores.’ His unmoral compass gets even worse when you hear about how he had multiple reports where he engaged in insest with his daughter, Lucrezia.

Related article: The First and Only Female Pope

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