Who Were the Most Memorable Popes?

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 wholesomeness and a moral compass to all. 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. A new discovery of a marble sculpture was found in a country vineyard. The sculpture was known as the ‘Laocoon and His Sons,’ which depicts the Trojan priest Laocoön with his two sons, all being attacked by gigantic serpents. The recently named Pope Julius II purchased the sculpture after sending  Giuliano da Sangallo and Michelangelo Buonarroti to investigate its value. It was then put on display within the museums, with the rest of the collection growing after private families and other popes’ collections being combined. 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

For the Sistine Chapel is due to two Popes; Pope Sixtus IV and Julius II.  Before either of these two commissioned anything, the chapel was once 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 best of the best

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 choose 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 modern times. Including his strong opinions on climate change and the significance, he places on global social justice issues.
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. His promiscuity ended up becoming his eventual fall after he was found in bed with a married lady. The husband beat the pope so badly, he later died three days later from his injuries.

Benedict IX

Benedict IX was able to become a terrible pope three separate times! The first being when he was a mere twelve years old. He grew into a wicked boy and ran from the position after he hard political opponents were going to murder him. In the time between his reigns, he started thieving, murdering and committing other unspeakable deeds.  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 insect with his daughter, Lucrezia.

See where the Popes live on our Extended Vatican Museums & Gardens Tour!

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