After February 28th, we will be sans Pope. Benedict XVI will retire after eight years as head of the Catholic Church, and go back to simply being Joseph Ratzinger: man of God and man who’s dead tired of all those Emperor Palpatine jokes.
Now, eight years is not a terribly long time time for a Pope; there have only been nine of them since 1903 out of a total of 266, so most of us won’t have seen more than a few come and go. But compared to some of his predecessors, Benedict was around for an eternity.
The following list is comprised of reigns so short that most people at the time probably never even knew they were Pope at all.
10. Benedict V and John Paul I (tied at 33 days)
In 963, Otto I, Duke of the Saxons, King of the Germans and Holy Roman Emperor, deposed of Pope John XII and placed Leo VIII in his place. The Roman people didn’t accept Leo, however, and elected Benedict V as their true Pope. Outraged by this, Otto went to Rome, put Leo XII back in power, and brought Benedict V back to Germany, where he spent the rest of his life. Eventually, his remains were returned to Rome. Some do not regard Benedict as a true Pope, though both he and Leo are included in the official list of Popes.
In more recent times, John Paul I was elected Pope August 26, 1978, and died of a heart attack September 28th of that same year. Though many believe his death was due to something far m0re sinister, the Church officially lists his death as being from a heart attack. His immediate successor became John Paul II in tribute, and went on to record the third-longest Papacy of all time.
9. Leo XI and Pius III (tied at 26 days)
Alessandro Ottaviano de’ Medici (Leo XI) was elected Pope on April 1st in 1605, presumably as an April fool’s joke that got extraordinarily out of hand. He was 69 years of age when elected, and almost immediately got sick and died. Although brief, his stint as Pope was by no means fruitless: the fact that his reign was so short earned him the nickname “The Lightning Pope”, which we can only pray to God becomes a superhero film soon.
Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini was elected Pope in 1503 and took the name Pius III, in honor of his uncle, Pope Pius II. He was elected when the conclave couldn’t agree on any other candidate, though he was still very popular, viewed as a man with great integrity. He attempted to reform the church in many ways, but unfortunately for Pius (and possibly history), he suffered from gout and died after just 26 days.
8. Damasus II (23 days)
This guy was born to be Pope. If you don’t believe us, just check out his real name: Poppo. His full name was Poppo or, as the Catholic Encyclopedia lists it, POPPO. No last name was required, because who else would give their child a name like that? Fortunately for Poppo, he got to choose himself a new name upon becoming Pope. Unfortunately for Poppo, he died a few weeks later from malaria he contracted from a mosquito, when he left Rome to escape the heat.
7. Marcellus II (22 days)
Born Marcello Cervini deli Spannochi, and elected Pope in April 1555, Marcellus II also had big dreams of Church reform. However, he took on far too much at once, since he was elected during Lent, just before Holy Week & Easter. As a result, he fell ill from overexerting himself. He was bled, and appeared to recover briefly. On April 30th he suffered a stroke, slipped into a coma, and died.
6. Sisinnius (21 days)
While not much is known about Sisinnius, we do know that he was elected Pope in 708. Although his pontificate lasted less than three weeks, he had laid out plans to repair the walls of Rome, which were seen through by Pope Gregory II. Also afflicted with gout, Sisinnius was unable to do so much as feed himself, and succumbed to his illness shortly after being elected. At least his sinister-sounding name could provide us with an arch-nemesis for Lightning Pope in the upcoming summer blockbuster that Hollywood better be making right now.
5. Theodore II (20 days)
Again, not much is known about this pope, but the best guess is that his pontificate was sometime in December of 897. The most interesting thing about Theodore II was that he reburied Pope Formosus. You’re probably thinking that that’s not very interesting, but the reason Formosus had to be reburied was because his body had been exhumed from its grave and put on trial for “ecclesiastical offenses”, so that he could be declared an illegitimate Pope. Why the body had to be physically on trial is anyone’s guess. Theodore recovered the body, which had been thrown in the Tiber river and brought back in by a flood, and gave it a proper, Papal burial. Then he died somehow, at some point, really quickly. Record-keeping in the late 800’s was scarce, at best.
4. Celestine IV (17 days)
Born Goffredo Castiglione and beginning his papacy in October 1241, was, once again, the nephew of another Pope. Even less is known about Celestine IV than many of the previous entries on this list, making us wonder if the Vatican archives are so secret simply because they actually have nothing in them. To add insult to injury (death is an injury, right?), the Church has reinforced that they know nothing about this man by losing the exact location of his grave. Ironic then that, instead of being lost to history, he’s claimed the number 4 spot on this list.
3. Boniface VI (15 days)
Successor of the aforementioned Pope Formosus, Pope Boniface VI joins the league of forgotten Popes. Very little is known about him, and what is known, he probably wishes we’d forget. Pope for just 15 days, Boniface died from gout. Perhaps some celebrity should launch a Kickstarter campaign, to help fund research into gout-stricken Popes. Two years after his death, John IX declared Boniface Vi’s election null and void (meanie,) but he is still included in the official list of Popes.
2. Urban VII (13 days)
Despite sounding like another loathsome X-Factor boy band, Urban VII was an extremely popular man when he was elected Pope in 1590. He had an extreme amount of experience, and was considered a genius. He chose the name “Urban,” which signified kindness; he certainly reflected this in his short run, as one of his first acts was to make a list of all the poor in Rome, so that he could help them. He paid off debts, ordered that loaves of bread be made larger and cheaper, and was all-around a good guy. Alas, he soon fell ill, and died less than two weeks into his papacy.
1. Stephen II (3 days)
Stephen II was unanimously elected to be Pope in March of 752 but, three days after his election, he suffered apoplexy (kind of like a stroke with hemorrhaging) and died. Since he was never consecrated, many did not view him as a real Pope, but now he is counted among them. This has led to a lot of difficulty with the numbering of Pope Stephens. His immediate successor took the name “Stephen II,” but is now referred to as Stephen III. There have been a total of ten Pope Stephens, so it could get pretty confusing if you ever have to distinguish between them.