Shortest-Reigning Popes

Pope (Latin: papa; Greek: Pappas, it is also the child’s word for father) denotes the Bishop of Rome and the leader of the global Catholic Church. The Pope is one of the most powerful and valued positions in the world. The importance and value of a pope or Bishop of Rome are derived from the traditional role of succeeding Saint Peter to whom Jesus Christ left the keys of Heaven and the power of binding and losing by naming the rock upon which the church of Christ is to be built. The office of the pope is called the papacy. The current holder of the papacy is Pope Francis who took over from Benedict XVI. Historically, the position of the pope is one of the most enduring jobs; however, there have been several popes whose reigns lasted for a month or less. Some of the popes served for only days. The article explores the top 10 of the shortest reigning popes ever.

Stephen II: Reigned for 3 Days (23 – 26 March 752)

Stephen II was the Roman priest who was elected as pope in 752 to succeed Pope Zachary. The pope made him the cardinal presbyter in 745. The elected pope died of a stroke after three days of his election as the Bishop of Rome even before he was Ordained. According to the canon laws of the time, he was not recognized as a valid pope until the canon laws were revised in 1975 that he was included on the list of popes. The change in the canon laws helped recognized him as Pope Stephen II, making it complicated in naming or numbering of Pope Stephens. His immediate successor took the name Pope Stephen II, but now he is Pope Stephen III. Based on the Roman Bishops history, there have been ten Pope Stephens; it gets confusing if one needs to distinguish them. Tracing the first Pope Stephen is even more difficult than distinguishing among them. He also enders the record as the shortest reigning pope in the history of the papacy.[1]

Urban VII: Reigned for 13 Days (15 – 27 September 1590)

Although his name sounds like the loathsome X-factor youth; Pope Urban VII was a famous Cardinal-Priest of S. Marcello (1584-1590) before his election. He was born Giovanni Battista Castagna in 1521. He was elected to succeed Pope Sixtus V on 15th September 1590. The election as the Roman Bishops was attributed in part because of the backing of the Spanish faction. After his election, he elected a name that is associated with kindness, “Urban” which to some extent reflects his short reign at the papacy. Until the canon laws and regulations were changed to include Pope Stephen II, he was the shortest reigning pope in history. Some of the activities as the pope before his death 13 days after being elected encompass enlisting all the poor people in Rome so he could help them, banning public smoking of all kind, paying his debts, ordering the pieces of bread to be made bigger in size and cheaper were some of the popular acts before he left us. Pope Urban VII contracted malaria in Rome and died on 27th of September 1590 and was buried in the Vatican. His papacy lasted for 13 days, at least longer than Pope Stephen’s three days![2]

Boniface VI: Reigned for 16 Days (April 896)

Pope Boniface VI is one of the most forgotten Popes because very little is known about him. He was a native of Rome and was the Pope during the 896. Pope Boniface VI was elected as the successor of Pope Formosus. The selection of Pope Boniface VI was prompted by the riot that erupted soon after the death of his predecessor Pope Formosus. The infamous Pope Boniface VI only reigned for 16 days as the Pope and succumbed to his ultimate death that was said to be caused by gout. The claims and deaths associated with gout were typical among the Bishops of Rome; some religious researchers should launch investigations into the matter sometimes. Before his election and reign, he served two deprivation of orders sentences as a subdeacon and priest. Though Pope Boniface is still included in the official list of Popes, his election was declared null and void by the mean John IX at Synod held in Rome. He is among the shortest reigning popes in the history of the papacy with just 16 days of pontification.[3]

Celestine IV: Reigned for 17 Days (25 October – 10 November 1241)

The papacy of Celestine IV began in October 1241, was claimed to be the nephew of another Pope, Urban VII. He was born Goffredo Castiglione, and little is known concerning his early life, even the claim that he was the nephew to another Pope are unproven. The little is known about Celestine IV making one wonder if the Vatican archives are secretive because they have nothing in them. Pope Gregory IX made him cardinal in 1227, and 1228 dispatched him as the legate in Tuscany and Lombardy, the cities and communities that were true to the Roman emperor. Death is an insult and injury to the legacy of many people who just got the opportunity to serve in a prestigious office like the papacy. Imagine the Vatican little about Pope Celestine IV to the extent that they lost even the location to his grave. He got to be Pope for about 17days; the ironic fact is that he was forgotten historically and also the place he was buried is in the wind![4]

Theodore II: Reigned for 20 Days (December 897)

Pope Theodore II reigned for only twenty days in December of 897 before meeting with his ultimate death. Pope Stephen V previously ordained him as the priest. During his short reign, Pope Theodore reinstated clerics that had been forced out of office by Pope Stephen VI and also recognized the ordination of Pope Formosus, evidently, he was very active. The most interesting fact about the activities of his 20-day reign was the reburying of Pope Formosus. Why so? Because the body of Formosus had been exhumed for trial revolving around “ecclesiastical offenses” and thrown in the Tiber as he was declared illegitimate Pope. Therefore, Pope Theodore II had the body recovered near the ancient harbor of Porto, south of Rome and gave him a proper papal burial. After that, he quickly succumbed to his death 20 days into his papacy reign.[5]

Sisinnius: Reigned for 21 Days (15 January – 4 February 708)

Pope Sisinnius reigned in 708, and little information is available concerning him. He was elected the Pope during the Byzantine Papacy, and he was the successor of Pope John VII after the vacancy of three months. He was consecrated as the Pope on 15th January of 708 and reigned for 21 calendar days before death claiming him. Pope Sisinnius was attributed to being a man of strong personality and thought which was good for the church and Rome City. He was afflicted with gout to the extent that he was unable to feed by himself. Despite his short reign, Pope Sisinnius had laid down the schedules and plans for the repair of the walls of Rome, which were implemented during the reign of Pope Gregory II.[6]

Marcellus II: Reigned for 23 Days (9 April – 1 May 1555)

He was one of the most ambitious Popes with vast dreams and vision for the Church reforms in the history of the papacy. And he was born as Marcello Cervini deli Spannochi and rose through the ranks of the Catholic church, for instance, he was the Cardinal Priest of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme before he was elected as Pope. Pope Marcellus II was elected as the successor of Pope Julius III in 1555. He is the most recent Pope to choose to retain his birth name as his regnal name following his accession and was second to assume the name Marcellus upon being selected as Pope. Further, it was 423 years before another Pope selected a name with an ordinal number less than IV. His reign began during lent just before Easter and fell ill because if overexerting himself in pontifical celebrations. He bled, appeared to recovery briefly before suffering from stroke, succumbing into stroke and died after 23 days his papacy.[7]

Damasus II: Reigned for 24 Days (17 July – 9 August 1048)

Pope Damasus II was born to become Pope as illuminated in his birth name; he was born as Poppo. He served as Pope from 17th July 1048 to 9th August the same year. He was the second German pontiff to be nominated for papacy by the emperor Henry III. Pope Damasus II was the Bavaria native, marked the third German to ascent to the papacy in history and also made history as the shortest reigning German native Pope ever. Before his nomination by the emperor, Pope Damasus II was the Bishop of Brixen. He reigned a past 24 days as the Bishop of Rome and the leader of the Global Catholic Church and fell victim of a mosquito bite that signed his death certificate because of malaria infection.[8]

Pius III: Reigned for 27 Days (22 September – 18 October 1503)

Pope Pius XII was elected as the Pope in 1503 and assumed the name Pius III in honor of his uncle who also served as the Pope under the name Pope Pius II. He was selected as the successor of Pope Julius II and predecessor of Pope Alexander VI and reigned as for less than a month as the pope. Pope Pius III was highly viewed as the man with great integrity and was very popular during his time. For instance, he was had risen to archbishopric at the age of 21 when he was appointed as the Cardinal in 1460. And within months of the cardinal appointment, he was sent as legate to the March of Ancona under the experienced Bishop where he proved attentive and competent. He was elected as the pope when the conference could not identify or agree on any other candidate for the papacy that had been left vacant by the death of Pope Julius II. He was ambitious and had higher plans and policies to reform the church, but unfortunately, to both Pope Pius III and history, he succumbed to his death after suffering from gout only reigning for 27 calendar days of the papacy.[9]

Leo XI: Reigned for 28 Days (1 – 27 April 1605)

Born Alessandro Ottaviano de’ Medici was elected as the Pope on 1st April 1605 at the time the April fool’s day got extremely out of control. After his election, he chose the name Leo XI, and he was 69 years during his selection. He was the successor of Pope Paul V and predecessor of Pope Clement VIII. He reigned as the pope for just 28 calendar days, the short stint in the Papacy earned him the nickname “The Lightning Pope” because he died from cold and fatigue following the basilica procession ceremony of St. John Lateran.[10]

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