The pope, the supreme pontiff, the Bishop of Rome. Whatever you call him, the titles all mean the same thing: he’s the head of the Catholic Church. It makes sense that he would embody all of the goodwill, compassion, and politicking that comes with such a title.
The papacy has been alive for centuries so naturally, it has a wild history rife with remarkable achievements — and some growing pains. You might think you know religion like the back of your hand, but there’s definitely a fact or two (or twenty!) about the papacy you didn’t know on this list!
1. Paul VI was the first pope to fly: In 1964, he traveled to the Holy Land. The most frequent flyer was former Pope John Paul II, having traveled over 725,000 miles and visited almost two-thirds of the world.
2. St. Pius was the first pope ever photographed: The image was taken around 1850. Prior to this, the church frowned on photography, preferring in its place the staid classical portraits of yore. Can’t argue with that, after all, oil paint can hide a myriad of sins.
3. All popes used to travel by throne: Prior to 1978, the Bishop of Rome was carried via a silk-covered armchair called a “sedia gestatoria.” The throne sat atop two rods and was transported on the shoulders of twelve footmen. Popes used this form of transportation for nearly 1,000 years!
4. A bird once got a man named pope: Believe it or not, one bishop was appointed Pope when a dove landed on his head! There wasn’t an official system in place used to elect a new pope at the time, so when a dove landed on Bishop Anteros, he was appointed based on pure divinity.
5. To be the pope you must be male and Catholic: There are only two prerequisites to be elected pope in the modern era: be a male and be baptized by the Catholic Church. Still, a non-cardinal hasn’t been elected since 1378 — Urban VI — and his papacy faced a lot of conflict.