Good Riddance

05 14 john xiiSometimes, when I’m searching for a subject, I have to write about someone on the day of their death. Usually it’s because no one knows when their birthday was. But occasionally, just occasionally it feels more appropriate to mark the day that they left us. Today’s post is not about someone brilliant. It’s about someone completely awful. But his story is too outrageous to ignore. The other day I wrote about Pope Sylvester II and how people thought he was in league with the Devil. I said I thought that his reputation might have been ill deserved and that there were other Popes who were far worse. Well, today, I give you Pope John XII…

I’ll start with a bit of family background. His grandmother, named Marozia, had once been mistress to Pope Sergius III and together they gave birth to another Pope, Pope John XI, but that is a separate issue. Marozia later married Alberic I, who was a duke and they had a son, who became Alberic II. Alberic number one died and Marozia married his half brother, Hugh, who became King of Italy. Alberic number two was, for various reasons pretty upset and tried to overthrow Hugh at the wedding ceremony. Hugh escaped but Marozia was imprisoned for the rest of her life. Alberic number two became the self-styled prince of Rome. He was the father of John XII.

Alberic II made the Roman nobles swear that his son, then named Octavianus, would be made Pope the next time the situation became vacant. Then Alberic died in 954 and his son became the next prince of Rome. The following year, the Pope died and Octavianus was, as promised, made Pope as well. Being both a prince and a pope, and also rather young, somewhere between eighteen and twenty-four, he got a bit above himself. Actually that’s putting it mildly. He did what ever he wanted.

He had a lot of trouble hanging onto his lands and called in the help of a German king, Otto I. He had Otto crowned Holy Roman Emperor. But later, he went back on all his promises of loyalty to the new emperor. If you’re a prince, hanging onto your lands is pretty important, as I think I mentioned when I wrote about Machiavelli the other day. As a pope though, John XII was absolutely terrible. Among his many mistresses were one of his father’s concubines and his own niece. He had sexual relationships with both women and men. No one was safe. He was such an awful sex pest that female pilgrims were put off visiting the tomb of Saint Peter in case they were attacked by the Pope. He turned the Papal Palace into a brothel. And that’s not all…

Pope John XII was a drinker and a gambler. He drank toasts to the Devil. He invoked the names of Jupiter and Venus whilst playing dice. When he lost, he used money from the papal treasury to pay off his debts. He once ordained a ten-year-old boy as a bishop and ordained a deacon in a stable. While we’re talking about stables, he is said to have kept 2,000 horses which he fed on figs and almonds soaked in wine. Anyone who tried to criticise him was severely punished. He had a cardinal castrated, put out the eyes of his confessor and had an archive-keeper’s nose cut off.

Eventually, Otto called a council and asked John to defend himself against a number of charges. John responded by threatening to excommunicate anyone who threatened to depose him, then he ran away. Whilst he was gone, another Pope was elected, Leo VIII. But then, John returned, evicted Leo, maimed many of his supporters and beheaded sixty-three bishops and noblemen. Fortunately just as he was about to try and make things up with Otto, he died. Want to know how? A man caught him in bed with his wife and hit him on the head with a hammer.

05 14 benedict ixOddly, the Catholic Church later made his cousin a pope. And two of his nephews. And his great nephew, Benedict IX, who was also spectacularly awful. I can mention him as well today, as no one seems to know when he died. Which is unusual for a pope. Benedict also had a string of lovers, both men and women, but he also added a few animals into the mix. He was forced out twice, then abdicated after selling the papacy to his godfather for fifteen hundred pounds of gold. But then he tried to seize power again and was excommunicated. He was eventually replaced by Pope Damasus II, who’s reign lasted less than a month. It’s a pity Popes don’t often rule under their own name, because his given name was Poppo. Pope Poppo would have been a fantastic name.

Magic Pope

05 12 pope sylvester iiToday, I want to tell you about Pope Sylvester II. I don’t know when his birthday was, but he died on this day in the year 1003. If I tell you that Sylvester was an excellent mathematician, you might not be very interested. But if I tell you that people believed he was in league with the devil and that he possessed a magical talking head, I may have you’re attention. Happily, both those things are true.

Sylvester’s birth name was Gerbert and he was born in the year 946, somewhere in the Auvergne region of central France. He was a clever child and was lucky enough to be taken to study mathematics and astronomy in Spain. The thing that is important about this, is that Spain was, at that time, home to a lot of Islamic people, known as the Moors. Much of what had been learned about mathematics and astronomy by the Egyptians, the Persians and the Ancient Greeks had been lost and forgotten in the West. But in Islamic countries, they had retained that knowledge and built on it. They were also in contact, through trade, with India and China and they absorbed many of their ideas too. Their knowledge of these subjects was the most advanced in the world. Back then, the greatest Christian library held about a thousand books. But in the Moorish capital of Córdoba in southern Spain there was a library that contained four hundred thousand books. They had other libraries too, around seventy in Spain alone.

So Gerbert learned his skills from the Moors, spending three years at the monastery of Vic in Catalonia. He learned to study the movements of the stars and, as we know, astronomy and astrology were once pretty much the same thing. Trying to divine the future and find out what God had in store for us was very wrong. He also learned how to make calculations using Arabic numerals. The numbers we use today, 0-9, are based on this system and it was much easier to use them to do difficult calculations in your head than Roman numerals. Gerbert also re-introduced the abacus to Rome, which was an idea he had from the Moors. All this knowledge made Gerbert seem like some kind of magician. So that was what people decided he was.

05 12 sylvester iiThere was also the fact that he rose through the ranks, from abbot of Bobbio in Italy in 983, to archbishop of Reims, then of Ravenna all the way to Pope in the year 999, despite not being liked very much. So maybe he had made a pact with the Devil. There is a great legend about him that he practised the Black Arts and once stole a book of spells from an Arabic sorcerer. He fled, and was pursued by the magician, who could divine his whereabouts by studying the heavens. But Gerbert climbed over the side of a wooden bridge and hung by his hands beneath it. Thus suspended, between heaven and earth, the sorcerer could not find him. Or perhaps he prayed to Satan for help and was wafted away by him. Then, the only way he could get back home was by promising the Devil his soul. In return for his promise, Satan would furnish him with greater power than the book of spells could ever provide, and that was how he became Pope.

05 12 brazen headThe other weird story about him is that he built a brazen head which could speak and answer questions with the answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The idea of a talking head, either magical or mechanical, comes up quite a lot when I’m looking at people accused of sorcery. Thomas Browne, who wrote a myth-debunking book called ‘Pseudodoxia Epidemica’ in 1646, dismissed the idea as a misinterpretation of alchemical texts. Luckily for Gerbert, his head, unlike the statue built by Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas that I mentioned back in March, would only speak when spoken to. He asked it if he would become Pope and it replied ‘yes’. He asked if he would die before he got to preach in Jerusalem and it replied ‘no’.

Gerbert was a clever sort of fellow and he knew just what to do. He would simple never go to Jerusalem. But you can’t cheat fate, and one day he had to read mass in one of the smaller churches in Rome, the Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, which means, the Holy Cross of Jerusalem or as it was commonly known, just ‘Jerusalem’. In one story he was attacked by the Devil in the church. He gouged out the Pope’s eyes and gave them to his demons to play with. Another tale has Gerbert fall sick and die. He dies raving, insisting that his body be cut up and spread about the city. In cesspools and on rubbish dumps. Presumably to make the Satan’s job of collecting his debt as difficult as possible.

There have been many Popes who did really terrible things, but I rather suspect Gerbert has been unfairly dealt with. While he certainly gained seemingly magical knowledge from Moorish texts, it seems unlikely that he stole it. There is a, somewhat misplaced, belief that his bones will rattle in his tomb when the present Pope is about to die. Poor Gerbert, dead for more than a thousand years and still expected to predict the future.

Tell it Like it Is

04 20 aretino by titianToday is the birthday of Pietro Aretino, who was born in Arezzo in the Florentine Republic in 1492. His life didn’t have a very promising start, he was the illegitimate son of a cobbler, was probably not well educated and was, for reasons I’ve been unable to divine, banished from his home town as a teenager. Aretino at first thought he might be a painter, but soon realised that writing was where his real talent lay. He would be honoured by Popes and befriended by Kings, but not because he was a writer of fine and elevated literature. Aretino was good at noticing people’s weaknesses and he wasn’t afraid to write about them. This made him a lot of enemies, so he survived on his wits and also a certain amount of good fortune. He also wrote poetry and plays that were extremely sexually explicit that have earned him the title of the inventor of literate pornography.

When he was about fourteen, he moved to the nearby city of Perugia, where he worked as assistant to a bookbinder. But he had to leave the city after he vandalised a statue of Mary Magdalene by painting a lute in her hands. By the time he was twenty-four, he was living in Rome, working for a rich man called Argostino Chigi. For Chigi, he began to write obscene and witty poems which he recited at dinner parties, much to everyone’s delight. But Aretino wanted more. He wanted fame and he thought a combination of his writing and access to a printing press could probably help him achieve that. He just needed to find the right subject.


Then, in 1516, the Pope’s pet elephant died. The Pope, Leo X, loved his elephant. His name was Hanno and he used to appear in parades. Sadly, after two years of living in Rome he died after a failed attempt to treat his constipation. The Pope composed Hanno’s epitaph himself and commissioned Raphael to paint a fresco in his honour. It might have seemed a bit over the top to some people, and then a pamphlet appeared, purporting to be ‘The Last Will and Testament of the Elephant Hanno’. It mocked pretty much every cardinal and authority figure in Rome. The elephant bequeathed his jaws to Cardinal Danti Quattro so that he will be able to devour the revenues of the Church more easily. To Cardinal Santa Croce, he left his knees: “so that he can imitate my genuflections, but only on the condition that he tells no more lies in Council” and to Cardinal Grassi, his generative organs because he is such an ‘incorrigible fornicator’. Luckily, the Pope saw the funny side. Leo X was a member of the Medici family and was, like Aretino, from the Republic of Florence. Maybe he thought it would be useful to have a man like Aretino in his employ and he hired him for himself.

Five years later, Pope Leo died and Aretino was naturally hoping that another Medici would be elected in his place. He published a lot of rude things about the other potential candidates. Unfortunately for him, someone else was elected. Adrian of Utrecht was known to: “scorn the vanities of this world”. As a man who relied pretty heavily on the vanities of this world, Aretino could see that things were not going to work out very well form him and he fled Rome

Pope Adrian died the following year and another Medici, Clement VII, was elected in his place. Aretino returned to Rome and began, once again to publish rude pamphlets mocking the power hungry men who surrounded the Pope. This time though, he made himself a powerful enemy called Giovanmatteo Giberti, who swore revenge. It wasn’t long before he was presented with the ideal opportunity.

To explain what happened, I need to tell you about a couple of artists. The first was Giulio Romano. He was doing some work in the Vatican, but when he was bored he did a few sketches for his friends. There were sixteen drawings and they all: “dealt with the various attitudes and postures in which lewd men have intercourse with lewd women.” Legend suggests that he actually drew these pictures on the walls of the Vatican. I’d love that to be true, but it probably isn’t. When he left to work on another commission elsewhere he left the drawings with his friend Marcantonio Raimondi. Marcantonio had learned how to reproduce drawings as engravings and had them printed. He sold thousands of them. When the Pope heard about it, Marcantonio was arrested and thrown in prison. Every single copy of the engravings was found and destroyed. Somehow, and we don’t know how because he was not a popular man, Aretino managed to campaign for Marcantonio’s release.

Then, of course, he wanted to know what all the fuss had been about. Marcantonio showed him the drawings and Aretino was so impressed that he was inspired to write a sonnet to accompany each illustration. Each poem is a conversation between a courtesan and her client. Some of the characters were recognisable as prominent public figures. The work was published all over again as a book which is called ‘I Modi’ or ‘Aretino’s Positions’. They were dedicated to his enemy Giberti. When this came to the attention of Giberti he ordered Aretino arrested. But when the guards arrived at his house, he was already gone. All copies were again sought out and destroyed. All that remains of Marcantonio’s engravings are a single illustration and a few fragments which now belong to the British Museum. Aretino’s sonnets have survived along with some woodblock prints from a forged copy of their book.

04 20 i modi fragments

04 20 i modi raimondi

Aretino fled to Mantua, but Giberti’s influence was far reaching and in July 1525 Aretino was on his way home from a party, when he was stabbed twice. He was stabbed once in the chest and once in the hand and was expected to die. But slowly he began to recover. He had to learn to write with his left hand because his right was so badly damaged. In 1527, he moved to Venice, which was an extremely liberal place and pretty much perfect for him. Aretino knew a lot of things about a lot of very important people. Sometimes he made a living writing about them, sometimes by not writing about them. People would give him gifts in the hope that he would publish something salacious about their enemies. Sworn rivals Francis I of France and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V both petitioned him in the hope that he would have something to say about the other one.

Before we leave Aretino today, I want to tell you a bit about one of his other works. His ‘Capricciosi Ragionamenti’ (Capricious Dialogues) was a three part work. It was a discussion between one prostitute and another about how she should raise her daughter. Basically, there were three life choices open to women. They could become a nun, a wife or a whore. The mother Nanna, wondered which was best. Her friend, Antonia, suggests that, as Nanna had been all three, she should describe the life of nuns, the life of wives and the life of whores and she will be able to tell which is best for her daughter.

As a young woman, Nanna had been sent to a convent. She expected to find a place of piety and prayer, a place where she might as well have been dead. Instead, as she sat 04 20 nun picking penises off a treedown to eat, a man brought a basket, which he claimed contained fruits from paradise. But what the basket contained was loads of glass penises made out of Murano glass. The picture on the right is not an illustration from his work, it’s actually from around two hundred years earlier, but I was reminded of it. Nanna was completely debauched in the nunnery and eventually left to return to her family. Then, she was married off to a very old and rich man. To convince him that she was a virgin, her mother placed an egg shell filled with chicken’s blood inside Nanna’s vagina. The ruse completely fooled her husband and Nanna later met many other wives and learned about the tricks they’d pulled on their foolish husbands. Nanna had lots of affairs while she was married and wound up stabbing her husband when he found her in the arms of a beggar. It was after that, that she became a whore, selling her ‘virginity’ over and over. Her friend concluded that she would be better off making her daughter a whore straight away. That way she wouldn’t be breaking any promises to God, or her marriage vows.

04 20 death of aretinoPietro Aretino died in 1556. He died of laughing too much. Either he asphyxiated or he fell backwards and hit his head on the floor. Which isn’t the worst way to go. You can see a nineteenth century depiction of the event by Anselm Feuerbach on the left. His work continues to cause controversy. In 2007, Michael Nyman set some of his ‘lust sonnets’ to music. When they were performed in 2008 at Cadagon Hall in Chelsea, the programme was withdrawn on grounds of obscenity. It is one of the few pieces of classical music which carries a ‘Parental Advisory, Explicit Content’ sticker.


Can’t Choose Your Family

04 18 possibly lucreziaToday is the birthday of Lucrezia Borgia, she was born in 1480 in Subiaco near Rome. She was said to be very beautiful, with golden hair that fell past her knees. There aren’t any contemporary paintings that we definitely know are of her, but of the likely candidates, the one on the right is my favourite. Historically, she has been seen as a dreadful person. A depraved incestuous poisoner and general worst person ever. You can find stories about how she carried poison hidden inside a ring, and how she attended a party at the Vatican where fifty prostitutes were made to crawl around on a floor that was strewn with lit candelabra and chestnuts (don’t know why). Although she was certainly a member of a very ruthless and power hungry family, she may have been completely innocent of the crimes of which she was accused.

Lucrezia was the illegitimate daughter of a Cardinal, Rodrigo Borgia, and his mistress, Vannozza dei Cattanei. This sounds like a pretty shocking thing to us, but it really wasn’t. It was quite normal for men of the cloth to have mistresses, they just weren’t allowed to marry. As with any daughter of a powerful family, her value was that she could be married off to someone who could provide them with political advantage. Rodrigo arranged for her to be married at the age of ten, but then he changed his mind and betrothed her to someone else. When she was twelve, her father was made Pope. As Pope Alexander VI, he could arrange a much more advantageous marriage for her and he broke of her second engagement. At thirteen, she was married to Giovanni Sforza.

Two years later though, the marriage ceased to be of political advantage to the Borgia family. The easiest way to have got rid of him would have just been to have him killed, and it seems this is what Alexander and Lucrezia’s brother, Cesare planned to do. But Cesare warned Lucrezia and she told Giovanni to leave Rome. Next, Alexander wanted their marriage annulled on the grounds of non-consummation. Giovanni was understandably upset by this and launched a counter attack. He accused both the Pope and Cesare of committing incest with his wife. It all got pretty nasty but Giovanni eventually agreed to be thought of as impotent if he could keep her huge dowry. It is possible that Lucrezia was pregnant at this time and later gave birth to a son. A child was certainly born in the Borgia family, but no one is sure of his parentage. The Pope issued two separate Papal Bulls. One claiming that Cesare was the father the other claiming that the child was his. There is no mention of the mother’s name, but it certainly fuels the rumours of incest. Lucrezia herself may have been having an affair with Alexander’s chamberlain, Pedro Calderon. It wasn’t very long before Pedro’s body washed up in the Tiber.

Her first husband was probably lucky to escape with his life. Her second, Alfonso d’Aragon was not so lucky. When his family fell out of favour he was attacked on the steps of St Peter’s Basilica and stabbed several times. This was not what killed him though. Lucrezia, who seems to have genuinely cared for him, was nursing him as he recovered from his wounds when someone strangled him. Suspicion fell very heavily in the area of one of her brother Cesare’s trusted servants.

04 18 lock of hairIt is not surprising that Lucrezia’s next prospective father-in-law, Ercole I d’Este, was a bit uneasy about the match. He had seen how badly her first marriages had turned out and he had heard the rumours of incest. In fact, he sent a spy to the Vatican to see what Lucrezia was really like. He received a report that she seemed like a sweet and lovely girl, who was not at all depraved. Also, a combination of a large dowry and a threat to unseat him as Duke of Ferrara helped secure her marriage to his eldest son and heir. Lucrezia and Alfonso d’Este remained married until she died after complications in her last pregnancy. It doesn’t seem like they were in love as they both had loads of affairs. She had a long affair with her brother-in law. Also, in the Ambrosian Museum in Milan, there are a number of love letters that she sent to a court poet, Pietro Bembo, along with a lock of her hair. Lord Byron visited the museum in 1816 and declared them to be ‘the prettiest love letters in the world. He also made off with a strand of her hair. What remain is now encased in glass, to keep it safe from poets.

Lucrezia’s third marriage probably stood the test of time because her scheming father, Pope Alexander VI and her awful brother Cesare Borgia both died, releasing her from their machinations. Free to live her own life, she made an excellent Duchess of Ferrara. She was a patron of the Arts. She bought up marshy land and had it drained for agricultural use and she gave much of her wealth to fund the building of hospitals and convents. When she died, people were truly sorry.

04 18 rossetti's lucreziaSo, her evil reputation seems ill-deserved. It really began with rumours started by her spurned first husband and continued after the next Pope, Julius II, seriously fell out with her third husband. There was an incident where a bronze statue of the Pope was toppled and broken into pieces. Alfonso had the bits melted down and made into a cannon. Macchiavelli repeated the rumours as fact, so did a historian called Guicciardini. Then, in 1833, Victor Hugo wrote a stage play about her which got turned into an opera by Donizetti. Which is probably what led Dante Gabriel Rossetti to paint this picture of her, cavorting with her father and brother.

One Pope, Four Funerals and the Patron Saint of the Internet

pope_formosusToday I’d like to tell you about Pope Formosus, who died on this day in the year 869. Before he became Pope he had already been excommunicated and reinstated once. As Bishop of Portus, he took off to Bulgaria to persuade a man called Charles the Bald that he really ought to be Holy Roman Emperor. The Bulgarians liked him so much that they wanted to keep him. So he got into trouble for seeming a bit above himself and also for ‘despoiling the cloisters’ in Rome. Whether he did or didn’t do these things isn’t really what I’m interested in today. I want to tell you about what happened to him after he died.

As far I can tell he didn’t really do anything bad. There are plenty of Popes who were far worse. But, twenty-eight years after his death, in 897, the whole Bulgarian thing was a still a problem to one of his successors, Stephen VI. He decided that Formosus should have been excommunicated after all and had his body exhumed. He then had him dressed in papal robes, seated on a throne, tried and found guilty. His papacy was declared null and all of his actions invalidated. If Stephen had thought this through properly, he might have remembered one of Formosus’ actions had been to make Stephen a bishop. But just in case you need further evidence that Pope Stephen wasn’t thinking clearly, here’s what happened next… Formosus’ corpse was stripped of it’s robes and had three of it’s fingers cut off, (the ones Formosus would have used in life for blessing). He was briefly reburied then dug up a second time and thrown in the Tiber. Everyone was pretty angry about that and Stephen was deposed, imprisoned and then strangled. The next Pope had Formosus’ body retrieved and reburied in St Peter’s. He also declared that there would be no more trials against dead people. Sadly that wasn’t the end for poor Formosus. It is possible that he was dug up and tried again during the reign of Pope Sergius III, found guilty again and was beheaded.

04 04 formosus

Here’s something a bit more cheerful though. Today is also the feast day of Saint Isadore of Seville. When he was Bishop of Seville he gathered together all the learned texts that survived from classical times and edited them all into one massive work. It was published in the seventh century and was a sort of encyclopaedia that contained everything in the world ever.

His Etymologiae  ran to twenty volumes and covered a massive range of subjects. You could read it and find out all about history, mathematics and grammar, or everything Isadore considered worth knowing about dust. It became the most used text book of the middle ages. Pliny the Elder’s ‘Natural History’ was a major source of his information. So all those medieval bestiaries full of pictures of people with faces in their chests, dog’s heads or one massive foot as well as exotic animals, real or imagined have all come through him from the writings of Pliny which first appeared around 77AD. Pliny, in turn, had them from Heroditus, a Greek writing in the 5th century BC. 

It is because of his comprehensive gathering of all knowledge that he has become known as the patron saint of the internet. Like the internet, his work has good and bad points. Because his books were so popular, it is often the only existing source of some information, because the original documents that he studied have been lost. On the other hand, the reason some of them are lost was that scribes spent so much time copying out Isadore’s book that they didn’t bother to copy the originals any more.  If you’ve searched the internet for the original source for some wild claim, you’ll be familiar with this problem.

04 04 isadoreWhen I was looking for a picture of him, I found that he is often pictured as a bishop holding a pen and surrounded by bees. I thought this was an excellent image for the patron saint of the internet, because trying to focus on writing on a machine that has access to everything in the world ever is pretty much like trying to write with bees buzzing everywhere – distracting. I tried to find you a picture of him with the bees, it took ages, I got horribly side tracked and came up with nothing. So I’ve drawn you one.

Paper Crown

03 21 pius viiOn this day in 1800, Barnaba Chiaramonti was crowned Pope Pius VII. Unusually, he was not crowned in Rome. Even more unusually, his papal tiara was made from papier-mâché. The problem was that the previous Pope had been stolen and his crown had been lost at the same time.

In 1789, the French Revolution had caused a great deal of trouble for his predecessor Pius VI. For a start his effigy had been burned outside the Palais Royal. Then, in 1790, all the lands and possessions of the Roman Catholic Church were sold off to the highest bidder and all religious orders were dissolved. The following year, he broke off diplomatic relations with France. When King Louis XVI was guillotined in 1793, his daughter petitioned Rome to have him made a saint. Pius VI was all in favour, he saw the king as a martyr.

Napoleon saw the Pope as an enemy. In 1798 his troops entered Rome and demanded that he renounce his temporal authority. When he refused, they looted his residence, not even the doors were left in place. They also took him prisoner. Pius VI died in exile in 1799. Chiaramonti was made Pope in 1800, but the upheaval made a ceremony in Rome impossible. Also, there was no longer anything to crown him with. They would need to improvise. A new papal tiara was made from papier-mâché and, covered with silver cloth and jewels donated by the aristocratic ladies of Venice, it looked okay.

In 1804, Napoleon presented the Pope with a new tiara. It was partly made up from the bits of previous papal crown which the French had looted and smashed up. It’s hard to see at as anything but a snub. Your average papal triple crown weighed anywhere between 2 lb and 5lb. That sounds quite heavy for a hat, but the one Napoleon had made for Pius VII weighed 18 lb. Also it was too small, and it had inscriptions inside saying how great Napoleon was. The Pope never wore it. If you look at this painting of Napoleon arrogantly crowning himself Emperor, you can see Pius VII seated and someone behind him holding the crown.

03 21 coronation of napoleon detail

It is not surprising that, given the alternative, the Pope quite liked his paper crown. Even when he was given a new, silver one in 1820, he still preferred it. Other subsequent Popes liked it too. It was much more comfortable, especially during long ceremonies. Then, in 1834, Pope Gregory XVI had a new one made because he thought it was a bit demeaning for the Vicar of Christ to be wearing a paper crown. Though his successor, Pope Pius IX, dusted it off and wore it sometimes, when he thought no one would notice.

03 21 suleiman the magnificentThe triple crown was abandoned altogether in 1963 and while I was researching the paper crown, I started to wonder why the Pope ever wore a hat made out of three crowns in the first place. I couldn’t come up with a definitive answer. Papal headgear seems to have started out with only one crown in the ninth century, increased to two around the thirteenth century and then a hundred years later they added another. No one seems clear about what they represent but it’s a good job they stopped at three. I did find this rather splendid picture of Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent though. He had a four tiered crown made for himself, just to prove that he was more powerful than the Pope. He also added a large plume to the top and it seems very suitable for someone called ‘the Magnificent’. I don’t think he wore his either, he just kept it beside him while he was receiving important visitors.