Papal Firsts, Lasts, and Interesting Facts (32 CE - 1000 CE)

History of the Roman Catholic Papacy

Saint Peter's statue in front of Vatican
Stuart Paton/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

1. St. Peter (32 - 67)
Peter was allegedly the first pope, at least according to Catholic tradition, as well as the one who brought Christianity to Rome. All the evidence indicates, however, that Christianity came to Rome well before he would have and even once there he didn't serve as bishop or any sort of leader.

7. St. Sixtus I (Xystus) (115 - 125)
First known pope to have also been the son of a priest.

During this time period there was no requirement that priests be celibate.

10. St. Pius I (140 - 155)
First real bishop of Rome. Prior to this the Christian community was governed by a council of elders or deacons. Pius was the first "bishop" who exercised sole authority.

14. St. Victor I (189 - 199)
First African pope.
First pope to attempt to exert authority outside Rome and neighboring communities. He threatened excommunication for anyone who refused to celebrate Easter on Sunday and was soundly rebuked for it — at this time, the bishop of Rome wasn't justified in telling others what to do like this.

18. St. Pontain (230 - 235)
First pope to resign his office.

40. St. Innocent I (401 - 417)
First pope whose father was also a pope, Anastasius I. Had Anastasius' marriage not been valid, Innocent would have been an illegitimate child and therefore ineligible for the priesthood.

45. St. Leo I (the Great) (440 - 461)
First pope to explicitly claim authority over the entire Christian Church, East and West.

49. St. Gelasius I (492 - 496)
First pope to use the title "Vicar of Christ."
Last pope of African descent (born in Rome, though).

51. St. Symmachus (498 - 514)
First pope to give a pallium to a bishop outside of Italy. The pallium is a woolen garment worn by bishops as a sign of their pastoral authority.

55. Boniface II (530 - 532)
First pope with German heritage (but he wasn't born in German lands).

56. John II (533 - 535)
First pope to adopt a new name when elected — but even then, only because his given name was of the pagan god Mercurius.

58. St. Silverius (536 - 537)
Second pope whose father was also a pope (Hormisdas).
First pope who was subdeacon at the time of his election.

60. Pelagius I (556 - 561)
First pope not actually elected at all — he was simply appointed by emperor Justinian.

72. John IV (640 - 642)
First (and thus far only) pope from Dalmatia.

90. St. Gregory III (731 - 741)
Last pope to seek approval from the emperor in Constantinople. Before this, every pope had to get approval from either the emperor or his exarch in Ravenna before assuming office — sometimes resulting in delays that lasted months between an election and a coronation.

91. St. Zachary (741 - 752)
Last Greek pope.

93. Stephen III (II) (752 - 757)
Organized the papal states and made the papacy independent of the Byzantine Empire by placing it under the protection of the Franks.

94. St. Paul I (757 - 767)
First pope who succeeded his own brother, Stephen III.

95. Stephen IV (III) (767 - 772)
Declared that the laity could not have any voice in the election of popes anymore.

96. Adrian I (772 - 795)
Oldest person elected pope (80).

97. St. Leo III (795 - 816)
First and only pope to ever formally offer obeisance to a Western emperor.

107. Adrian II (867 - 872)
Last married pope - his wife Setphania and his daughter lived in the Vatican palace with him.

108. John VIII (872 - 882)
First pope to be assassinated: first he was poisoned and then he was beaten to death.

109. Marinus I (882 - 884)
First person elected pope while already bishop of another diocese — a violation of rules set down by the Council of Nicaea.

113. Boniface VI (896)
When Boniface was elected pope, he had already been defrocked twice because of immoral behavior.

114. Stephen VII (VI) (896 - 897)
Stephen had the body of Formosus dug up and put on trial on trumped-up charges. For his trouble, Stephen would end up being imprisoned and strangled to death.

120. Sergius III (904 - 911)
Sergius ordered the murder of his predecessor, Leo, and the antipope Christopher.

126. John XI (931 - 935)
First (and presumably only) pope who was the illegitimate son of a previous pope (Sergius III).

131. John XII (955 - 963)
First and only teenager elected pope.

132. Leo VIII (963 - 964)
First pop who was a layman at the time of his election.

138. John XV (985 - 996)
First pope to canonize a saint (Ulrich of Augsburg, 993).

139. Gregory V (996 - 999)
First German-born pope.

140. Sylvester II (999 - 1003)
First French pope.

146. Benedict IX (1032 - 1045)
First and only person to be pope more than once (three times, to be specific).

150. Clement II (1046 - 1047)
First person who remained bishop of his previous dioceses even after becoming bishop of Rome as well. Several of his successors followed suit.

158. St. Gregory VII (1073 - 1085)
Gregory decreed that the title "pope" should only be used for the bishop of Rome. Before this every bishop in the West had the title "pope" and in the East it was applied to many priests as well.

159. Blessed Victor III (1086 - 1087)
First pope to be beatified without also subsequently being canonized (this list of popes to whom this has happened is very short).

160. Blessed Urban II (1088 - 1099)
Launched the First Crusade.
Established the Roman Curia to administer the papal court.

168. Blessed Eugene III (1145 - 1153)
The title "Vicar of Christ" finally became attached exclusively to the papacy.
First pope from the Cictercian order.

170. Adrian IV (1154 - 1159)
First (and thus far only) pope from England.

171. Alexander III (1159 - 1181)
First lawyer to be elected pope.

177. Innocent III (1198 - 1216)
Innocent claimed authority over the entire world as well as the universal Christian Church.

186. Blessed Innocent V (1276)
First member of the Dominican order elected pope. Because he kept wearing the Domincans' white cassock, it became traditional papal garb even today.

188. John XXI (1276 - 1277)
John was the first (and only) Portugese pope as well as the only medical doctor to be pope.

192. Nicholas IV (1288 - 1292)
Under Nicholas, Christianity first reached China.
First pope from the Franciscan order.

193. St. Celestine V (1294)
Celestine is well known for having resigned, though he was not the first, last, or only pope to resign. His resignation did, however, lead to the official status for how a pope can resign.

194. Boniface VIII (1294 - 1303)
First pope to proclaim a Holy Year (1300).

210. Callistus III (1455 - 1458)
First of two Spanish popes.

213. Sixtus IV (1471 - 1484)
Named a record six nephews as cardinals.
Had the Sistine Chapel created.

217. Julius II (1503 - 1513)
Patron of Michaelangelo and Raphael, two artists whose work has long outlived Julius'.

219. Adrian VI (1522 - 1523)
First and only Dutch pope.

221. Paul III (1534 - 1549)
Convened the Council of Trent, launching the Counter-Reformation.

224. Paul IV (1555 - 1559)
Established the Index of Forbidden Books.
Segregated Jews to a special quarter of Rome and required them to wear special headgear.

226. St. Pius V (1566 - 1572)
Excommunicated Queen Elizabeth of England.

229. Urban VII (1590)
Shortest pontificate in history.

234. Paul V (1605 - 1621)
Censured Galileo.

235. Gregory XV (1621 - 1623)
Decreed that papal elections proceed by secret ballot.

248. Benedict XIV (1740 - 1758)
First pope to issue an encyclical.

255. Gregory XVI (1831 - 1846)
First and only Camaldosese monk to become pope.

264. John Paul I (1978)
First pope to take a double name.
First pope in more than 1000 years to refuse the traditional crowning ceremony.

265. John Paul II (1978 - 2005)
First non-Italian pope in 455 years.


Most extensively travelled pope.