The Oldest Popes in History

It is rare these days for the Pope to be a young man. Rising through the ranks of the church can take nearly a lifetime which means that many Popes are quite old when they are elected in conclave.

On the 4th of September, 2020 Pope Benedict XVI would officially have become the oldest Pope in history had he not resigned on the 28th of February, 2013. He surpassed Pope Leo XIII who is still the oldest Pope in history while still in office who died at the age of 93.

Pope Benedict was born in Bavaria, Germany on the 16th of April 1927 by the name Joseph Ratzinger. After the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005 Ratzinger was elected Pope and took the name, Pope Benedict XVI on the 19th of April 2005. He remained Pope for almost eight years and became the first Pope to resign in over four hundred years. Pope Benedict is still living inside the Vatican walls today.

Below are the five oldest Popes in history who remained in office up until their death.

back of pope's head

5. Pope Innocent XII

Pope Innocent XII is the fifth oldest Pope. He passed away when he was 85 years and 107 days.

Pope Innocent was born Antonio Pignatelli in Rome, Italy on the 13th of March, 1615. He was made a Cardinal on the 1st of September 1681 and then became Pope on the 12th of July 1691 after a five-month conclave.

He died on the 27th of September 1700 at the age of 85 making him to oldest Pope to die up until that point. He was known for calling the poor his “nephews”. He is buried inside St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

4. Pope Pius IX

Pope Pius IX is still the longest-serving Pope in history. He lasted 34 years as the Bishop of Rome. He is also the fourth oldest Pope, living to the age of 85 years and 270 days.

Pope Pius was born by the name Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti in Senigallia, Marche, Italy on the 13th of May, 1792. Ferretti was made a Cardinal on the 23rd of December 1839 before becoming Pope on the 16th of June 1846.

As Pope, he barely ever ventured out, claiming he was a “prisoner of the Vatican”. He was most noted for creating the first Vatican Council most famous for Pope infallibility which states that the Pope can do no wrong in the eyes of the church. Pope Pius was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2000 giving him the title Blessed Pius IX. Pope Pius was also the first Pope to be photographed. He died on the 7th of February, 1878, and is buried in the church of Saint Lawrence outside the walls. 

3. Pope Clement X

The third oldest Pope in history is Pope Clement X, who died at the age of 86 years and 9 days.

He was born in Rome by the name Emilio Bonaventura Altieri on the 13th of July 1590. Bonaventura was named a cardinal by Pope Clement IX on the 29th of November, 1669. On the 29th of April 1670 he was elected Pope taking the name, Clement X.

He was not too happy to be elected saying “I am too old to bear such a burden” and that a cardinal called Brancaccio was better suited. Only two of the 59 cardinals voted against him. Pope Clement died of gout on the 22nd of July, 1676. He is also buried in Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican

2. Pope Clement XII

On the 6th of February, 1740 Pope Clement XII died at the age of 87 years and 30 days making him the oldest Pope in history at the time of his death. Pope Clement was born by the name Lorenzo Corsini on the 7th of April, 1652 in Florence, Italy. He became a cardinal on the 17th of May, 1706 by Pope Clement XI.

Corsini became Pope on the 12th of July, 1730 lasting almost ten years. He was noted for beginning the construction of the Trevi Fountain which began in 1732 by the artist Nicola Salvi. Pope Clement XII died on the 6th of February 1740 and is buried in the Church of Saint John Lateran.

Oldest Pope in History: Pope Leo XIII

Pope Leo XIII is still the oldest Pope to ever live that remained in office until his death. His birth name was Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci and he was born on the 2nd of March, 1810 in Rome during the time of the French Empire under Napoleon. 

On the 19th of December, 1853 Pope Pius IX made Pecci a cardinal and he became Pope 14 years later on the 20th of February, 1878 at the age of 67 years.

Pope Leo was the first Pope to have his voice recorded which can still be found and heard on the internet today. He was also the first Pope to be filmed in a motion picture. Pope Leo is still the third-longest pontificate in history.

He died on the 20th of July 1903 at the age of 93 years and 140 days. 

It is worth noting that had I included the top ten oldest Popes in history that Pope John Paul II would have been 6th on this list and our current Pope, Pope Francis would have been 7th on the list.

Curious about what happens next? When a Pope dies, conclave begins.

Photo: Photo by DDP on Unsplash