Dated to 1896, this grainy but extraordinary video depicts Pope Leo XIII in Vatican. The second half of the video also has an audio recording of the pontiff singing Ave Maria, or the Latin version of the Hail Mary prayer.
Amazingly, the video was taken by William Kennedy Dickson, who had invented the filming device in just the few years prior. Although it’s hard to see in the film, Pope Leo XIII actually blesses the recording device during the video. Since Leo was born in 1810 (making him 86 at the time), he is one of the earliest-born people ever to have been filmed.
It’s actually quite fitting that Pope Leo XIII was the first pope to have a video recorded of him, as he had one of the most important papacies for making the modern Church. Elected in 1878, he was the first pope elected after the loss of the papal states. When he died in 1903 at the age 93, he completed the third longest papal reign, and was the oldest pope ever. He accomplished a lot in his long papacy – including promulgating 46 apostolic letters and encyclicals, heavily promoting the rosary, and founding the modern Vatican Observatory – but he’s probably most famous for inaugurating modern Catholic Social Thought with his encyclical Rerum Novarum and for promoting the study of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Brantly Millegan is Assistant Editor for Aleteia. He is also Co-Editor of Second Nature and Co-Director of the International Institute for the Study of Technology and Christianity. He is finishing up a M.A. in Theology at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity and will begin working on a Ph.D. in theology at the Catholic University of America this fall. He lives with his wife and children in South St. Paul, MN. His personal website is brantlymillegan.com.