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Since 1800, pontificates have lasted an average of 14 years (Charts)

Pope Francis during his weekly general audience in Saint Peter's square

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

I.Media - published on 03/14/24

On March 13, 2013, Pope Francis was elected as pontiff. Check out these graphs that give a sense of all the pontificates from the year 1800 until today.

Now 11 years ago, on March 13, 2013, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected to the Throne of Peter after a conclave lasting just over 24 hours. On the occasion of this anniversary, I.MEDIA looks back at the longevity of the pontificates over the past two centuries, which, on average, have lasted around 14 years. 

Since the election of Pius VII in March 1800, 16 popes have succeeded one another on the Throne of Peter. The overwhelming majority have been Italian. It wasn’t until the conclave of October 1978, when the Karol Wojtyla was elected from Poland, that the cardinals started opting for non-Italian popes. In fact, the Polish Pope was succeeded by Benedict XVI, a German, and then Francis, an Argentine. 

The average ages and duration

A table showing certain averages and statistics concerning the pontificates from 1800 to today

Since 1800, the average age of a pope when he was elected has been almost 66.

The three oldest popes to emerge from the Sistine Chapel after the voting rounds were Benedict XVI (78), Francis (76), and John XXIII (76).

Pius IX, elected in 1846, was the youngest (54). John Paul II was 58 when he became pope. 

Within this time frame the average age of a pope at the end of his pontificate is around 80.

Leo XIII was the oldest pontiff at the end of his reign, as he died at 93. When Pope Benedict XVI resigned he was 85, though he lived almost another 10 years in the Vatican. 

The longest pontificate since 1800 was that of Pius IX. He reigned for almost 32 years (1846-1878), five more years than John Paul II’s long pontificate (1978-2005). 

The shortest pontificate during this time period was that of John Paul I, who was elected on August 26, 1978, and died 33 days later.

The pontificate of Pius VIII (1829-1830) lasted just over a year. A pope in frail health, his reign was much shorter than that of his predecessor, Pius VII, who remained pontiff for almost a quarter of a century, despite the humiliations from Napoleon, who locked him up for three years in the fortress of Savona. 

John XXIII’s pontificate (1958-1963) was one of the shortest of the last two centuries. But by convening the Second Vatican Council shortly after his election, the “good pope” had a decisive reign in the history of the Catholic Church. 

A table showing a list of Pope since 1800 and the duration of their pontificates

Pope Benedict XVIPope FrancisPope John Paul IIVatican
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