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Saint Malachy - the first Irish saint canonised by a pope - supposedly predicted the identities of all 112 popes after his life. Benedict is the 111th. Wikimedia Commons
White Smoke

A 12-century Irish saint reckons the next pope is the last

St Malachy – the first Irish saint to be canonised by a pope – had a prophecy concerning every pope between then and now.

SAINT MALACHY is not the most high-profile of saints – but the oncoming vacancy in the office of pope has thrust him back into the limelight.

Malachy is the supposed author of the ‘Prophecy of the Popes’ – a list allegedly written in 1139, but ‘rediscovered’ in 1590 – which claims to have predicted the identities (or at least attributes) of each pope between the time of its writing and the end of the Church.

While its authenticity is not affirmed by the Church itself, and while it is impossible to know whether the list was written retrospectively before it was first published in 1595, it appears to have been successful in some ways – though of course its predictions are suitably vague so as to apply to most cases anyway.

The argument that the list is a hoax gathers further weight with the fact that for each of the popes mentioned before 1590, it describes something historical about their upbringing or background – but only makes vague references to events in subsequent pontificates.

Nonetheless, the whole point of Malachy’s list – which is occasionally attributed to Nostradamus, supposedly to give the latter a way of publishing a prediction without having it stained by association with his name – is that it claims to predict the existence of 112 popes from the time of its writing.

The first of those popes is Celestine II; the 111th is the current pontiff, Benedict XVI. (The full list is outlined in detail on Wikipedia.)

The prophecy refers to the 112th pope as…

Peter the Roman, who will nourish the sheep in many tribulations; when they are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The end.

While no pope since the first (St Peter, one of Jesus’ own disciples) has taken the name Peter, out of reverence for the man who brought the church to Rome, it is not unthinkable that the name could yet be taken on by another.

One of the frontrunners in the forthcoming election is Peter Turkson, a black cardinal from Ghana.

While there are many cities known as the ‘cities of seven hills’, Rome is the best-known one – though Jerusalem is also built on seven hills and could possibly be the city referenced.

Gallery: Meet the men who could succeed Pope Benedict XVI

Online: The best memes about the Pope’s resignation

Glossary: Some of the terms you’ll hear during the Papal election

Explainer: How is a new Pope chosen?

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