The last time a Pope resigned, how did the world find out?

by Toby Manhire / 21 February, 2013
In 1415, the mass media were, well, mass.
Paptsbier: the Ratzinger hometown brew


Faster than smoke from the Sistine Chapel, the revelation that Pope Benedict XVI will stand down at the end of this month billowed round the world.

“If you follow the news at all, you probably heard about the Pope's resignation within the first few hours of the news breaking.” writes the Atlantic‘s Rebecca J Rosen. “As long as you had an internet connection, a TV, or a radio, where you were was of little significance.”

The last time a pope quit, in 1415, the news travelled less quickly, and via one large multinational.

“This is the big thing about the Middle Ages," George Ferzoco, a medievalist at the University of Bristol, tells Rosen.

"We tend to think that they had no such thing as a mass medium. The fact is they did. And that mass medium was the sermon, because everyone would regularly be at one ... In some cases, they really did serve as kinds of newspapers.”

The mass medium was congregation at church - or, if you prefer, mass.

The task of distribution fell to mendicant friars, roaming preachers who couriered both gospel and gossip by foot, adds historian Donald Prudlo.

“[They] were sort of the mass media of the age. If you take the internet and Twitter and television and radio, they were it.”

Rosen writes:

The clergy were, in a sense, the 15th-century's TV screens, the displays that conveyed the news. But just as information does not begin in your TV set, 15th-century friars and preachers got their news from somewhere -- and that somewhere, in the case of the 1415 resignation, was Constance, the town in what is now southern Germany where the council had convened to negotiate who would lead the church. Of course, those at Constance were the first to know any news ...


From Constance, news travelled outward through a network of messengers on horseback. Couriers "would take documents out of Constance, go to a town 20 or 30 miles down the road, transfer things there to a fresh person and a fresh person and so on," said Ferzoco. Medievalists I spoke with estimated that this sort of "Pony Express" system could have conveyed the news of Gregory XII's resignation to major European cities such as Paris in something like a week. (One said "within a week or so"; the other put it at "at least a week.") ...


In rural areas, the story is a lot less clear, though there's little question that news would have taken longer to arrive than to the cities. Likely, Ferzoco speculated, the route "would have been from the council to the seat of a diocese - that is, a cathedral city - via horse in most cases, I would think. And from there, copies would be made for the churches within that diocese." And then, to the masses, "normally through the sermon at the next Mass," Ferzoco said.


***


Did the shape of modern communication play a part in the resignation? Mario Calabresi of the Italian paper La Stampa thinks so.

“Benedict had tried, not without difficulty, to follow the global agenda and its rhythms as dictated by 24/7 media broadcasting,” writes the columnist (translated at WorldCrunch), noting the outgoing pope’s willingness to join, for example, Twitter.

“It is an agenda that, each day, slides further away from his ethical and social conventions – a seemingly unnatural race for a man who consecrated his life to study, reflection and silent meditation.”

***


Benedict’s decision will resonate in all corners of the world, but one place has particular reason to fret. Another southern German town, Bavaria’s Marktl am Inn, has seen tourist numbers surge since its most famous son got the big job. And a market has developed for papal goodies, reports the German paper Die Welt (again, thanks WorldCrunch).

The tourism office in the home town of the pontiff formerly known as Ratzinger has a large supply of pope-themed candles for purchase. At the bakery you’ll find “Papsbrot”, aka pope bread. And the local brewery has been doing a storming trade with its “Papstbier”.

But the local mayor is refusing to be disheartened – in public at least.

“He doesn’t think the tourist interest and the money it brings Marktl will dry up now that Benedict is stepping down,” reports Die Welt. “He’s done his research. He says that visits to the birth town of John Paul II in Poland actually went up after the pontiff’s death.”

***


Marktl isn’t the only place alert to a local angle on the resignation.

In the hands of the UK Birmingham Post, the headline went like this:



 
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Truth and Lye: New perspectives on the brilliance of Len Lye
85816 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Arts

Truth and Lye: New perspectives on the brilliance …

by Sally Blundell

New essays on New Zealand-born US artist Len Lye elevate him to the status of Australasia’s most notable 20th-century artist.

Read more
Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infertile couples
86046 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Health

Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infe…

by Nicky Pellegrino

For about a third of infertility cases in New Zealand, there is no obvious reason why seemingly fertile couples struggle to conceive.

Read more
Farewells on the Auckland wharves, captured by photographer John Rykenberg
85964 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Farewells on the Auckland wharves, captured by pho…

by Frances Walsh

More than one million images from Rykenberg Photography, taken around Auckland, are now in the Auckland Libraries Collection. But who are the people?

Read more
'Termite hell' for Golden Bay man after he woke covered in insects
86027 2018-01-18 11:59:55Z Environment

'Termite hell' for Golden Bay man after he woke co…

by Hamish Cardwell

A Golden Bay man spending his first night in his new house says he woke to find his bed, walls and floor covered in hundreds of creepy crawlies.

Read more
Ten ‘stealth microplastics’ to avoid if you want to save the oceans
86015 2018-01-18 11:18:49Z Environment

Ten ‘stealth microplastics’ to avoid if you want t…

by Sharon George and Deirdre McKay

There's a growing movement to stop the amount of wasteful plastic that goes into our oceans, but what about the tiny bits we can hardly see?

Read more
It's time to chlorinate New Zealand's drinking water
86001 2018-01-18 09:41:15Z Social issues

It's time to chlorinate New Zealand's drinking wat…

by The Listener

The inconvenience to chlorine refuseniks is tiny compared with the risk of more suffering and tragedy from another Havelock North-style contamination.

Read more
Climate change: New study finds worst case scenario might not be as bad
85994 2018-01-18 08:27:48Z Environment

Climate change: New study finds worst case scenari…

by Charlie Dreaver

Global warming's worst case scenario may not be as bad as previously thought, a new climate change study says.

Read more
The science of sibling rivalries
85949 2018-01-18 00:00:00Z Science

The science of sibling rivalries

by Sally Blundell

Who was the favourite? Who got the most? Sibling relationships set up patterns that last a lifetime.

Read more