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Pope John XXI

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Pope John XXI

John XXI
Papacy began 13 September 1276
Papacy ended 20 May 1277
Predecessor Adrian V
Successor Nicholas III
Ordination May 1275
Created Cardinal 3 June 1273
by Gregory X
Personal details
Birth name Pedro Julião, Peter Juliani
Born c. 1215
Lisbon, Kingdom of Portugal
Died 20 May 1277(1277-05-20)
Viterbo, Papal States, Holy Roman Empire
Previous post
Coat of arms }
Other popes named John
Papal styles of
Pope John XXI
Reference style His Holiness
Spoken style Your Holiness
Religious style Holy Father
Posthumous style None

Pope John XXI (Latin: Ioannes XXI; c. 1215 – 20 May 1277), born Pedro Julião or Peter Juliani (Latin: Petrus Iulianus), was Pope from 13 September 1276 to his death in 1277. A Portuguese often identified with Pedro Hispano (Latin: Petrus Hispanus; English: Peter of Spain), he was the only Portuguese pope, although Damasus I can also be considered Portuguese, as he was born in territory that is nowadays in Portugal.

He was also the only pope to have been a physician.

Because he decided to skip the number XX, the previous pope named John was Pope John XIX (1024–32). Pope John XXI is technically the 20th actual Pope John.[1]

Pre-papal life

Pedro Julião was probably born in Lisbon between 1210 and 1220. He started his studies at the episcopal school of Lisbon Cathedral and later joined the University of Paris, although some historians claim that he was educated at Montpellier. Wherever he studied, he concentrated on medicine, theology, logic, physics, metaphysics and Aristotle's dialectic.

There are some who believe he must be identified with an individual known as Peter of Spain. On the basis of this premise, he is the person who from 1245 to 1250 became known as Pedro Hispano (because he came from Hispania, the Iberian Peninsula), and taught medicine at the University of Siena. There, he wrote the Summulae Logicales, a reference manual on Aristotelian logic that remained in use in European universities for more than 300 years. He became famous as a university teacher, then returned to Lisbon. At the court of Guimarães he was the councilor and spokesman for King Afonso III of Portugal in church matters. Later, he became prior of Guimarães. He tried to become Bishop of Lisbon, but he was defeated. Instead, he became the master of the school of Lisbon. A notable philosopher with works in logic, he was also the responsible for the creation of the Square of opposition.

Pedro became the physician of Pope Gregory X (1271–76) early in his reign. In March 1273 he was elected Archbishop of Braga, but did not assume that post because on 3 June 1273 Gregory X created him Cardinal-Bishop of Frascati.

Papacy and death

Papal Arms of Pope John XXI

After the death of Pope Adrian V on 18 August 1276, Pedro Hispano was elected Pope on 13 September. He was crowned a week later. One of John XXI's few acts during his brief reign was the reversal of a decree recently passed at the Second Council of Lyon (1274); the decree had not only confined cardinals in solitude until they elected a successor Pope, but also progressively restricted their supplies of food and wine if their deliberations took too long.

Though much of John XXI's brief papacy was dominated by the powerful Cardinal Giovanni Gaetano Orsini (who succeeded him as Pope Nicholas III), John attempted to launch a crusade for the Holy Land, pushed for a union with the Eastern church, and did what he could to maintain peace between the Christian nations. He also launched a mission to convert the Tatars, but he died before it could start.[2]

To secure the necessary quiet for his medical studies, he had an apartment added to the papal palace at Viterbo, to which he could retire when he wished to work undisturbed. On 14 May 1277, while the pope was alone in this apartment, it collapsed; John was buried under the ruins and died on 20 May in consequence of the serious injuries he had received. He was buried in the Duomo di Viterbo, where his tomb can still be seen.


After his death, it was rumored that John XXI had actually been a magician (a suspicion frequently directed towards the few scholars among medieval popes even during their papacy; cf. Sylvester II), and that he was writing a heretical treatise in the room that collapsed on him, by an Act of God.[3]

In The Divine Comedy Dante sees John XXI (referred to as "Pietro Spano") in the Heaven of the Sun with the other spirits of great religious scholars.

Medical works

Thesaurus pauperum

One of the most comprehensive recipe books for pre- and post-coital contraception was written by a "Pedro Hispano", who offered advice on birth control and how to provoke menstruation in his immensely popular Thesaurus Pauperum (Treasure of the Poor). Many of Peter’s recipes have been found surprisingly effective by contemporary research, and it is believed that women in antiquity had more control over their reproduction than previously believed.[4] It is not clear, however, whether the author of the Thesaurus Pauperum was indeed the same person as Pope John XXI.


  1. ^ There is no Pope John XV, and Pope John XVI was technically an anti-pope, which is a traditionally uncounted role. Therefore, Pope John XVII was the sixteenth pope and Pope John XVIII the seventeenth. The adjustment that Pedro Julião made, therefore was counter-productive to his succession.
  2. ^  
  3. ^ Odorico Raynaldi, sub anno 1227, no. 19.
  4. ^ Riddle, 1994.
  • Maxwell-Stuart, P. G. Chronicle of the Popes: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Papacy from St. Peter to the Present, Thames & Hudson, 2002, p. 119. ISBN 0-500-01798-0.
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Adrian V
13 September 1276 – 20 May 1277
Succeeded by
Nicholas III
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