The Prophecy of the Popes (Latin: Prophetia Sancti Malachiae Archiepiscopi, de Summis Pontificibus) is a series of 112 short, cryptic phrases in Latin which purport to predict the Roman Catholic popes (along with a few antipopes), beginning with Pope Celestine II. The alleged prophecies were first published by Benedictine monk Arnold Wion in 1595. Wion attributes the prophecies to Saint Malachy, a 12th-century Archbishop of Armagh, Ireland.
Given the very accurate description of popes up to 1590 and lack of accuracy after that year, historians generally conclude that the alleged prophecies are a fabrication written shortly before they were published. The Roman Catholic Church also dismisses them as forgery. The prophecies may have been created in an attempt to suggest that Cardinal Girolamo Simoncelli’s bid for the papacy in the second conclave of 1590 was divinely ordained.
The prophecies conclude with a pope identified as “Peter the Roman”, whose pontificate will allegedly precede the destruction of the city of Rome.
The alleged prophecies were first published in 1595 by a Benedictine named Arnold Wion in his Lignum Vitæ, a history of the Benedictine order. Wion attributed the prophecies to Saint Malachy, the 12th‑century Archbishop of Armagh. He explained that the prophecies had not, to his knowledge, ever been printed before, but that many were eager to see them. Wion includes both the alleged original prophecies, consisting of short, cryptic Latin phrases, as well as an interpretation applying the statements to historical popes up to Urban VII (pope for thirteen days in 1590), which Wion attributes to Alphonsus Ciacconius, an attribution which was refuted by Claude-François Menestrier in 1694.
According to an account put forward in 1871 by Abbé Cucherat, Malachy was summoned to Rome in 1139 by Pope Innocent II to receive two wool palliums for the metropolitan sees of Armagh and Cashel. While in Rome, Malachy purportedly experienced a vision of future popes, which he recorded as a sequence of cryptic phrases. This manuscript was then deposited in the Vatican Secret Archives, and forgotten about until its rediscovery in 1590, supposedly just in time for a papal conclave ongoing at the time.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a contemporary biographer of Malachy who recorded the saint’s alleged miracles, makes no mention of the prophecies, nor are they mentioned in any record prior to their 1595 publication.
Several historians have concluded that the prophecies are a late 16th‑century forgery. Spanish monk and scholar Benito Jerónimo Feijóo y Montenegro wrote in his Teatro Crítico Universal (1724–1739), in an entry called Purported prophecies, that the high level of accuracy of the alleged prophecies up until the date they were published, compared with their high level of inaccuracy after that date, is evidence that they were created around the time of publication. The prophecies and explanations given in Wion correspond very closely to a 1557 history of the popes by Onofrio Panvinio (including replication of errors made by Panvinio), which may indicate that the prophecies were written based on that source.
One theory to explain the creation of the prophecies, put forward by 17th-century French priest and encyclopaedist Louis Moréri, among others, is that they were spread by supporters of Cardinal Girolamo Simoncelli in support of his bid to become pope during the 1590 conclave to replace Urban VII. In the prophecies, the pope following Urban VII is given the description “Ex antiquitate Urbis” (“from the old city”), and Simoncelli was from Orvieto, which in Latin is Urbevetanum, old city. The prophecies may, therefore, have been created in an attempt to demonstrate that Simoncelli was destined to be pope. Simoncelli was not elected pope; Urban VII was succeeded by Niccolò Sfondrati (Pope Gregory XIV), from the town of Somma Lombardo.
The interpretation of the prophecies for pre-publication popes provided by Wion involves close correspondences between the mottos and the popes’ birthplaces, family names, personal arms, and pre-papal titles. For example, the first motto, Ex castro Tiberis (from a castle on the Tiber), fits Pope Celestine II’s birthplace in Città di Castello, on the Tiber.
Efforts to connect the prophecies to historical popes who were elected after its publication have been more strained. For example, Pope Clement XIII is referred to in a prophecy as Rosa Umbriae (the rose of Umbria), but was not from Umbria nor had any but the most marginal connection with the region, having been briefly pontifical governor of Rieti, at the time part of Umbria.
One writer notes that among the post-publication (post-1595) predictions there remain “some surprisingly appropriate phrases,” while adding that “it is of course easy to exaggerate the list’s accuracy by simply citing its successes,” and that “other tags do not fit so neatly.” Among the reported ‘successes’ are ‘Religion depopulated’ for Benedict XV (1914–22) whose papacy included World War One and the atheistic communist Russian Revolution; ‘Light in the sky’ for Leo XIII (1878–1903), with a comet in his coat of arms; and ‘Flower of flowers’ for Paul VI (1963–78), with fleur-de-lys in his coat of arms.
In recent times some interpreters of prophetic literature have drawn attention to the prophecies due to their imminent conclusion; if the list of descriptions is matched on a one-to-one basis to the list of historic popes since the prophecies’ publication, Benedict XVI (2005–13) would correspond to the second to last of the papal descriptions, Gloria olivae (the glory of the olive). The longest and final prophecy predicts the Apocalypse:
In persecutione extrema S.R.E. sedebit.
Petrus Romanus, qui pascet oves in multis tribulationibus, quibus transactis civitas septicollis diruetur, & judex tremendus judicabit populum suum. Finis.
This may be translated into English as:
In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit [i.e., as bishop].
Peter the Roman, who will pasture his sheep in many tribulations, and when these things are finished, the city of seven hills [i.e. Rome] will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The End.
Several historians and interpreters of the prophecies note that they leave open the possibility of unlisted popes between “the glory of the olive” and the final pope, “Peter the Roman”. In the Lignum Vitae, the line In persecutione extrema S.R.E. sedebit. forms a separate sentence and paragraph of its own. While often read as part of the “Peter the Roman” prophecy, other interpreters view it as a separate, incomplete sentence explicitly referring to additional popes between “the glory of the olive” and “Peter the Roman”.
Popes and corresponding mottos
The list can be divided into two groups; one of the 74 popes and antipopes who reigned prior to the appearance of the prophecies c. 1590, for whom the connection between the motto and the pope is consistently clear. The other is of the 38 mottos attributed to popes who have reigned since 1590, for whom the connection between the motto and the pope is often strained or totally absent and could be viewed as shoehorning or postdiction.
René Thibaut divides the table at a different point, between the 71st and 72nd motto, asserting that there is a change in style at this point. He uses this distinction to put forward the view that the first 71 mottos are post-dated forgeries, while the remainder are genuine. Hildebrand Troll echoes this view, noting that mottos 72-112 use a symbolic language related to the character of the pope and his papacy, in contrast to the more literal mottos for earlier popes.
Popes and antipopes 1143–1590 (pre-publication)
The text on the silver lines below reproduces the original text (including punctuation and orthography) of the 1595 Lignum Vitae, which consisted of three parallel columns for the popes before 1590. The first column contained the motto, the second the name of the pope or antipope to whom it was attached (with occasional errors), and the third an explanation of the motto. There are some indications that both the mottos and explanations were the work of a single 16th century individual. The original list was unnumbered.
(From the Catholic Encyclopedia 1913 edition)
The most famous and best known prophecies about the popes are those attributed to St. Malachy. In 1139 he went to Rome to give an account of the affairs of his diocese to the pope, Innocent II, who promised him two palliums for the metropolitan Sees of Armagh and Cashel. While at Rome, he received (according to the Abbé Cucherat) the strange vision of the future wherein was unfolded before his mind the long list of illustrious pontiffs who were to rule the Church until the end of time. The same author tells us that St. Malachy gave his manuscript to Innocent II to console him in the midst of his tribulations, and that the document remained unknown in the Roman Archives until its discovery in 1590 (Cucherat, “Proph. de la succession des papes”, ch. xv). They were first published by Arnold de Wyon, and ever since there has been much discussion as to whether they are genuine predictions of St. Malachy or forgeries. The silence of 400 years on the part of so many learned authors who had written about the popes, and the silence of St. Bernard especially, who wrote the “Life of St. Malachy”, is a strong argument against their authenticity, but it is not conclusive if we adopt Cucherat’s theory that they were hidden in the Archives during those 400 years.
These short prophetical announcements, in number 112, indicate some noticeable trait of all future popes from Celestine II, who was elected in the year 1130, until the end of the world. They are enunciated under mystical titles. Those who have undertaken to interpret and explain these symbolical prophecies have succeeded in discovering some trait, allusion, point, or similitude in their application to the individual popes, either as to their country, their name, their coat of arms or insignia, their birth-place, their talent or learning, the title of their cardinalate, the dignities which they held etc. For example, the prophecy concerning Urban VIII is Lilium et Rosa (the lily and the rose); he was a native of Florence and on the arms of Florence figured a fleur-de-lis; he had three bees emblazoned on his escutcheon, and the bees gather honey from the lilies and roses. Again, the name accords often with some remarkable and rare circumstance in the pope’s career; thus Peregrinus apostolicus (pilgrim pope), which designates Pius VI, appears to be verified by his journey when pope into Germany, by his long career as pope, and by his expatriation from Rome at the end of his pontificate. Those who have lived and followed the course of events in an intelligent manner during the pontificates of Pius IX, Leo XIII, and Pius X cannot fail to be impressed with the titles given to each by the prophecies of St. Malachy and their wonderful appropriateness: Crux de Cruce (Cross from a Cross) Pius IX; Lumen in cælo (Light in the Sky) Leo XIII; Ignis ardens (Burning Fire) Pius X. There is something more than coincidence in the designations given to these three popes so many hundred years before their time. We need not have recourse either to the family names, armorial bearings or cardinalatial titles, to see the fitness of their designations as given in the prophecies. The afflictions and crosses of Pius IX were more than fell to the lot of his predecessors; and the more aggravating of these crosses were brought on by the House of Savoy whose emblem was a cross. Leo XIII was a veritable luminary of the papacy. The present pope is truly a burning fire of zeal for the restoration of all things to Christ.
The last of these prophecies concerns the end of the world and is as follows: “In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will reign Peter the Roman, who will feed his flock amid many tribulations, after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people. The End.” It has been noticed concerning Petrus Romanus, who according to St. Malachy’s list is to be the last pope, that the prophecy does not say that no popes will intervene between him and his predecessor designated Gloria olivæ. It merely says that he is to be the last, so that we may suppose as many popes as we please before “Peter the Roman”. Cornelius a Lapide refers to this prophecy in his commentary “On the Gospel of St. John” (C. xvi) and “On the Apocalypse” (cc. xvii-xx), and he endeavours to calculate according to it the remaining years of time.
Note: The Pope numbers given are from a previous work, and do not accord with the official counting of the Vatican. Our current pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI is the 265th Pope. I am unable to explain this discrepancy.
Note: The commentaries below are only brief and selective. A commentary on every motto is given in Peter Bander’s book: The Prophecies of St Malachy.
Pope No. Name (Reign) Motto No. Motto (and explanation)
167 Celestine II (1143-1144) 1 Ex castro Tyberis
(from a castle on the Tiber)
Hist.: Celestin II was born in Citta di Castello, Toscany, on the shores of the Tiber
168 Lucius II (1144-1145) 2 Inimicus expulsus
169 Eugene III (1145-1153) 3 Ex magnitudine montis
(Of the greatness of the mount)
Hist.: Born in the castle of Grammont (latin: mons magnus), his family name was Montemagno
170 Anastasius IV (1153-1154) 4 Abbas Suburranus
171 Adrian IV (1154-1159) 5 De rure albo
(field of Albe)
Hist.: Born in the town of Saint-Alban
Antipope Victor IV (1159-1164) 6 Ex tetro carcere
Antipope Paschal III (1164-1168) 7 Via trans-Tyberina
Antipope Calistus III (1168-1178) 8 De Pannonia Tusciæ
172 Alexander III (1159-1181) 9 Ex ansere custode
173 Lucius III (1181-1185) 10 Lux in ostio
174 Urban III (1185-1187) 11 Sus in cribo
175 Gregory VIII (1187) 12 Ensis Laurentii
176 Clement III (1187-1191) 13 De schola exiet
177 Celestine III (1191-1198) 14 De rure bovensi
178 Innocent III (1198-1216) 15 Comes signatus
Hist.: descendant of the noble Signy, later called Segni family
179 Honorius III (1216-1227) 16 Canonicus de latere
180 Gregory IX (1227-1241) 17 Avis Ostiensis
(Bird of Ostia)
Hist.: before his election he was Cardinal of Ostia
181 Celestine IV (1241) 18 Leo Sabinus
182 Innocent IV (1243-1254) 19 Comes Laurentius
183 Alexander IV (1254-1261) 20 Signum Ostiense
184 Urban IV (1261-1264) 21 Hierusalem Campaniæ
(Jerusalem of Champagne)
Hist.: native of Troyes, Champagne, later patriarch of Jerusalem
185 Clement IV (1265-1268) 22 Draca depressus
186 Gregory X (1271-1276) 23 Anguinus vir
187 Innocent V (1276) 24 Concionatur Gallus
188 Adrian V (1276) 25 Bonus Comes
189 John XXI (1276-1277) 26 Piscator Tuscus
190 Nicholas III (1277-1280) 27 Rosa composita
191 Martin IV (1281-1285) 28 Ex teloneo liliacei Martini
192 Honorius IV (1285-1287) 29 Ex rosa leonina
193 Nicholas IV (1288-1292) 30 Picus inter escas
194 Nicholas IV (1288-1292) 31 Ex eremo celsus
(elevated from a hermit)
Hist.: prior to his election he was a hermit in the monastery of Pouilles
195 Boniface VIII (1294-1303) 32 Ex undarum benedictione
196 Benedict XI (1303-1304) 33 Concionator patereus
197 Clement V (1305-1314) 34 De fessis Aquitanicis
(ribbon of Aquitaine)
Hist.: was archbishop of Bordeaux in Aquitaine
198 John XXII (1316-1334) 35 De sutore osseo
(of the cobbler of Osseo)
Hist.: Family name Ossa, son of a shoe-maker
Antipope Nicholas V (1328-1330) 36 Corvus schismaticus
(the schismatic crow)
Note the reference to the schism, the only antipope at this period
199 Benedict XII (1334-1342) 37 Frigidus Abbas
Hist.: he was a priest in the monastery of Frontfroid (coldfront)
200 Clement VI (1342-1352) 38 De rosa Attrebatensi
201 Innocent VI (1352-1362) 39 De montibus Pammachii
202 Urban V (1362-1370) 40 Gallus Vice-comes
203 Gregory XI (1370-1378) 41 Novus de Virgine forti
(novel of the virgin fort)
Hist.: count of Beaufort, later Cardinal of Ste-Marie La Neuve
Antipope Clement VII (1378-1394) 42 De cruce Apostilica
Antipope Benedict XIII (1394-1423) 43 Luna Cosmedina
Antipope Clement VIII (1423-1429) 44 Schisma Barcinonicum
204 Urban VI (1378-1389) 45 De Inferno pregnani(From the hell of Pregnani)
Hist.: He was a town called Inferno in the region of Pregnani.
205 Boniface IX (1389-1404) 46 Cubus de mixtione
206 Innocent VII (1404-1406) 47 De meliore sydere
207 Gregory XII (1406-1415) 48 Nauta de ponte nigro
Antipope Alexander V (1409-1410) 49 Flagellum Solis
Antipope John XXIII (1410-1415) 50 Cervus Sirenæ
208 Martin V (1417-1431) 51 Corona veli aurei
209 Eugene IV (1431-1447) 52 Lupa cælestina
Antipope Felix V (1439-1449) 53 Amator crucis
210 Nicholas V (1447-1455) 54 De modicitate lunæ
211 Callistus III (1455-1458) 55 Bos pascens
Hist.: Alphonse Borgia's arms sported a golden grazing ox
212 Pius II (1458-1464) 56 De capra et Albergo
213 Paul II (1464-1471) 57 De cervo et Leone
214 Sixtus IV (1471-1484) 58 Piscator Minorita
215 Innocent VIII (1484-1492) 59 Præcursor Siciliæ
216 Alexander VI (1492-1503) 60 Bos Albanus in portu
217 Pius III (1503) 61 De parvo homine
218 Julius II (1503-1513) 62 Fructus jovis juvabit
219 Leo X (1513-1521) 63 De craticula Politiana
220 Adrian VI (1522-1523) 64 Leo Florentius
221 Clement VII (1523-1534) 65 Flos pilæi ægri
222 Paul III (1534-1549) 66 Hiacynthus medicorum
223 Julius III (1550-1555) 67 De corona Montana
224 Marcellus II (1555) 68 Frumentum floccidum
225 Paul IV (1555-1559) 69 De fide Petri
226 Pius IV (1559-1565) 70 Æsculapii pharmacum
227 St. Pius V (1566-1572) 71 Angelus nemorosus
228 Gregory XIII (1572-1585) 72 Medium corpus pilarum
229 Sixtus V (1585-1590) 73 Axis in medietate signi
230 Urban VII (1590) 74 De rore cæli
231 Gregory XIV (1590-1591) 75 De antiquitate Urbis
232 Innocent IX (1591) 76 Pia civitas in bello
233 Clement VIII (1592-1605) 77 Crux Romulea
234 Leo XI (1605) 78 Undosus Vir
235 Paul V (1605-1621) 79 Gens perversa
236 Gregory XV (1621-1623) 80 In tribulatione pacis
237 Urban VIII (1623-1644) 81 Lilium et rosa
238 Innocent X (1644-1655) 82 Jucunditas crucis
239 Alexander VII (1655-1667) 83 Montium custos
240 Clement IX (1667-1669) 84 Sydus Olorum
(constellation of swans)
Hist.: upon his election, he was apparently the occupant of the Chamber of Swans in the Vatican.
241 Clement X (1670-1676) 85 De flumine magno
242 Innocent XI (1676-1689) 86 Bellua insatiabilis
243 Alexander VIII (1689-1691) 87 Pœnitentia gloriosa
244 Innocent XII (1691-1700) 88 Rastrum in porta
245 Clement XI (1700-1721) 89 Flores circumdati
246 Innocent XIII (1721-1724) 90 De bona Religione
247 Benedict XIII (1724-1730) 91 Miles in bello
248 Clement XII (1730-1740) 92 Columna excelsa
249 Benedict XIV (1740-1758) 93 Animal rurale
250 Clement XIII (1758-1769) 94 Rosa Umbriæ
251 Clement XIV (1769-1774) 95 Ursus velox
252 Pius VI (1775-1799) 96 Peregrinus Apostolicus
253 Pius VII (1800-1823) 97 Aquila rapax
254 Leo XII (1823-1829) 98 Canis et coluber
255 Pius VIII (1829-1830) 99 Vir religiosus
256 Gregory XVI (1831-1846) 100 De balneis hetruriæ
(bath of Etruria)
Hist.: prior to his election he was member of an order founded by Saint Romuald, at Balneo, in Etruria, present day Toscany.
257 Pius IX (1846-1878) 101 Crux de cruce
(Cross of Crosses)
Hist.:Pius XI was the last Pope to reign over the Papal States (the middle third of what is today Italy). He ended up being a prisoner of the Vatican, never venturing outside Vatican City. A much heavier burden than his predecessors.
258 Leo XIII (1878-1903) 102 Lumen in cælo(Light in the Heavens)
Hist.: Leo XIII wrote encyclicals on Catholic social teaching that were still being digested 100 years later. He added considerably to theology.
259 St. Pius X (1903-1914) 103 Ignis ardens
Hist.: The Pope had great personal piety and achieved a number of important reforms in the devotional and liturgical life of priests and laypeople.
260 Benedict XV (1914-1922) 104 Religio depopulata
(Religion laid waste)
Hist.: This Pope reigned during the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia which store the establishment of Communism.
261 Pius XI (1922-1939) 105 Fides intrepida
Hist.: This Pope stood up to Fascist and Communist forces lining up against him in the lead up to World War II.
262 Pius XII (1939-1958) 106 Pastor angelicus
Hist.: This Pope was very mystical, and is believed to have received visions. People would kneel when they received telephone calls from him. His encyclicals add enormously to the understanding of Catholic beliefs (even if they are now overlooked because of focus on the Second Vatican Council, which occurred so soon after his reign).
263 John XXIII (1958-1963) 107 Pastor et Nauta
(pastor and marine)
Hist.: prior to his election he was patriarch of Venice, a marine city, home of the gondolas
264 Paul VI (1963-1978) 108 Flos florum
(flower of flowers)
Hist.: his arms displayed three lilies.
265 John Paul I (1978) 109 De medietate Lunæ
(of the half of the moon)
Hist.: Albino Luciani, born in Canale d'Agardo, diocese of Belluno, (beautiful moon) Elected pope on August 26, his reign lasted about a month, from half a moon to the next half...
266 John Paul II (1978-2005) 110 De labore Solis
(of the eclipse of the sun, or from the labour of the sun)
Hist.: Karol Wojtyla was born on May 18, 1920 during a solar eclipse. He also comes from behind the former Iron Curtain (the East, where the Sun rises). He might also be seen to be the fruit of the intercession of the Woman Clothed with the Sun labouring in Revelation 12 (because of his devotion to the Virgin Mary). His Funeral occurred on 8 April, 2005 when there was a solar eclipse visible in the Americas.
267 Benedict XVI (2005-) 111 Gloria olivæ
The Benedictine order traditionally said this Pope would come from their order, since a branch of the Benedictine order is called the Olivetans. St Benedict is said to have prophesied that before the end of the world, a member of his order would be Pope and would triumphantly lead the Church in its fight against evil. While the Holy Father chose the name "Benedict", this does not seem enough to fulfil the prophecy. Nor is it clear how Benedict XVI (a Bavarian) is "Glory of the Olives". Since he is said to have remarked in the Conclave after saying he would take the name Benedict that it was partly to honour Benedict XV, a pope of peace and reconciliation, perhaps Benedict XVI will be a peacemaker in the Church or in the World, and thus carry the olive branch.
In persecutione extrema S.R.E. sedebit Petrus Romanus, qui pascet oves in multis tribulationibus: quibus transactis civitas septicollis diruetur, & Judex tremêdus judicabit populum suum. Finis.
(In extreme persecution, the seat of the Holy Roman Church will be occupied by Peter the Roman, who will feed the sheep through many tribulations, at the term of which the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the formidable Judge will judge his people. The End.)