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Prophecy of St Malachy

When I read “The Year of Three Popes” by Peter Hebblethwaite (about the events of 1978 which saw the death of Paul VI, the election and death of John Paul I, and then the election of John Paul II) he mentions the spate of editorials in the Osservatore Romano and the spate of letters to the editor in the Times of London at the time of the conclaves about what the mottoes attributed to the dead pope or the next pope by St Malachy in his prophecies might mean. Enthralled, I went to the library and looked through the microfilm of the Times to read the letters myself. And then I tried to track down a copy of the prophecies. I have them reproduced below, as well as an explanation of them from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

The prevailing view today is that they are elaborate forgeries, probably perpretrated by a school of Jesuits in the 1600s. This is based on the clear relation of the mottos to the various popes until that period, and the need to find oblique references (such as the motto of the Pope’s home diocese) to make the particular motto fit the particular pope. The inclusion of anti-popes would also appear to militate against the authenticity of the prophecies.

Nevertheless, as each new conclave comes and goes, people start to become a bit jittery about them (since the list runs out soon!).

Apparently, in 1958, before the Conclave that would elect Pope John XXIII, Cardinal Spellman of New York hired a boat, filled it with sheep and sailed up and down the Tiber River, to show that he was “pastor et nautor”, the motto attibuted to the next Pope in the prophecies!

I think they are a bit of fun, and the semantic exercise of trying to fit the motto to the Pope that goes on in letters to the editor around the world is great reading!

According to the prophecy, the current Pope may be the second last Pope Gloria Olivæ (“Glory of the Olives”).

However, it should be noted that some commentators over the centuries have pointed out that there is nothing that says there will be no popes between Gloria Olivæ and Petrus Romanus. It may be that there will be a long line of popes between them!

(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.

The Prophecies

Pope No.Name (Reign)Motto No.Motto (and explanation)
167Celestine II (1143-1144)1Ex castro Tyberis
(from a castle on the Tiber)
Hist.: Celestin II was born in Citta di Castello, Toscany, on the shores of the Tiber
168Lucius II (1144-1145)2Inimicus expulsus
169Eugene III (1145-1153)3Ex magnitudine montis
(Of the greatness of the mount)
Hist.: Born in the castle of Grammont (latin: mons magnus), his family name was Montemagno
170Anastasius IV (1153-1154)4Abbas Suburranus
171Adrian IV (1154-1159)5De rure albo
(field of Albe)
Hist.: Born in the town of Saint-Alban
AntipopeVictor IV (1159-1164)6Ex tetro carcere
AntipopePaschal III (1164-1168)7Via trans-Tyberina
AntipopeCalistus III (1168-1178)8De Pannonia Tusciæ
172Alexander III (1159-1181)9Ex ansere custode
173Lucius III (1181-1185)10Lux in ostio
174Urban III (1185-1187)11Sus in cribo
175Gregory VIII (1187)12Ensis Laurentii
176Clement III (1187-1191)13De schola exiet
177Celestine III (1191-1198)14De rure bovensi
178Innocent III (1198-1216)15Comes signatus
(signed Count)
Hist.: descendant of the noble Signy, later called Segni family
179Honorius III (1216-1227)16Canonicus de latere
180Gregory IX (1227-1241)17Avis Ostiensis
(Bird of Ostia)
Hist.: before his election he was Cardinal of Ostia
181Celestine IV (1241)18Leo Sabinus
182Innocent IV (1243-1254)19Comes Laurentius
183Alexander IV (1254-1261)20Signum Ostiense
184Urban IV (1261-1264)21Hierusalem Campaniæ
(Jerusalem of Champagne)
Hist.: native of Troyes, Champagne, later patriarch of Jerusalem
185Clement IV (1265-1268)22Draca depressus
186Gregory X (1271-1276)23Anguinus vir
187Innocent V (1276)24Concionatur Gallus
188Adrian V (1276)25Bonus Comes
189John XXI (1276-1277)26Piscator Tuscus
190Nicholas III (1277-1280)27Rosa composita
191Martin IV (1281-1285)28Ex teloneo liliacei Martini
192Honorius IV (1285-1287)29Ex rosa leonina
193Nicholas IV (1288-1292)30Picus inter escas
194Nicholas IV (1288-1292)31Ex eremo celsus
(elevated from a hermit)
Hist.: prior to his election he was a hermit in the monastery of Pouilles
195Boniface VIII (1294-1303)32Ex undarum benedictione
196Benedict XI (1303-1304)33Concionator patereus
197Clement V (1305-1314)34De fessis Aquitanicis
(ribbon of Aquitaine)
Hist.: was archbishop of Bordeaux in Aquitaine
198John XXII (1316-1334)35De sutore osseo
(of the cobbler of Osseo)
Hist.: Family name Ossa, son of a shoe-maker
AntipopeNicholas V (1328-1330)36Corvus schismaticus
(the schismatic crow)
Note the reference to the schism, the only antipope at this period
199Benedict XII (1334-1342)37Frigidus Abbas
(cold friar)
Hist.: he was a priest in the monastery of Frontfroid (coldfront)
200Clement VI (1342-1352)38De rosa Attrebatensi
201Innocent VI (1352-1362)39De montibus Pammachii
202Urban V (1362-1370)40Gallus Vice-comes
203Gregory XI (1370-1378)41Novus de Virgine forti
(novel of the virgin fort)
Hist.: count of Beaufort, later Cardinal of Ste-Marie La Neuve
AntipopeClement VII (1378-1394)42De cruce Apostilica
AntipopeBenedict XIII (1394-1423)43Luna Cosmedina
AntipopeClement VIII (1423-1429)44Schisma Barcinonicum
204Urban VI (1378-1389)45De Inferno pregnani(From the hell of Pregnani)
Hist.: He was a town called Inferno in the region of Pregnani.
205Boniface IX (1389-1404)46Cubus de mixtione
206Innocent VII (1404-1406)47De meliore sydere
207Gregory XII (1406-1415)48Nauta de ponte nigro
AntipopeAlexander V (1409-1410)49Flagellum Solis
AntipopeJohn XXIII (1410-1415)50Cervus Sirenæ
208Martin V (1417-1431)51Corona veli aurei
209Eugene IV (1431-1447)52Lupa cælestina
AntipopeFelix V (1439-1449)53Amator crucis
210Nicholas V (1447-1455)54De modicitate lunæ
211Callistus III (1455-1458)55Bos pascens
(grazing ox)
Hist.: Alphonse Borgia’s arms sported a golden grazing ox
212Pius II (1458-1464)56De capra et Albergo
213Paul II (1464-1471)57De cervo et Leone
214Sixtus IV (1471-1484)58Piscator Minorita
215Innocent VIII (1484-1492)59Præcursor Siciliæ
216Alexander VI (1492-1503)60Bos Albanus in portu
217Pius III (1503)61De parvo homine
218Julius II (1503-1513)62Fructus jovis juvabit
219Leo X (1513-1521)63De craticula Politiana
220Adrian VI (1522-1523)64Leo Florentius
221Clement VII (1523-1534)65Flos pilæi ægri
222Paul III (1534-1549)66Hiacynthus medicorum
223Julius III (1550-1555)67De corona Montana
224Marcellus II (1555)68Frumentum floccidum
225Paul IV (1555-1559)69De fide Petri
226Pius IV (1559-1565)70Æsculapii pharmacum
227St. Pius V (1566-1572)71Angelus nemorosus
228Gregory XIII (1572-1585)72Medium corpus pilarum
229Sixtus V (1585-1590)73Axis in medietate signi
230Urban VII (1590)74De rore cæli
231Gregory XIV (1590-1591)75De antiquitate Urbis
232Innocent IX (1591)76Pia civitas in bello
233Clement VIII (1592-1605)77Crux Romulea
234Leo XI (1605)78Undosus Vir
235Paul V (1605-1621)79Gens perversa
236Gregory XV (1621-1623)80In tribulatione pacis
237Urban VIII (1623-1644)81Lilium et rosa
238Innocent X (1644-1655)82Jucunditas crucis
239Alexander VII (1655-1667)83Montium custos
240Clement IX (1667-1669)84Sydus Olorum
(constellation of swans)
Hist.: upon his election, he was apparently the occupant of the Chamber of Swans in the Vatican.
241Clement X (1670-1676)85De flumine magno
242Innocent XI (1676-1689)86Bellua insatiabilis
243Alexander VIII (1689-1691)87Pœnitentia gloriosa
244Innocent XII (1691-1700)88Rastrum in porta
245Clement XI (1700-1721)89Flores circumdati
246Innocent XIII (1721-1724)90De bona Religione
247Benedict XIII (1724-1730)91Miles in bello
248Clement XII (1730-1740)92Columna excelsa
249Benedict XIV (1740-1758)93Animal rurale
250Clement XIII (1758-1769)94Rosa Umbriæ
251Clement XIV (1769-1774)95Ursus velox
252Pius VI (1775-1799)96Peregrinus Apostolicus
253Pius VII (1800-1823)97Aquila rapax
254Leo XII (1823-1829)98Canis et coluber
255Pius VIII (1829-1830)99Vir religiosus
256Gregory XVI (1831-1846)100De 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.
257Pius IX (1846-1878)101Crux 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.
258Leo XIII (1878-1903)102Lumen 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.
259St. Pius X (1903-1914)103Ignis ardens
(ardent fire)
Hist.: The Pope had great personal piety and achieved a number of important reforms in the devotional and liturgical life of priests and laypeople.
260Benedict XV (1914-1922)104Religio depopulata
(Religion laid waste)
Hist.: This Pope reigned during the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia which store the establishment of Communism.
261Pius XI (1922-1939)105Fides intrepida
(Intrepid faith)
Hist.: This Pope stood up to Fascist and Communist forces lining up against him in the lead up to World War II.
262Pius XII (1939-1958)106Pastor angelicus
(Angelic Shepherd)
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).
263John XXIII (1958-1963)107Pastor et Nauta
(pastor and marine)
Hist.: prior to his election he was patriarch of Venice, a marine city, home of the gondolas
264Paul VI (1963-1978)108Flos florum
(flower of flowers)
Hist.: his arms displayed three lilies.
265John Paul I (1978)109De 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…
266John Paul II (1978-2005)110De 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.
267Benedict XVI (2005-)111Gloria 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.)
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