From resignations to drownings and beheadings, the papacy is full of unusual and surprising moments.
Pope Benedict XVI surprised many with his announcement that he is resigning, although he's certainly not the first. Here's a look back at other unusual and surprising moments in the history of the papacy.
Saint Peter (32-67 AD) -- According to Catholic beliefs, Peter was the first pope and the focus of Roman Emperor Nero's ire. Nero sent an order for Peter's arrest, and although Peter escaped, it is said a vision of Jesus inspired him to return to Rome and accept his martyrdom. He was ultimately crucified.
Pope Clement I (92-99 AD) -- According to legend, Pope Clement I was banished from Rome and sent to work in a stone quarry. After converting locals and fellow prisoners to Christianity, an anchor was tied around his neck and he was thrown into the Black Sea.
Pope Stephen I (May 254-August 257 AD) -- Pope Stephen I is said to have been sitting on his throne, celebrating Mass, when Emperor Valerian's men stormed the room and beheaded him where he sat. The blood-stained throne is alleged to have been preserved by the church until the 18th century.
Pope Sixtus II (August 257-August 258) -- Roman Emperor Valerian sent out a decree condemning Christian priests, bishops and deacons to death. While giving a sermon, Pope Sixtus II was captured by the emperor’s men and beheaded -- the first victim of the infamous 258 Persecutions.
Pope Marcellinus (June 296-April 304) -- This early church pope abdicated or was deposed in 304 after complying with the Roman emperor's order to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods.
Pope John VII (705-707) -- The death of Pope John VII in October 707 remains somewhat of a mystery. His cause of death is officially "unknown," but it is said he was beaten to death by the enraged husband of a woman he was sleeping with who caught them in the act.
Pope Stephen VI (May 896-August 897) -- Fueled by his anger with Pope Formosus, his predecessor, Pope Stephen VI exhumed Formosus' body and put him on trial in the so-called "Cadaver Synod" in January 897. The corpse was found guilty, stripped of its sacred vestments, had three of its fingers cut off and was tossed in the Tiber River.
Pope Sergius III (January 904-April 911) -- He is believed to be the only pope who ordered the murder of another pope with the strangulation death of Antipope Christopher. He's also rumored to have fathered a son with the daughter of a count who helped the pope expand into more territory. His son went on to become pope himself.
Pope John XII (December 955-May 964) -- He was deposed at one point, but returned when Holy Roman Emperor Otto I left Rome. Pope John XII maimed and mutilated all who had opposed him. He is also said to have been beaten to death by a jealous husband in 964.
Pope Benedict IX (1032-1048) -- One of the youngest popes, he was the only man to have been pope on more than one occasion and the only man ever to have sold the papacy after resigning in 1045. He was later excommunicated.
Pope John XXI (Eight months in 1276) -- The only Portuguese pope and only pope to have been a physician, he died when a section of the poorly constructed roof at his palace in Viterbo, Italy, collapsed in on him while he was asleep in bed.
Pope Celestine V (1294) -- Overwhelmed by the demands of the office, this hermetic pontiff stepped down after just five months as pope in 1294.
Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303) -- In September 1303, an army led by a prominent Italian family kidnapped Pope Boniface VIII and demanded that he abdicate. Held in captivity for multiple days, he refused. Boniface survived the attack and returned to Rome only to die a month later.
Pope Urban VI (1378-1389) -- He alienated his followers with a harsh leadership style, leading 13 French cardinals to flee Rome and choose their own pope, French Cardinal Robert of Geneva, who became Antipope Clement VII. The competing papacies launched the Western Schism that rocked the Catholic Church for four decades.
Pope Gregory XII (1406-1415) -- The last pope to resign, Gregory XII stepped down in 1415 to help end a church schism.
Pope Leo X (1513-1521) -- After draining the papal treasury, he began selling off pieces of Vatican furniture and introduced the idea of selling "indulgences" as a way to make up lost funds -- essentially allowing sinners to buy their way out of damnation.
Pope Urban VII (1590) -- He was pope for just 13 days, dying of malaria before his coronation.
Pope Clement XIII (1758-1769) -- He ordered the now-famous fig leaves to cover the genitalia on classical male statues in the Vatican.
Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) -- As he entered St. Peter's Square to address an audience on May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot and critically wounded by Mehmet Ali Agca, a member of the militant fascist group Grey Wolves. He survived that and a second assassination attempt in May 1982.
Pope Benedict XVI (2005-Present) -- In a historic first, Pope Benedict XVI issued several formal apologies in 2010 to victims of sexual abuse by priests and acknowledged that the Catholic Church has been slow to deal with the problem.
Pope Benedict XVI (2005-Present) -- Scandal also struck the current papacy in 2012, when a papal butler leaked personal and official documents to an Italian journalist, implicating the Vatican in nepotism and corruption. Pope Benedict XVI later granted his ex-butler a Christmas pardon.
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