Who Was the Shortest-Reigning Pope?

Pope Urban VII was the shortest-reigning pope in history, and only reigned for 13 days. He was elected as leader of the Catholic Church on 14 September 1590 and died of malaria on 27 September 1590 in Rome before his coronation. Urban VII’s death occurred just two weeks after the death of his predecessor, Pope Sixtus V. In addition to having the shortest papal tenure in history, Pope Urban VII made a historical decision during his time as pope: the first ban on smoking in history. The law made smoking in a church punishable by ex-communication, and remained in effect until 1724, when it was repealed by Pope Benedict XIII who was a smoker.

More about popes:

  • The longest-reigning pope was Pope Pius IX who reigned for 31 years from 1846 to 1878.
  • Only three popes in history have been elected when under the age of 25; however, this has not occurred since the 996 election of Pope Gregory V, who was 24 years old.
  • In 236 A.D., a man by the name of Fabian who was not even nominated as a candidate was named the pope after a dove landed on his shoulder, which was considered a sign of the Holy Spirit.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was the shortest-reigning Pope in history?

The shortest-reigning Pope was Pope Urban VII, who held the papacy for only 13 days, from September 15 to September 27, 1590. His brief tenure was cut short by his sudden death, possibly due to malaria, before he could even be officially installed. This makes him the Pope with the shortest reign in the history of the Catholic Church.

What were the circumstances surrounding Pope Urban VII's short reign?

Pope Urban VII, born Giovanni Battista Castagna, was elected to the papacy during a time of religious and political turmoil. His reign was abruptly ended by his untimely death, believed to be caused by malaria, which was prevalent in Rome at the time. His death occurred before his coronation, and as a result, he never resided in the Papal Apartments.

Did Pope Urban VII make any significant contributions to the Church during his brief papacy?

Despite his extremely short reign, Pope Urban VII is credited with making a significant health-related contribution. He is known for issuing the first known public smoking ban in history, forbidding the use of tobacco in churches and threatening excommunication for those who violated the ban. This was one of the few but notable actions he took during his 13-day papacy.

How does the length of Pope Urban VII's papacy compare to other short-reigning popes?

Pope Urban VII's papacy is the shortest in recorded history, but there have been other popes with brief reigns as well. For instance, Pope Stephen II, in 752, was Pope-elect for only three days before his death and is not always listed as a legitimate Pope since he died before consecration. Other short-reigning popes include Pope Celestine IV (17 days in 1241) and Pope Leo XI (27 days in 1605).

Are there any lasting impacts or legacies of Pope Urban VII's papacy?

While Pope Urban VII's papacy was too brief for him to enact significant changes or policies, his anti-tobacco edict is often cited as a precursor to modern public health policies. Additionally, his short reign serves as a historical footnote that highlights the vulnerabilities and unpredictability of human life, even for those in the highest religious positions. His legacy is a reminder of the transient nature of power and the importance of health considerations in public spaces.

Discussion Comments


@Viranty - While it is possible that many people don't allow smoking inside of their church, one major difference is that it's no longer a law that's actually been passed, unlike what's being described in the article. In other words, while you're right that many people don't allow smoking in church, it's not "illegal", so to speak.


These are some interesting tidbits of information, especially in the case that this was the first time that smoking was banned in history. The situation really emphasizes how even in that time period, there were laws to be followed, and if you failed to do so, you would be punished. On a final note, even though the law remained until 1724, one thing I wonder about is if that law is still in effect in some places. I know it was repealed, but don't forget that some churches are stricter than others. There's no way that some figures would allow smoking inside their church, especially in this day and age.


Wow, that's a very short time for someone to be the pope. However, aside from that, I find it very interesting that, despite his short sentencing, he is still remembered in history. However, this might be based more on the fact that he was the pope, and an authoritative figure in general. I mean, just because someone serves a short sentence doesn't mean that they can't and won't be remembered.

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