John XXI
Bishop of Rome
Anonymous portrait, c. 16th century, now at the Archbishops Gallery of Braga, Portugal
ChurchCatholic Church
Papacy began8 September 1276
Papacy ended20 May 1277
PredecessorAdrian V
SuccessorNicholas III
OrdinationMay 1275
Created cardinal3 June 1273
by Gregory X
Personal details
Pedro Julião

c. 1215
Died20 May 1277(1277-05-20) (aged 61–62)
Viterbo, Papal States
Previous post(s)
Coat of armsJohn XXI's coat of arms
Other popes named John

Pope John XXI (Latin: Ioannes XXI, Portuguese: João XXI; c. 1215 – 20 May 1277), born Pedro Julião[1] (Latin: Petrus Iulianus), was the bishop of Rome and head of the Catholic Church from 8 September 1276 to his death. He is the only Portuguese pope in history.[2] He is sometimes identified with the logician and herbalist Peter of Spain (Latin: Petrus Hispanus; Portuguese: Pedro Hispano), which would make him the only pope to have been a physician.[2]

Early life

Pedro Julião was born in Lisbon between 1210 and 1220 to Julião Pais, chancellor of Sancho I and Afonso Henriques,[3] and his wife Mor Mendes. 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. He is traditionally and usually identified with the medical author Peter of Spain, an important figure in the development of logic and pharmacology. Peter of Spain taught at the University of Siena in the 1240s and his Summulae Logicales was used as a university textbook on Aristotelian logic for the next three centuries. At the court in Lisbon, he was the councilor and spokesman for King Afonso III in church matters. Later, he became prior of Guimarães.

He was Archdeacon of Vermoim (Vermuy) in the Archdiocese of Braga.[4] He tried to become bishop of Lisbon but was defeated. Instead, he became the Master of the school of Lisbon. Peter became the physician of Pope Gregory X (1271–1276) early in his reign. In March 1273, he was elected Archbishop of Braga, but did not assume that post; instead, on 3 June 1273, Pope Gregory X created him Cardinal Bishop of Tusculum (Frascati).[5]


Tomb of Pope John XXI in Viterbo Cathedral

After the death of Pope Adrian V on 18 August 1276, Peter was elected pope on 8 September.[2] He was crowned a week later on 20 September. 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.[6]

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, the ceiling collapsed; John was rescued alive from beneath the rubble; however, he died of his serious injuries on 20 May, possibly an early recorded case of crush syndrome.[7]

He was buried in the Duomo di Viterbo, where his tomb can still be seen. The original porphyry sarcophagus was destroyed during the cathedral's 16th-century refurbishment, and was replaced with a more modest one in stone with the pope's effigy. In the 19th century, the Duke of Saldanha, as Portuguese Ambassador to the Holy See, had the pope's remains transferred to a new sarcophagus sculpted by Filippo Gnaccarini.[7] In 2000, the Lisbon City Council, led by Mayor João Soares, successfully had a new funeral monument built in lioz stone, topped by the original stone effigy of the pope, placed in a more condign location in the transept.[8][9]


After his death, it was rumored that John XXI had actually been a necromancer (see also Communion of the Saints), a suspicion frequently directed towards the few scholars among medieval popes (see, e.g., Sylvester II). It was also said that his death had been an act of God, stopping him from completing a heretical treatise.[10] Since the works of "Peter of Spain" continued to be studied and appreciated, however, Dante Alighieri placed "Pietro Spano" in his Paradiso's Sphere of the Sun with the spirits of other great religious scholars.

See also


  1. ^ Richard McBrien (1997). Os Papas: De São Pedro à João Paulo II. Translated by Barbara Theoto Lambert. Edições Loyola. p. 229. ISBN 8515019132.
  2. ^ a b c Richard P. McBrien, Lives of the Popes, (Harper Collins, 1997), 222.
  3. ^ Branco 2001, p. 524.
  4. ^ Conradus Eubel, Hierarchia catholica medii aevi Tomus I, editio altera (Monasterii 1913), p. 144.
  5. ^ Conradus Eubel, Hierarchia catholica medii aevi Tomus I, editio altera (Monasterii 1913), p. 9.
  6. ^ Johann Peter Kirsch (1910). "Pope John XXI (XX)". In Catholic Encyclopedia. 8. New York.
  7. ^ a b De Santo, Natale G; Bisaccia, Carmela; De Santo, Luca S; Cucu, Andrei I; Costea, Claudia F (April 2021). "John XXI, the Pope Philosopher and Physician-Scientist of Portuguese Origins Died of Crush Syndrome in 1277". J Relig Health. 60 (2): 1305–1317. doi:10.1007/s10943-020-01096-3. PMID 33141403. S2CID 226231611.
  8. ^ Saint-Maurice, Anabela (19 February 2000). "Mistério em Viterbo". O Lugar da História (in Portuguese). RTP2. Retrieved 13 September 2021.
  9. ^ "Dois papas nascidos em Portugal" [Two popes born in Portugal]. Diário de Notícias (in Portuguese). 18 April 2005. Retrieved 13 September 2021.
  10. ^ Odorico Raynaldi, sub anno 1227, no. 19.


Catholic Church titles Preceded byAdrian V Pope 1276–77 Succeeded byNicholas III