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"in my anxiety to oblige the Pope" [HOUN]

Pope Leo XIII

It seems like popes have always been an important part of world happenings. More often than not ruling pontiffs shape the world in which they live. There is no doubt, for instance, that the late Pope John Paul II (to be beatified May 1, 2011) played an important historical role on the world stage, regardless of how one views the man. And the same could be said of the pope of Holmes’ and Watson’s time, Pope Leo XIII.

Born Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci, Leo XIII is considered by many historians to be the first “modern” pope. The first to be born in the 19th Century, he was the first to die in the 20th. Liberal in the classical (rather than modern or political) sense, he opened the Vatican archives to scholars for research. He encouraged the study of science, and renovated and updated the Vatican Observatory to house the best equipment and astronomical scientists to be had at the time. He was the first pope to be heard on a recording and the first to be filmed, thrilling at scientific and technological advances.

While he was trained at the Academia dei Nobili for diplomacy and law and the son of nobleman himself, Leo was the first pope in many centuries not to rule a kingdom. Under the reign of his predecessor, Pius IX, the Papal States were lost to the new Kingdom of Italy. Pius therefore shut himself up in a type of self-imposed house arrest as he demanded the independence of the Vatican from the surrounding country. Leo XIII continued the protest, also not leaving the Vatican for fear that he and the Church would placed under the power of the Kingdom of Italy (though after his election he sneaked out incognito to retrieve papers from his former residence). His imprisonment and that of succeeding popes would last until 1929, when Pius XI signed the Lateran Treaty bringing the present Vatican City State into existence.

Because he had no real temporal power, Pope Leo was immediately placed in a neutral role by the world at large and seen by many potentates as an ideal arbitrator. It was his diplomatic influence that prevented a likely war between Germany and Spain in the 1880s. He also was pivotal in encouraging France’s alliance with Russia, which offset the Triple Alliance. Of course, these alliances would lead to the coming Great War, but for their time they helped keep the world’s powers at peace.

Leo XIII endorsed a
vintage spiked with cocaine.
Leo XIII also was instrumental in encouraging what would become the labor movement in the United States and other countries throughout the world. His encyclical Rerum Novarum clearly stated Christian principals in the relationship between capital and labor. In it he strongly condemned socialism and communism for restricting the right of an individual to own property as well as other personal freedoms, but he also held a critical eye toward capitalism which did not allow workers a direct share in the fruits of their own labors.

As I researched Pope Leo for my book Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, I discovered he held many characteristics in common with our beloved master detective. He was tall (for an Italian), painfully thin, and held to a more aesthetic lifestyle. He rarely slept, preferring his work to rest. He imbibed cocaine on occasion in a wine vintage known as Vin Mariani—and so enthusiastic was he about the wine he awarded it a gold medal and appeared on an advertisement poster for the product. He used tobacco in the form of snuff. And, I was amazed to find that Pope Leo greatly resembled Sydney Paget's illustration of Holmes in the guise of an Italian priest! Needless to say, I had a little bit of fun with that. ;)

Holmes as "the venerable Italian priest"
looking a lot like Pope Leo XIII.
Leo's Vatican home was completely devoid of a feminine presence. This was not, however, because he was a misogynist. On the contrary, he asked all women (including servants and religious) to leave the Vatican when he became pope motivated by an unusual sense of chivalry. He desired to shield them from any victimization, temptation or scandal, and to protect his priests from the same.

He was, to sum up, a man of his time as well as a man of the future. He was the most prolific pope, writing 85 encyclicals during his reign, which was the third longest in history (1878-1903). A logician himself, he was an enthusiast of St. Thomas Aquinas, whose philosophical works led to what we now know as the scientific method.

There couldn’t have been a more perfect pope, then, for whom Holmes would solve not one, but two cases (see references in BLAC and HOUN). I had great joy telling untold tales about him and the Master and I believe Holmes and Watson had a great deal of fun with him as well.

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Ann Margaret Lewis is a member of the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis. She began her writing career writing tie-in children’s books and short stories for DC Comics and Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Alien Species, for Random House. Her book: Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, published by Gasogene Books, is available at Wessex Press. You can reach her at http://www.holmeschurchmysteries.com.