Pope Benedict XVI tendered his resignation a month ago today. As we speak, the Conclave is in session. A successor will be announced in a day or two, a week or two, a month perhaps. All cardinals have congregated to the Pope’s private chapel for the momentous event. They will ponder, testify and make recommendations until the new head of the church has been identified. Meanwhile, they will eat and drink wine and chat casually as well. The church without merriment would be unthinkable.
The two most recent leaders did not appear out of shape, hardly even plump. Can this be attributed in part to the Mediterranean diet, or is it something else? Does the function of a Pope itself so affect metabolism that the body naturally retains its vigor, to a point? Pope Benedict did point to a measure of infirmity as one of the factors influencing his decision.
It is good and wise to know when it is time to change one’s lifestyle. Perhaps this is a lesson we can all learn, or remember, as we watch history unfold at the Vatican. For now, what does a good Pope eat anyway?
St. Peter was the first Pope, over 2000 years ago. Fish was a common source of nourishment in his time and historians and archeologists have determined for certain that he lived along the shores of the sea of Galilee, where he was a fisherman also… or did they mean a fisher of men? In any case, per the customs of his time he would have shared such delicacies as local fruit, including olives, unleavened breads, goat milk and honey with his compatriots.
With Boniface VIII (13th century), we must speak of tableware as much as of the feast of which he partook, for he was the first pope to possess a complete line of gold dishes and cutlery. His wealth may have ensured an abundance of food, but so did it cause him much fear of being poisoned. Interestingly, Pope Boniface is the first one to be depicted with the rounded face associated with abundant nourishment.
Pope Martin V, above (15th century), was a big eater and is depicted as such. His private chef recorded over 70 recipes for meals that were served to anyone from visiting kings to all levels of clergy and even commoners. The good Pope liked entertaining, though the meals differed based on social classes, with kings feasting on complex stews and lower classes on simple soups.
Pope Pius IV was fond of fried frogs with garlic. Perhaps this is where the term “sautéed” comes from?! The first written record of recipes for turkey occur during his reign and were written by his private chef.
Lets jump forward, lest we get hungry while considering every single papal table. Leo XIII was the first pope of the 20th century and clearly more inclined to asceticism as suggests the following excerpt from a 1895 medical journal (translation): “At breakfast a cup of coffee, with milk and a small roll of bread. At dinner soup, a little boiled meat with potatoes, or some other vegetable, and a small glass of Bordeaux claret. At supper soup and some bread, with the same quantities of wine as at dinner. Sometimes, between meals, a small cup of broth.”
John Paul II‘s favorite food was a cake he ate as a child. This is the first account of a Pope associating food with a connection to his own past and perhaps with emotion as well. Otherwise, he was fond of polish meats and cold cuts and enjoyed leftovers from precious meals at dinner when not entertaining.
Benedict XVI, for his part, appears to have had a sweet tooth as well as fond memories of his own heritage, as would suggest his penchant for Bavarian Christmas cookies and chocolate.
To be continued, at the next papal feast.
Make your own papal tradition – Our Menus
Inspiration for this article – The Holy, Hungry Fathers – Bon Apétit
While you are here, you might also read – At The President’s Table, Today: Cottage Cheese, Fruit & Ketchup