Christianity Knowledge Base

The Year of Three Popes or the Summer of Three Popes is a common reference to 1978, when the College of Cardinals of the Catholic Church was required to elect, in papal conclaves, two new popes in rapid succession as a result of the death of one pope, followed by the death of his successor within the same calendar year. This resulted in a year in which the Catholic Church was led by three different popes (i.e., there were two papal successions). Pope Paul VI died on August 6 and was succeeded by Pope John Paul I, who was elected on August 26, but died thirty-three days later on September 28. His death led to the election of Pope John Paul II on October 16, who held office until his death in 2005.

There have been several instances in which three or more popes have held office in a given calendar year. Years in which the Roman Catholic Church was led by three different popes include:

There was also a year in which the Roman Catholic Church was led by four popes, called the Year of Four Popes:

  • 1276: Pope Gregory XPope Innocent VPope Adrian VPope John XXI



Peter Hebblethwaite, The Year of Three Popes. William Collins Publishers, 1979.

See also[]

  • List of popes by length of reign
  • List of ages of Popes
  • Western Schism, which from 1409-1414 saw three simultaneous claimants to the Papacy
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