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Pope Betting: Star signs, age and winning names from 500 years of Papal history

by Aidan Elder | February 14, 2013


By Aidan Elder | #PopeForm specialist

It’s painted as a foggy, muddled process that only a handful are truly privy to. With Pope Benedict XVI deciding to hang up his pastoral staff to clear the way for a more able successor, the speculation and theorising has once again begun in earnest.

‘He’s a hippy in Pope terms.’

‘He’s too hardline.’

‘He once owned a Village People record.’

We’re likely to hear them all in the coming weeks as the selection process ramps up before we land upon the seemingly random choice of the College of Cardinals. But are there any trends we can take from previous Papal Elections? The Paddy Power Blog has analysed 500 years of Papal history to pick out the key trends.

Star Signs – the links to Eva Mendes and George Clooney

We’re not aware of any horoscope that says ‘today you will successfully negotiate the intricate web of ecclesiastical politics to rise to the top of the Catholic Church’, but clearly the right star sign helps your chances of slipping into that pointy hat.

As you can see from the above graph, it helps to be an Eva Mendes style Pisces – although prancing around in your underwear like she does probably won’t help. The fish sign is joined by George Clooney’s Taurus sign as the most popular star sign of Popes from the last 500 years. 14 of the last 49 Popes have come from those two signs and when you throw in the sizeable amount of Aquarians and Arians, it means 51 per cent of Popes since 1513 have been born in between the rather narrow time frame of between January 21 and May 21. That’s almost interesting.

At the other end of the scale, you might want to shy away from Libras – represented by Sasha Baron Cohen – or Capricorns like Kate Moss. Not because she’ll offer you cocaine or he’ll make you look homophobic in a sneakily edited mockumentary, but because their star signs have only produced four of the last 49 Popes.

We all know it’s dangerous to take your behavioural cues from vague clues that probably don’t exist in the heavens, but lots of people still do it. Hey, if they didn’t we wouldn’t even need a Pope. Or Russell Grant.

Age at the start of Papacy


It’s not only in Wayne Rooney’s love life that you can describe being between 61 and 65 as being the ideal age and someone over the age of 75 as ‘still a goer’. When it comes to being elected Pope, age is generally a good thing as it shows you’ve built up the required knowledge of deeply spiritual matters and wearing silly hats.

The stats say a candidate between the age of 61 and 70 is the prime option. The 61 to 65-year-olds lead the way with 15 Popes since 1513 and not far behind are the 66 to 70-year-olds with 10. In total that accounts for 51 per cent of all Pontiffs in the last 500 years and is the clear leader this time around. Being young has rarely helped your cause.

At 37 years of age, Pope Leo X is the youngest man to have landed the job, but his alleged rampant homosexuality probably means they won’t go with someone so young for a while. At the other end of the scale, there’s a curious spike for the 76-80-year-olds category possibly because the shipments of Viagra arriving into the Papal palace are normally a giveaway of any sexual wrong-doings.

Name – get on the Giovannis

As your cursory knowledge of the lazy Italian stereotype will tell you, the ‘names’ graphic is heavily tilted in favour of those from Europe’s boot. In the last 500 years, there have only been three non-Italian Popes and the two most recent ones account for 66 per cent of those. Once we take that into account, it is possible to put our #Popeform to good use.

There’s a clear trend when it comes to the given name of Popes – get on the Giovannis. 13 of the last 49 Popes have been christened the Italian version of ‘John’. There aren’t a whole lot of Giovannis in the next Pope Betting (none in fact) so we have to get a little creative on this. There’s a Cardinal John Njue in the betting at 150/1 and getting even more creative, a Cardinal Sean O’Malley from the USA and a Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz from Brazil both at 50/1. The pick of the bunch however might be Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne of Peru who is as short as 40/1 for the top job in Catholicism.

The next most popular name is ‘Alessandro’ and we’ve had three of them in the last 500 hundred years. There’s no versions of that likely to be named Next Pope, but there’s more hope for the joint third most popular names. We’ve had two Giulios and Pietros as Pontiff since 1513 and they’re well represented this time around. Cardinal Peter Turkson is the 7/2 joint favourite in the Next Pope Betting and Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo is 33/1. Doing it for the Giulios is Cardinal Julian Herranz Casado of Spain who is an unlikely, but not impossible 80/1 shot.

Despite the theories being put forward, the race for the pointy hat is wide open. If you fancy a candidate at a big price, don’t be put off. Miracles do happen after all. That’s what we’ve been told for the last 2,000 years or so.


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