Since Pope Benedict announced his resignation yesterday (I can’t believe it was only yesterday), two apocalyptic items keep getting mentioned. First are the prophecies of St. Malachy. These prophesies supposedly describe every pope from the time of St. Malachy until the end of the world. According to those prophesies, Pope Benedict XVI was the second-to-the-last pope. Unfortunately for those who really want Armageddon to start in their lifetimes, these prophecies were first discovered more than 300 years after St. Malachy’s death and the prophecies have a curious characteristic. the verses about each pope up until the time of their discovery are very easy to decipher. The verses about popes after the time they were discovered are much more vague. Could they be real? Sure. Do I think they are? No.
The second apocalyptic sign that people like to bring up is an architectural feature inside the St. Paul Outside the Walls Basilica in Rome. This glorious church was begun in the fourth century and was still being expanded and embellished into the thirteenth century. St. Paul is buried in the church and it is called “Outside the Walls” because it was built outside of the fortified wall around Rome. During the ninth century a defensive wall was built around the basilica to protect it from invaders. The original church burned down in 1823 but was rebuilt exactly as before using as much of the original material as possible.
Apart from the amazing collection of architectural styles from Byzantine to Baroque that adorn this church, the walls throughout the church are decorated with medallions featuring all of the popes from Peter to Benedict XVI. Each medallion has the pope’s name in Latin and the dates of his papacy. There is a legend that when all of the spots are full, the world will end. I have heard from many people that there are either no remaining spaces or only one left. Fortunately for anyone who is very worried that we are down to our last pope and thinks that this church proves it, I can give your worries a little rest. Thanks to this virtual tour of St. Paul Outside the Walls, you can clearly see that there are at least five empty medallions on the wall. Pope Benedict’s medallion is in the spotlight behind the pillar.