The election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires as supreme pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church was unusual for several reasons.
These include his choice of papal names – Francis, the first pope to take that particular appellation – and that he is the first pope from the Americas.
But it’s also noteworthy that Francis is the first pope to come from outside Europe in nearly 1,300 years, since Gregory III was elected in 731; that he is the first Jesuit to be elected; and that he is only the second pontiff in 1,100 years to take a name unused by a predecessor.
Also, Francis will not use a Roman numeral after his name. There will only be a Francis I after we have a Francis II, a Vatican official quipped to the Associated Press.
The last pontiff to choose a previously unused name was John Paul I, who reigned for 33 days in 1978. However, his name a combination of that of his two immediate predecessors, John XXIII, 1958-63, and Paul VI, 1963-78.
Prior to John Paul I, the last pontiff to employ a new name was the little-remembered Lando.
According to a 1910 entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia, Lando was a native of the Sabina, Italy, and was believed to have been elected pope in July or August of 913. He died the following year, in either February or March, after a reign of a little more than six months.
“Nothing more is known of him except that he was a worthy man, and granted a privilege to a church in his native Sabina,” according to the Catholic Encyclopedia.
Gregory III, the last pope from outside Europe, was born in Syria and ruled from 731 to 741. Gregory left more of a mark than Lando: he sought to temper the iconoclastic tendencies gaining steam in the Byzantine Empire, restored the walls of Rome in response to threats from the Lombards and promoted the Church in Northern Europe.
He also banned the consumption of horse meat, both domestic and wild.
It is apparent that given the challenges facing both the Church and the world as a whole today, Francis will likely face issues of greater importance than the need to strengthen Rome’s walls or pondering whether horseflesh should be allowed at the dinner table.
And one can only hope the Lombards don’t grow restless again.