John B. Buescher offers an entertaining history of tobacco use in the Vatican. It turns out that rolled tobacco (cigars and cigarettes) has been especially favored by recent pontiffs:

Pius X took snuff and smoked cigars. Benedict XV did not smoke and did not like others’ smoke. Pius XI smoked an occasional cigar. Pius XII did not smoke. And John XXIII smoked cigarettes.

Paul VI was a non-smoker. So was John Paul I, though Vatican officials appeared to hint—just after his sudden, perplexing death—that his final ill health might be due to heavy smoking.

John Paul II did not smoke, but Pope Benedict XVI reportedly does (or once did), apparently favoring Marlboros.


If, as Richard Klein argued in  Cigarettes Are Sublime , cigarettes are a particularly modern cultural artifact, what Pierre Louys called  la volupté nouvelle , traditionalists might detect the stench of the modernist heresy in the preferences of recent popes. Their anxiety will find confirmation in the fact that the supreme pontiffs who now favor cigarettes once overwhelmingly favored snuff,

As a method of brotherly correction:

Benedict XIV was also a snuff-taker. He is said to have once offered his snuffbox to the head of some religious order, who declined to take a pinch of snuff, saying, “Your Holiness, I do not have that vice,” to which the pope replied, “It is not a vice. If it were a vice you would have it.”

As a tool of diplomacy:
When the representative of Victor Emmanuel came to [Pius IX] to submit conditions that the pope believed were unacceptable, the pope “beat on the table with a snuff box, which then broke.” The representative “left so confused he appeared dizzy.”

As a fundraising gimmick:
In 1871, [Pius IX] also, during the time he was the “prisoner of the Vatican,” offered up his “gold snuff-box, exquisitely carved with two symbolic lambs in the midst of flowers and foliage,” to be offered as the prize in a worldwide lottery to raise money for the Church.

And as a means for embarrassing the heathen:
Leo XIII favored snuff. Before he became pope, he had served for a time as papal nuncio in Brussels and enjoyed the conversation and company of the cultured and easy-going aristocrats there. One evening at dinner, a certain Count, who was a Freethinker, thought he would have a little fun at the nuncio’s expense, and he handed him a snuff box to examine, which had on its cover a miniature painting of a beautiful nude Venus.“The men of the party watched the progress of the joke, and as for the Count he was choking with laughter, until the Nuncio deferentially returned the box with the remark: ‘Very pretty, indeed, Count. I presume it is the portrait of the Countess?’”

The tobacco-taking popes may have other holy witnesses on their side. Buescher informs of us that after being shown St. Teresa of Avila’s mantle, Venerable Marie Thérèse de Lamourous detected more than the odor of sanctity: “I kissed it; I pressed it upon me . . . I remarked everything, even the little stains, which seemed to be of Spanish snuff.”

Via Tristyn Bloom

Articles by Matthew Schmitz

Loading...

Show 0 comments