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The earliest known footage & audio recording of a Pope in existence

Ian Harvey

Leo XIII was Pope of the Catholic Church from 1878 to 1903. He was an important leader at a time when tensions between the Church and the nationalistic states of Europe were growing.

He was born in 1810 to an Italian aristocratic family who named him Vincenzo. His father was Count Dominico Ludovico Pecci and his mother, Anna Prosperi Buzi.

Young Vincenzo trained for the priesthood and was appointed the governor of Benevento (then part of the Papal States) in 1837. As a Monsignor, he was then given the administration of Spoleto, and in 1841, Perugia.

Portrait of Pope Leo XIII.

Portrait of Pope Leo XIII.

He reformed poor economies, broke alliances between the nobility and the Mafia, fought corruption, cleared the land of bandits and encouraged trade. He often personally conducted investigations. On one occasion in Perugia, he visited a bakery which was selling bread below the prescribed the weight.

Pecci confiscated all the underweight bread and distributed it to the poor. Pope Leo XII visited Perugia in 1841 and sought Pecci’s advice on the governance of the province. In 1843, Pecci was consecrated a bishop and sent as Nuncio to Belgium.

In 1846, he was made Archbishop of Perugia. On February 18, 1878, he was elected pope following the death of Pius IX.

Leo XIII was deeply interested in social justice, and his encyclical Rerum Novarum remains an important document on Catholic social teaching. He was an intellectual pope, promoting the theology of the medieval scholar Thomas Aquinas and the study of the scriptures.

He has been called the Rosary Pope on account of eleven encyclicals on the subject of devotion to the Virgin Mary.

Photogram of the 1896 film Sua Santitá papa Leone XIII, the first time a Pope appeared on film.

Photogram of the 1896 film Sua Santitá papa Leone XIII, the first time a Pope appeared on film.

He also approved two new scapulars in her honor and expounded the doctrine of Mary as Mediatrix. He died the longest-lived pope at the age of 93 in 1903.  He was the third-longest reigning pope, after his immediate predecessor, Pius IX, whose pontificate lasted 32 years, and the Apostle Peter, 34 years.

He was the first pope not to have ruled over Rome, which had been seized from the control of the Church in 1870.

Photograph of Leo XIII in his later years.

Photograph of Leo XIII in his later years.

He was buried in St Peter’s Basilica and later in St John Lateran. This extraordinary footage is the earliest known audiovisual representation of a pope.

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It was taken in 1896. The audio begins 26 seconds into the recording. Leo recites the Ave Maria.