Pope Urban: Patron of Nonsmokers?

Once upon a time, I took home delivery of the Detroit Free Press—allowing its ink to smear my fingers, spread to my cheek, leave smudges on the kitchen table.  To my irritation, my children left it around, comic pages spread wide on the living room floor.  My husband read the Sports Page instead of engaging in witty repartee.

I’m digital now; but I have a vague memory from those olden days of a newspaper column I really enjoyed—something like “Things I Learned En Route to Learning Other Things.” Maybe it was Chicago-based columnist Sydney J. Harris, because he would have liked that kind of stuff.

Anyway, today is one of those days.

Today I learned that Pope Urban VII had the shortest papal reign in history.  Pope Urban—who was born Giovanni Battista Castagna and who served for a time as apostolic nuncio to Spain, was elected to the papacy on September 15, 1590.  He succeeded Pope Sixtus V.  However, Pope Urban contracted malaria and died only 13 days later—on September 27, 1590.

With so little time to issue papal bulls or encyclicals, Pope Urban VII has at least one claim to fame:  He seems to have been ahead of his time, because he issued the world’s first known public smoking ban.  Pope Urban threatened to excommunicate anyone who “took tobacco in the porchway of or inside a church, whether it be by chewing it, smoking it with a pipe, or sniffing it in powdered form through the nose.”

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