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How did you hear the Pope is quitting: Horseback messenger or Taxi TV?

Television reporters get ready for a live report in front of St. Peter's Basilica on February 13, 2013 in Rome.

How did you hear the news the Pope is quitting? Whether on a TV screen in the back seat of a taxi cab or on a gossip website, chances are technology was involved.

But what was the technology the last time a Pope resigned -- Gregory XII in 1415 at the end of the Great Schism?

With the Gutenberg press, invented in 1453, still decades off, widespread dissemination of printed information was mere technological fantasy.

According to Michael Sizer, who has a background in medieval studies and teaches history at MICA in Baltimore, a church body called the Counsel of Constance would have been the central news source.

"Institutions had agents there who were eager to spin information and to report back to their superiors to strategize," says Sizer. "And the way that they did that was they either went in person and they would send letters with messengers, and messengers would go on horseback."

From there, news of Gregory XII's resignation might have been read aloud in far off counsel meetings across Europe and then copied by hand. Sizer says by that time, the West had the technology of inexpensive paper which made the task of copying news and spreading it much easier.

"In the early Middle Ages, most of the writing was done on expensive manuscript paper made from animal hide. When access to Asia was opened up after the Mongol invasions of the 13th and 14th centuries, the west got the technology of paper -- cheap paper. Because paper was cheap people didnt feel any financial restraint about copying things down," says Sizer.

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio
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I happen to run TaxiTV for VeriFone. NBC4 first "broke" the news on video in our taxis in NYC (we run a little over half of NYC's 13,000+ cabs) on Monday morning at about 8am. About 150,000 people saw it on TaxiTV that day. I can't guarantee they were paying attention, or that they saw it there first, but thought you'd find it interesting.

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