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