IMPORTANT AND UNUSUAL POPES

UNUSUAL POPE ACTIONS AND SITUATIONS


Pope Innocent X, painted here by Velazquez, excommunicated smokers

In 896, six different men served as pope. Some of them even died natural deaths. One Pope had his predecessor dug out of the ground and had him tried and executed. The “Constitutum Constantini” (the Donation of Constantine) was reportedly during the reign of Pope Sylvester I (314-335).

In 999, Gerbery of Aulliac became Pope Sylvester II, the first Frenchman to be Pope. He died in 1003 after devoting much of attention to a campaign against nepotism. Nicholas Breakspeare was the only Englishman ever to become pope. In the 14th century, the papacy left Rome for Avignon, France and became a French pawn. During most of the 14th century the popes were headquartered in Avingnon. Only after that was he papal residence moved to the Vatican.

Pope Eugenius III was responsible for one week with two Thursday. In 1147, he visited Paris on a Friday. Since Friday was supposed to be a day of fasting he decreed that it was a Thursday so the local population could celebrate his arrival.

Pope Innocent X and Pope Urban VII excommunicated smokers. On June 29, 1456, Pope Calixtus III issued a papal bull against Halley's comet. Fearing a plague or another disaster, he called the comet "the anger of God" and asked Christians to pray, as a future historian put it, so that the it might "be entirely diverted against the Turks, the foes of the Christian name."

Pope Innocent VIII (1484-92) enriched himself by selling pardons and fathered a thuggish son from one his mistresses who lived in luxury like a prince. He was nicknamed "Innocent the Honest" because he was the first Pope to acknowledge that he was an illegitimate child.

When Pope Alexander V died suddenly in Bologna in 1410, a postmortem was conducted on his body. Pope Alexander VI fathered seven children, one of whom became a cardinal. A number of murders and poisoning. A bullfight was held in St. Peter's Square to celebrate a victory over the Moors.

Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity britannica.com//Christianity ; History of Christianity history-world.org/jesus_christ ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/christ.htm ; Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ; Christian Denominations: Christianity.com christianity.com/church/denominations ; Christianity Comparison Charts religionfacts.com ; Difference between Christian Denominations Quoracom ; Holy See w2.vatican.va ; Catholic Online catholic.org ; Catholic Encyclopedia newadvent.org ; World Council of Churches, main world body for mainline Protestant churches oikoumene.org ; Wikipedia article on Protestantism Wikipedia ; Online Orthodox Catechism published by the Russian Orthodox Church orthodoxeurope.org ; Nihov's Worldwide Coptic Directory! directory.nihov.org

Military Power of the Pope

The idea of the Pope being a moral leader without military might to back him up is relatively new. The 16,000 square miles of papal states head by the Pope in central Italy were conquered territory. The Spanish Inquisition was a cooperative effort between the 15th century papacy and Ferdinand and Isabella. During the Renaissance worldly Borgia and Medici popes schemed, debauched, warred and plundered. Pope Alexander VI even bribed his way into the papacy by paying off cardinals.


Swiss Guard during the sacking of Rome in 1527

According to James Fallows had Joseph Stalin asked his derisive question, "How many divisions has the Pope?" any time before 1870 he would have been given a list of infantry and armor.

On May 6, 1527 the Swiss Guard courageously defended Pope Clement VII when Rome was attacked by the armies of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. The Guard was able to hold them off long to allow Pope Clement VII to escape through a secret passageway (that still exists) to a nearby fortress. A total of 147 guards were killed but they took with them over 800 of the enemy. The solemn induction when the Guard dons its conquistador helmets and breastplates (which have been handed down over the generations) takes place on May 6.

The ultimate in papal humiliation occurred in 1809 when Pope Pius VII was captured by Napoleon and held prisoner in France for five years. During his coronation as emperor Napoleon snatched the crown out of the Pope's hands and crowned himself, for he bowed to no man including the Pope.

Pope Gregory I and Gregorian Chants

Pope Gregory I (A.D. 540-604, pope from 590 to 604)) is the Pope whom Gregorian chants are named after. Born in Rome to a wealthy family that had already produced several popes, Gregory was reluctant about being the Pope at first and had to be captured and have the papacy imposed on him. Nonetheless he is often recognized as the man who made the papacy a legitimate body and the one who gave the Catholic church coherence. ["The Creators" by Daniel Boorstein]

Pope Gregory I, also known as Pope Gregory the Great, was the first monk to become pope. He served as the prefect of the city of Rome but gave away everything and turned his mansion into a monastery when his father died. He became Pope in a time when of the plague was ravaging Europe. His predecessor Pelagius died of it, When he became Pope he emphasized penitential forms of worship as a way of warding off disease and raised the status of Mary Magdalene in the church and made many reforms.


Pope Gregory I dictating Gregorian chants

Gregorian chants of the Catholic church are seen as the beginning of Western music in that there was a melody and the musical texts were written down. Somewhat similar to Buddhist mantras, they were sung exclusively by the clergy, while hymns were created to be sung by the congregation.

Church music had been around for a while. Gregory was the one who compiled and promoted the chants. "Just as the most enduring off the versatile Napoleon's achievements," writes Boorstein, “was not his empire but the Napoleonic Code, so the most enduring achievement of Gregory the Great would be the Gregorian chant. And just as Napoleon was not the author of his code, so Gregory did not compose the Gregorian chants. [Source: The Creators" by Daniel Boorstein ◊◊]

The Bible mentions Jews singing hymns and the chants that Gregory compiled were an antiphonal style of singing the psalms and other scriptures developed by Saint Ambrose (340-397) that became the basis for which Catholic liturgy was based.. Gregorian chants probably developed in the Carolingian empire (in what is now France and Germany) during the 8th and 9th centuries. The first attempt to compile Gregorian chants and transform an oral tradition into a written one took place in the ninth century as part of Charlemagne's effort to unify the political and religious institutions of Holy Roman Empire. Pope Gregory's name was invoked as an authority and legends arose that made him the author and compiler of the chants. A ninth century illustration shows a dove fluttering by his ear while he dictates chants to monk scribes.

Pope Joan, the Female Pope?

According to popular legend, Pope Joan (855–857, Ioannes Anglicus) was awoman who reigned as pope for a few years during the Middle Ages. Her story first appeared in chronicles in the 13th century and subsequently spread throughout Europe. The story was widely believed for centuries, but most modern scholars regard it as fiction. [Source: Wikipedia]

According to one version of the story, Pope John VIII was actually a woman named Joan Anglicus (818-857), who ruled for 2½ years but probably would have ruled longer if she didn't give birth prematurely to a son during a public ceremony. The Catholic Church has maintained that her existence was a myth (church records list Pope Leo IV (847-855) and Pope Benedict III (855-858) but 150 church historians between the 13th and 17th century acknowledged her existence.

Born in Britain in 818, she disguised herself as a man after she fell in love with a Benedictine monk named Fedda and entered a monastery in Greece. Calling herself Father John, she was ordained as a priest in Rome, where she lectured about science and attracted a large following. During her reign as Pope she concentrated Louis II of France, ordained 14 bishops, built 5 churches, added a new article to the Creed and wrote 3 books against iconoclasts.

According to an 18th century biography entitled “Papissa Joana”: "they praised the virtue and unselfishness of Father John, insisting that as he had neither nephews to advance nor a harem to keep up he was most likely to spend the revenue of St. Peters among the poor. The struggle lasted 4 whole hours...All at once she heard the great cry of her supporters mount up in the sky, hailing the new Pontiff John VIII. The new Pope trembled with joy as she drew the purple robe about her shoulders and put on slippers bearing the Cross."

Pope John VIII Gives Birth and Is Stoned to Death

During the second year of her reign, Pope John VIII’s fell in love with a young blonde chamberlain who got her pregnant. She had hoped to escape from the Vatican for the birth of her child but her schedule kept her in Rome.


Pope Joan giving birth during a procession


Pope John VIII’s sex was given away when she gave birth to the child "from among the voluminous folds of the papal vestments" during a ceremonial procession from St. Peters to the Lateran palace. Realizing that what they witnessed was a deception not a miracle, an angry mob tied her to the tail of horse, dragged her through the streets of Rome, and finally stoned her to death. He son grew up to be a bishop and even today Popes avoid the site where she gave birth.

The legend most likely arose in the 10th century when the papacy was corrupt and controlled by a few Roman families. One of the females, the Theophylacts, produced a sexually manipulative woman named Maorzia, who was the mistress of the murderous Pope Sergius III (904-911) and bore him an illegitimate son. Her mother' lover then became Pope and was married off to a man who tried to seize the papacy.

Celestine V, the First Pope to Resign

Before Pope Benedict XVI reigned in 2013 the only Pope who resigned was Celestine V. A former mystic and healer known as Father Pietro, who spent much of his life living in a cave, he reluctantly claimed the papacy after was empty for two years during fighting among mafia-style leaders. He resigned in 1294 partly because he couldn't understand Latin (he conducted mass in peasant Italian) and he objected to the extravagance of the papacy.

Celestine V was replaced by Boniface VIII, who once declared, "It is I, whom am emperor!" He had Celestine imprisoned after he reigned and had him killed by assassins. Later he was canonized by Clementine V as Saint Peter, hermit and confessor. Dante placed him in hell for resigning.

Celestine III, who was elected at the age 85 in 1191, said he wanted to reign at the age of 92. Cardinals turned down his request. he died in office six months later.

Popes and Sex


Copernicus explaining planetary motion to Pope Alexander VI

Pope Leo VIII (963-965) died of stroke while having sex. The last married Pope was Adrian II (867-872). He was married before ascending to the papacy and refused to give up his wife and family and adopt celibacy. He lived with his family. Some scholars have suggested that Italian Pope Julius III (1487-1555) was gay.

Pope Alexander VI (1431?-1503) was one of the most sexually active popes. He used to hire 50 prostitutes to service the guests at his orgy-banquets and gave prizes to the man who could copulate the most times. He had many mistresses and fathered numerous children. He secured the papacy through robbery and the intervention of Columbus's patrons, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. A Borgia, Pope Alexander VI was accused of running a "prostitute church." He named his murderous son a cardinal when he was 17. He accused Savonarola of heresy and had a him hanged and burned on a gibbet placed on a special causeway in Florence's main square.

In 1415, Pope John XXIII was deposed for "notorious incest, adultery, defilement, homicide, and atheism." Among his offenses were keeping his brother's wife as a mistress while he was chamberlain and causing "two under maids, matrons and widows, including a few nuns" to fall "victim to his brutal lust" while the cardinal of Bologna.

Pope Paul III, the last of the Renaissance popes, enjoyed hunting, built the Palazzo Farnese in Rome, and fathered five children by a Roman mistress before he became a pope. Leaving his sordid past behind him, he became a priest at the age of 51 and a Pope at 67 (1535). He was the organizer of the Catholic reformation and a prime sponsor of missionary activity in the New World.

Pope Julius II, Michelangelo and Raphael

Julius II (1503-1513) was the Pope who commissioned the building the St. Peter's which now stands. One of the reason he wanted it built was so there was a church big enough to hold his tomb. Julius was a pontiff with big plans. He wanted to unify Italy under his command and raise great moments to himself as a Christian Caesar.

When Pope Julius II lay ill on his bed apparently without breath, a group of cardinals gathered around him and began discussing his succession. Julius awoke and insulted the cardinals and told his servants to bring him some white wine.


Pope Julius II detail from Raphael's Mass at Bolsena

Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel, a job the artist never wanted. Although he was trained as a painter Michelangelo considered himself first and foremost a sculpture. He had already completed the "Piety" and "David," sowing his reputation as a genius, and was more anxious to work on Julius II's grand tomb, which the pope wanted the artist to work on after the Sistine Chapel was done. Michelangelo was hounded and berated by the Pope to the finish the project and once even hit the artist with a cane. Michelangelo responded by constantly asking for release and signing his letter, "Michelangelo, the sculptor."

The magnificent tomb Pope Julius II commissioned was to have forty life-size figures. Michelangelo spent eight months in the Carrera mountains "with two workmen and his horse, and without any salary except for food" searching for large enough blocks of unblemished marble that met his desires. When he returned to Rome he was astonished to find that the pope had changed his mind.

Stories recalling Michelangelo's temper are repeated as often as those pertaining to his artist skills. When he he heard Pope Julius had changed his mind about the tomb in 1506, Michelangelo stormed off in a huff and was pursued by five horsemen. When they caught up with him Michelangelo said that as soon as the Pope "would discharge his obligations toward me I would return; otherwise he need not hope to ever see me again." The episode set off a diplomatic incident between Florence and the Papacy. A bishop representing Michelangelo was whacked on the head with a mace when the bishop suggested that the artist's outburst was a product of his ignorance.

Pope Julius II invited Raphael came to Rome in 1509. In Pope Julius II's library Raphael painted perhaps his most famous masterpiece, The “School of Athens.” In this work it looks as if the Old Testament figures of Sistine Chapel come to a Last Supper in Greece. Plato, Aristotle and the other Greek philosophers have the same sort of muscle tone and fluidity of Michelangelo figures; the way the are composed resembles Leonardo's most famous fresco; and the towering Greco-Roman architecture in the background give the painting and its subjects a monumental quality. [Source: "History of Art" by H.W. Janson, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J. <>]

The most famous Renaissance architect, Donato Bramante, was hired by Pope Julius to rebuild St. Peter’s. Bramante’s building of the Tempietto in 1502 shifted the center of Renaissance architecture from Florence to Rome. The original St. Peters in Rome in 1502 was in sorry shape so Pope Julius II commissioned Bramante to replace it with a church so magnificent it would dwarf the monuments of ancient Rome. Bramante reportedly said: "I shall place the Pantheon on top of the Basilica of Constantine." If his design had not been altered St. Peters would have had a floor plan like a paper snowflake. It would have had four identical facades and four naves that came together like a Greek cross, everything was to be symmetrical. <>

Pope Gregory XIII and the Gregorian Calendar


Pope Gregory XIII

Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1585) is the pope who gave us the Gregorian calendar that we use today. When he took over the papacy the Julian calendar was 11 days off out of sync with the seasons. Gregory XIII was also involved in the brutal massacre of Protestants in Paris in 1572. The Gregorian calendar is accurate to a day in every 3,323 years.

In 1582, Pope Gregory inaugurated the calendar that would bear his name by ordaining that the day after October 4 was October 15. This aligned the seasons with the calendar but caused an uproar among servants who demanded a full month's wage but were refused it by their employers. The Gregory calendar also started the year on January 1st. To make sure the seasons and dates stayed aligned, leap years were omitted from years marking the beginning of a century. The calendar we follow today is virtually the same as the Gregorian calendar except from time to time top international time keeping bodies add a leap second to ensure that the time kept on earth is aligned with cosmos. ["The Discoveres" by Daniel Boorstien]

As a statement against the power of the Roman church some groups refused to go along with the Gregorian calendar. The eastern Orthodox Church held on to the Julian calendar for its calculations of Eastern Orthodox holidays. Russian didn't stop using the Julian calendar until the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. After the French Revolution, around the same time the metric system was established, the French introduced a day with ten hours, an hour made up of 100 minutes with 100 seconds, and a week consisting of ten days. The time keeping system lasted for 13 years until 1805 when Napoleon brought back the old seve-day-week, 24-hour, 60-second minute system. In 1929 the Soviet Union tried to establish a calendar based on five-day-weeks with one-day weekends that were organized into six-week-months, but by 1940 they too returned to the Gregorian calendar. ["The Discoveres" by Daniel Boorstien]

Gregory decreed that lead days would not be added to in centennial years not divisible by 400. By this criteria 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not leap years but 2000 was. This helped to get rid of an 11-minute a year discrepancy that existed between calendar time and real time.

Popes of the 19th and 20th Centuries

In 1854, Pope Pius IX (1846-78) made the Immaculate Conception an infallible dogma. The prime minister of Pope Pius IX was the assassinated in 1848 in political riots preceding Italy's reunification. Pope Pius IX was reportedly an epileptic. He abducted a 6-year-old from his Jewish parents and raised him as a Catholic. The beautification of Pius IX and John XXIII was seen as a move to satisfy both liberals and conservatives.

In 1870, shortly after the defeat of the Papal states and the unification of Italy, Pope Pius IX declared the papal infallibility whenever "he defines with his supreme apostolic authority a doctrine concerning faith and morals to be held by the Universal Church.”

St. Pius X (1903-14) liked to smoke cigarettes. The habit almost cost him his sainthood. Pope Pius XI (1922-39) was a former librarian at the Vatican Library and Pope from 1922 until his death in 1939

Pope Pius XII (1939-58) and the Holocaust

Pope Pius XII was one of the longest reigning pontiffs. Ascetic and self-righteous, he ran the Vatican like a medieval court and ruled through diplomacy rather strong leadership. He died in 1958 at the age of 82.


Pope Pius XII in Berlin

Pope Pius XII was the pontiff during World War II. He has been accused of turning his back to the plights of the Jews and not speaking out against the Holocaust. There have even been assertions that he was pro- Nazi, that Hitler couldn't have risen to power without him and that millions of lives could have been saved if Pius had spoken out against Nazism at the end of the war.

Pius refused to even meet Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, the Chief Rabbi of Palestine, who had a plan to smuggle Eastern European Jews through Turkey into Palestine. Jews are particularly disturbed that Pius is being considered for sainthood. One rabbi told the Washington Post, "His silence cost us millions of lives. One who stands upon the blood and does nothing to avoid the bloodshed is like a partner to the mass murder of human beings." The allegations and bad feeling against Pius began with 1963 play “The Deputy” by Rolf Hochhuth.

Vatican officials assert that Pius worked quietly behind the scenes and didn't bring attention to what he did because he worried about putting the lives of Catholics at risk. In 1937, Pius wrote an encyclical condemning Nazism as un-Christian. The document was secretly printed in Germany and read by priests and bishops in their churches. The Nazis responded by imprisoning many Catholics.

The gestapo accused Pius of "speaking on behalf of the Jews" and said he "makes himself the mouthpiece of Jewish war criminals." In 1942, Pius withdrew a protest on the deportation of Jews from the Netherlands after Catholic bishops spoke out on the deportation only to have the Nazis raid convents and schools and deport Jews that had converted to Christianity.

The Catholic church is credited with saving the lives of 700,000 Jews in World War II, mainly by issuing false baptismal certificates to Jews. Kenneth Woodward wrote in Newsweek: "The pope's crime—if that is what it is—is that he chose the role of diplomatic peace maker rather than martyr of the cause...He could hardly direct others to court certain death...No one person, Hitler excepted, was responsible for the Holocaust...It's time to lay off this pope."

Book: “Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII” by John Cornwall (Viking, 1999).

Pope John XXIII (1958-63)

Angelo Roncalli was nearly 77 when he became Pope John XXIII in 1958. His reign lasted only five years before he died in 1963 but a lot happened in that time. Pope John XXIII was named Time Man of the Year in 1962 for his efforts to launch what some call the Catholic Reformation — the Second Vatican Council. He is remembered for his "Pacem in Terris," a memorable plea for world peace. His favorite expression was "The Holy Spirit will provide."


Pope John XXIII

Angelo Roncalli was born in a village in the Italian Alps near the Renaissance town of Bergamo on Lake Como. As Monsignor Angelo Ronacalli, the Apostic Delegate in Turkey, he saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria by supplying them with fake Catholic baptismal certificates. He became Cardinal-Patriarch of Venice and spent most of his life as a diplomat and rose to the position of pala nuncio in Paris.

Pope John XXIII was expected to be a non-activist transitional figure who would have little impact on the church. He surprised everyone with the Second Vatican Council, which he convened after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

For someone who so profoundly changed the church, Pope John was comfortable with the old church. A devoted Catholic, he disliked ceremony. Rosary beads were almost always in his hands. He was also very Italian. He once said his greatest pleasure was sitting around the kitchen with Italian women making jokes, talking about family and telling stories to children.

Pope John XXIII was so popular among both the religious and secular community there were calls to make him saint immediately after his death. He was beautified with the conservative Pius IX . The move was seen as a way to satisfy both liberals and conservatives.

Second Vatican Council (1962-1965)

Pope John XXIII (1958-63) is known best for convening the Second Vatican Council in 1962. He surprised everyone by announcing it after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He had no definite plan when he convened the council and did not to live to see its finish but made many positive inputs and was named Time Man of the Year in 1962 for his efforts.

The Second Vatican Council, which some called the Catholic Reformation, passed many reforms and modernized most rites. Pope John XXIII said he launched it the help of the Holy Spirit, in an effort to take the Catholic church out of he hands of the Vatican elite and make it more responsive to the thousands of bishops, tens of thousands of priests and million of ordinary Catholic.

Peter Stanford wrote for the BBC: “The modernising Second Vatican Council (1962-65) saw Catholicism (which post-Reformation was often labelled Roman Catholicism, though this is not a description much favoured by Catholics themselves) addressing itself in earnest to its relationships with other Christian churches. Significantly it abandoned the notion of the Catholic Church as the sole means of salvation. There were, it was acknowledged, other routes to heaven. This opened the way for dialogue with other churches. It has produced an atmosphere of good will and much talk of reunion, but key questions on authority, the sacraments and ministry continue to present seemingly insurmountable obstacles.” [Source: Peter Stanford, BBC, June 29, 2011]

Reforms Made at the Second Vatican Council


Pope John XXIII, Time Man of the Year in 1962

According to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) the relationship between saints and living people was defined as one of "communion and solidarity" rather “supplicant and benefactor" and as for the saints themselves: “their way of life, fellowship, in their communion and aid by intercession" were to be admired and respected and seen as “examples” rather than worshiped.

At the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII attempted to temper enthusiasm for Mary with the statement: "The Madonna is not happy when she is placed before her son." This was a response to the Papal infallibility was invoked in 1950 by Pope Pius XII, which stated that the Assumption—the taking of the body and soul of Mary to heaven—really occurred.

The Second Vatican Council also declared that the Jews should not be held responsible for Christ’s death. A statement was released that said the crucifixion of Jesus "can not be blamed on all the Jews living without distinction, nor upon Jews of today." Jews were no longer referred to as "perfidious" "Christ Killers" in Holy Week prayers.

Pope Paul IV (1963-78)

Giovanni Battista Montini, the Archbishop of Milan, became Pope Paul VI in 1963. Even though he was one of the most experienced and qualified clergymen ever to become Pope, he was an indecisive leader who never felt comfortable at the head of the Catholic church. John had predicted this and called him Hamlet.

Under Pope Paul VI, the Catholic church went into a period of decline that some called "the worst crisis since the Protestant reformation:" church discipline broke down, thousands of priests left their posts and married, nuns became feminists, annulments (divorces) became common and ideas like Liberation theology took root. Some members of the church, such as the Dutch hierarchy, did everything but break free of the Vatican.

Pope Paul IV used sometimes wear a hair shirt and thorns against his flesh under his papal robes. He is most associated with "Humanae Vitae," his encyclical that condemned the use of contraception. He died in 1978 at the age of 80.

Pope John Paul I (1978)

Pope John Paul I died mysteriously in 1978 after only 32 days as pope.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com; “ Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org, Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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