Service Lifetimes of Popes

The recent news of Pope Benedict announcing his retirement got me curious about how long popes actually serve. It was also an excuse to do some work in R and play with ggplot2. Like most data analysis projects, I spent most of my time cleaning up the data I scraped from Wikipedia. It took a few hours to with some Python to get the data into a useable state.

What I saw surprised me. I expected to see an average service lifetime of 15 years. Instead, the average is 6.9 years with a median of 5 years. Apparently being the Bishop of Rome is a tough job: of the 265 popes, 41 served less than a year.


I was also curious to see if certain time periods had higher turnover. The 9th, 10th and 11th centuries were especially difficult times to be the Pope.


I’d like to do some additional research to determine how each Pope died and see if there’s an interesting way to visualize it.

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